Tuesday, May 25, 2004

Courage Under Fire

Yet another well-respected and bipartisan, if not right leaning, figure with ties to the Bush administration has had the courage to come out and criticize the President's policies. This time it is retired General Anthony Zinni, whose criticisms were summarized in an interview that aired this past Sunday on 60 Minutes.

By way of background:

"Retired General Anthony Zinni is one of the most respected and outspoken military leaders of the past two decades.

From 1997 to 2000, he was commander-in-chief of the United States Central Command, in charge of all American troops in the Middle East. That was the same job held by Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf before him, and Gen. Tommy Franks after...

Zinni spent more than 40 years serving his country as a warrior and diplomat, rising from a young lieutenant in Vietnam to four-star general with a reputation for candor...

Following his retirement from the Marine Corps, the Bush administration thought so highly of Zinni that it appointed him to one of its highest diplomatic posts -- special envoy to the Middle East."

The heart of his criticism, as reported on the 60 Minutes broadcast:

"But Zinni broke ranks with the administration over the war in Iraq, and now, in his harshest criticism yet, he says senior officials at the Pentagon are guilty of dereliction of duty -- and that the time has come for heads to roll.

'There has been poor strategic thinking in this,' says Zinni. 'There has been poor operational planning and execution on the ground. And to think that we are going to "stay the course," the course is headed over Niagara Falls. I think it's time to change course a little bit, or at least hold somebody responsible for putting you on this course. Because it's been a failure.'

'In the lead up to the Iraq war and its later conduct, I saw at a minimum, true dereliction, negligence and irresponsibility, at worse, lying, incompetence and corruption.'

'I think there was dereliction in insufficient forces being put on the ground and fully understanding the military dimensions of the plan. I think there was dereliction in lack of planning,' says Zinni. 'The president is owed the finest strategic thinking. He is owed the finest operational planning. He is owed the finest tactical execution on the ground. He got the latter. He didn't get the first two.'"

Although hindsight is 20/20, Zinni was raising these same alarms and leveling these same criticisms before the first shot was ever fired:

"Zinni says Iraq was the wrong war at the wrong time - with the wrong strategy. And he was saying it before the U.S. invasion. In the months leading up to the war, while still Middle East envoy, Zinni carried the message to Congress: 'This is, in my view, the worst time to take this on. And I don't feel it needs to be done now.'"

Of course, Zinni had some very esteemed, and well decorated, company from within the ranks of the military elite. As reported in the broadcast:

"But he wasn't the only former military leader with doubts about the invasion of Iraq. Former General and National Security Advisor Brent Scowcroft, former Centcom Commander Norman Schwarzkopf, former NATO Commander Wesley Clark, and former Army Chief of Staff Eric Shinseki all voiced their reservations.

'I can't speak for all generals, certainly. But I know we felt that this situation was contained. Saddam was effectively contained. The no-fly, no-drive zones. The sanctions that were imposed on him,' says Zinni.

'Now, at the same time, we had this war on terrorism. We were fighting al Qaeda. We were engaged in Afghanistan. We were looking at 'cells' in 60 countries. We were looking at threats that we were receiving information on and intelligence on. And I think most of the generals felt, let's deal with this one at a time. Let's deal with this threat from terrorism, from al Qaeda.'

Zinni says he blames the Pentagon for what happened. 'I blame the civilian leadership of the Pentagon directly. Because if they were given the responsibility, and if this was their war, and by everything that I understand, they promoted it and pushed it - certain elements in there certainly - even to the point of creating their own intelligence to match their needs, then they should bear the responsibility,' he says.

'But regardless of whose responsibility I think it is, somebody has screwed up. And at this level and at this stage, it should be evident to everybody that they've screwed up. And whose heads are rolling on this? That's what bothers me most.'

Adds Zinni: 'If you charge me with the responsibility of taking this nation to war, if you charge me with implementing that policy with creating the strategy which convinces me to go to war, and I fail you, then I ought to go.'

'Certainly those in your ranks that foisted this strategy on us that is flawed. Certainly they ought to be gone and replaced.'

Zinni is talking about a group of policymakers within the administration known as "the neo-conservatives" who saw the invasion of Iraq as a way to stabilize American interests in the region and strengthen the position of Israel. They include Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz; Undersecretary of Defense Douglas Feith; Former Defense Policy Board member Richard Perle; National Security Council member Eliot Abrams; and Vice President Cheney's chief of staff, Lewis "Scooter" Libby."

Consistent with what has emerged as a nefarious pattern, after General Zinni first began publicly making his criticism of the administration and its various ideological wings, he encountered the same type of personal, vindictive and reckless attacks that were made against other administration insiders such as former Secretary of Treasury Paul O'Neill, counterterrorism czar Richard Clarke, former head of faith based initiatives John DiIulio, former ambassador Joseph Wilson (and his wife Valerie Plame), and others. Zinni recounted his experience thusly:

"And one article, because I mentioned the neo-conservatives who describe themselves as neo-conservatives, I was called anti-Semitic. I mean, you know, unbelievable that that's the kind of personal attacks that are run when you criticize a strategy and those who propose it. I certainly didn't criticize who they were. I certainly don't know what their ethnic religious backgrounds are. And I'm not interested."

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