Retired USMC Gen. Anthony Zinni spoke at a luncheon today in Raleigh for the John Locke Foundation, and discussed the problems in the Iraq War and where the United States should go from here. He wasn’t as critical of the Bush Administration as I thought he would be, but still laid plenty of responsibility at their feet.
He said the U.S. has been unable to cope with “non-state actors” who are not constrained by the obligations that nation-states must adhere to. Such free-wheelers include Hamas, Hezbollah, al Qaeda, international drug cartels, and warlord groups.
“They don’t have a capital or an organized military force,” Zinni said. “These non-state actors have been our biggest problems,” and the trouble caused by instability in the countries where they operate have “washed up on our shores.”
The difficulty in Iraq has been heightened by the flawed structure established by the U.S. to reconstruct the country, Zinni said. The U.S. is poorly organized, inhibiting the ability to implement our ideas. As before the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, Zinni said government agencies don’t communicate with each other and instead of “building them for the 21st Century,” we ended up with an even more bloated bureaucracy. For example, he said the Department of Homeland Security operates much the same way that the rest of government does, with earmarks, cronyism, and rewarding incompetency. Zinni did not speak much to specifics about what President Bush should do in Iraq, but more to the fact that whatever he decides to do, he needs the competent structure and plan in place to carry it out. Having the Department of Defense run the economic reconstruction, and shutting down factories just because they were state-owned under Saddam Hussein’s regime, were examples of poorly thought out decisions, Zinni said.
He also said the nature of the enemy in Iraq cannot be identified as a single, monolithic force. “I defy anybody here to tell me who the enemy is,” Zinni said, adding that each opposition group requires a different approach. To carry out a successful Iraq reconstruction, he estimated it would require from 5 to 7 more years and in the short term, more troops.
In fact, part of the original miscalculation was the insufficient number of troops used to try and stabilize Iraq, Zinni said. He said shortly after the end of the Cold War the military became enamored with technology, reducing the overall military personnel. “A few of us objected to this,” he said. He said a study group he was a part of recommended up to 400,000 troops for Iraq, because the problem wasn’t taking out Saddam, but in stabilizing the region. “These situations are manpower intensive,” he said.
As for the structure that President Bush had to work with in government, Zinni gave him somewhat of a pass.
“I can’t blame this administration for what it inherited. It inherited a bloated bureaucracy,” he said, noting that the practice of earmarking, K Street lobbyists’ influence, and pork barrel politics were “centuries in the making.”
But the president’s key mistake, according to Zinni, was in failing to tell the American people honestly why an invasion of Iraq was necessary. He said the information he saw showed that Saddam Hussein had no active program in 2002 and 2003 for weapons of mass destruction. Saddam had the ability to reconstitute such a program, but U.N. sanctions were successfully containing him. Zinni called the justification “an exaggeration that was going to burn (the Bush administration) in the end.” Besides the insufficient troops and prosecuting the war on the cheap, Zinni said the administration “doomed themselves by the rationale for the war,” likening it to the Gulf of Tonkin resolution which granted President Lyndon Johnson permission to escalate involvement in Vietnam.
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