Why in the world would anyone want to be the next Wesley Clark? In the 2004 election General Clark played Ashley Wilkes to Dan Rather’s Scarlett O’Hara. Clark went wacky early, doing his best to endear himself to the Howard Dean lefties by making a habit of statements such as his call for a criminal investigation into the president’s decision on the Iraq war. Clark’s only achievement was to make of himself a useful tool of the Clinton machine. Comes now former CENTCOM commander General Anthony Zinni, and his book, The Battle for Peace. Zinni, a decorated combat soldier and no fool, is turning his book tour into a tour de farce for the left.
Zinni is one of the Clinton era generals who rose to command during the Great Period of Neglect. Along with Clark, retired army chief of staff Eric Shinseki and others, Zinni had to earn his political spurs in order to earn higher commands. While commanding CENTCOM, Zinni studied the Arab language and culture, immersing himself in the politics of the Middle East and gaining what he still errs in believing were real friends among the region’s leaders. After 9-11, President Bush called upon him to use these supposed friendships to gain support for the fight against terrorism as a special envoy to the Middle East. Zinni failed, perhaps because his mind was elsewhere. The unavoidable conclusion — gathered from his many anti-war speeches about Iraq before the 2003 invasion — is that Zinni had drunk a huge draught of the “stability” Kool Aid, believing stability in the Middle East was our goal. Now, appearing on the TV talk shows to flak his book, Zinni’s taking the stability uber alles argument to its logical conclusion.
Stability, in those terms, meant leaving Saddam alone and — in post-Saddam Middle East — means doing nothing more than watching while Iran arms itself with nuclear weapons. Zinni goes even farther, condemning the war, the president, and those who have conducted the Iraq campaign for incompetence and negligence
That, too, could have been taken seriously if Zinni hadn’t chosen to state his judgments in sharp political terms. As an apolitical soldier, he could have aligned himself with neither the Republicans nor the Democrats and explained why both are wrong in his experienced judgment. Instead, Zinni has cut in on Wes Clark’s tango with Hillary.
ON MEET THE PRESS LAST SUNDAY, Zinni said that we “are paying the price for the lack of credible planning….We’re throwing away 10 years worth of planning…for underestimating the situation we were going to get into, for not adhering to the advice that was being given to us by others….” And, like John Kerry and the Army Old Thinkers Zinni reveres (such as Clark and Shinseki), Zinni is reverting to the failed nostrums of Vietnam. He told Tim Russert, “We’re not fighting the Waffen SS here. You know, we’re fighting a bunch of ragtag people with AK-47s and IEDs and RPGs. They can be policed up if the people turn against them. We haven’t won the hearts and minds yet.”
Zinni’s temperature rose to a boil on Monday night’s Hardball. He repeated his call for Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld to be fired and then began a riff off the talking points Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi have been peddling. He told Chris Matthews, “We need a new strategy for a new world, we need to understand it different and we have to get rid of this old bloated bureaucracy that we have. We saw the effects of this in Katrina and elsewhere….I would get rid of the patronage system. I would convince Congress to crack down on the pork and the waste that goes on. I would build a set of programs and build partnerships with international agencies, the United Nations, NATO, the European Union, the first world countries, to deal with unstable third world countries.” He predicted the Arab world would be on our side, after a decade of turmoil in which its adjusts to modernity. When Matthews asked if he would run for office, Zinni said, “No, way. Never ever.” Right.
Zinni is smarter and more able than Wesley Clark. His ego doesn’t demand the top slot or even the second one on a national ticket. But he is running nevertheless, and running hard. In a Hillary Clinton administration — or under John Kerry or any of the other Dems — Zinni must picture himself as the next Colin Powell, or the ideal replacement for Donald Rumsfeld. It’s at Rumsfeld he directs his harshest criticisms, accusing him of everything from promoting and pushing bad intelligence on Iraq and — at the height of his Hardball hysteria — saying Rumsfeld was guilty of “disbanding the army.” His Hardball rants turned Zinni into a caricature of his former self, assembled from random parts of Wesley Clark, John Kerry and Dennis Kucinich.
In any future Democratic administration, Zinni would be a lot like Powell, an administration outsider linked only by the statements he made to help his candidate get elected. Zinni would achieve his goal of Middle Eastern stability with the Dems. The same sort of stability that enabled Islamic terrorism to grow from a local problem to a global threat during the Clinton years.
ZINNI IS SO WRONG ON SO MANY levels, it’s hard to know where to start dissecting him. He claims we threw away ten years of planning for Iraq. He, of all people, a former combatant commander, should know that old plans get thrown out when the assumptions on which they were made become invalid. That, precisely, was the reason much of the Clinton-era planning for Iraq was set aside in the 2002-2003 buildup to the Iraq campaign. War plans aren’t static, they evolve with the forces — political, military and economic — that change in every nation every year. Zinni knows better. His points are political, not military or strategic.
Zinni’s devotion to John Kerry’s old campaign scripts is touching but bizarre. When he says we need new international partnerships with the UN and such, he might have recalled that the Kerry campaign became a laughingstock arguing that point because: (a) President Bush did everything short of giving the UN a veto over American sovereign action, and even that wasn’t enough because the veto is what the French, Russians and Chinese wanted; and (b) Americans don’t trust the UN or politicians who flak for it.
When General Zinni attacks Rumsfeld, he’s doing himself more damage. “Disbanding” the Army? Please. And resurrecting the old canards about “manipulating intelligence” just discredits him thoroughly. (As he’d know if he’d read the report of the Silberman-Robb commission). And how about that great argument about too few troops? The one that none of our senior military commanders agree with?
Sorry, general. The battle for peace is, indeed, a battle for a stable world. But where you go fatally wrong is where you say that the Arab world will be on our side in a decade or so. Your stance amounts to nothing more than a plea to leave them alone and let them have time to adapt because, “…they want to be parts of our society.” We followed that plan while you were at CENTCOM and your political benefactors were in the White House. Please, look back to 9-11 and see where that got us.
TAS contributing editor Jed Babbin is the author of Inside the Asylum: Why the UN and Old Europe Are Worse Than You Think (Regnery, 2004).
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