Zinni Appears on "60 Minutes," and the Bad News for Bush Just Gets Worse

By Curtiss, Richard H. | Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, July/August 2004 | Go to article overview

Zinni Appears on "60 Minutes," and the Bad News for Bush Just Gets Worse


Curtiss, Richard H., Washington Report on Middle East Affairs


With each passing week, it seems, the news for President George W. Bush just gets worse. The revelations of abuse at Baghdad's Abu Ghraib prison continue, and may become even more scandal-encrusted. A new book by Anthony Zinni, the retired four-star general who was commander-inchief of the United States Central Command (Centcom), and thus in charge of all American troops in the Middle East, may provide more trouble for Bush. Zinni has leveled even more telling criticisms of "Bush's war" since it turned so sour.

Zinni's book, Battle Ready, was written in collaboration with best-selling author Tom Clancy. The timing could not be worse for Bush, particularly because of Zinni's blunt critique of why Bush wanted to go to war. Zinni examines why Bush picked such a bad time go to war without United Nations support; why Bush thought the U.S. and Great Britain could virtually do it alone; and why Bush thought he didn't need allies or much greater troop strength.

He finds virtually nothing commendable about Bush, who may be the least-prepared American president ever to go to war, or even consider it. In Battle Ready, Zinni writes, "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."

According to Zinni, the Bush administration's former special envoy to the Middle East, Iraq was the wrong war at the wrong time. In the months leading up to it, Zinni carried this 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."

Nor was he alone in his doubts about an invasion of Iraq. Others included former General and National security Adviser Brent Scowcroft, former Centcom Commander Norman Schwarzkopf, former NATO Commander Wesley Clark, and former Army Chief of Staff Eric Shinseki. Zinni describes it as a war the generals didn't want-but the civilians in the Pentagon did.

"I can't speak for all generals, certainly," Zinni said. "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.

"Now, at the same time," he continued, "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 alQaeda."

As Centcom commander-in-chief, Zinni was responsible for developing a plan for the invasion of Iraq. Like his predecessors, he subscribed to the idea that one only enters into battle with overwhelming force, as did secretary of State Colin Powell when he was in the military. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, however, thought the job could be done with hi-tech weapons and with fewer troops.

Other commanders had views similar to those of former Gen. Eric Shinseki. "We were talking about, you know, 300,000, in that neighborhood," Zinni said, "I think it's critical in the aftermath, if you're going to go to resolve a conflict through the use of force, and then to rebuild the country. The first requirement is to freeze the situation, and to gain control of the security. To patrol the streets. To prevent the looting. To prevent the 'revenge' killings that might occur. To prevent bands or gangs or militias that might not have your best interests at heart from growing or developing."

Rumsfeld since has acknowledged that he had not anticipated the level of violence that would continue in Iraq a year after the war began. "He should not have been surprised," Zinni said. …

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