Wednesday, August 05, 2009


On Tuesday evening at an event sponsored by the Oxonian Society at the Cornell Club in mid-town Manhattan, General (retired) Anthony Zinni, spoke to a select audience about his experiences and reflections in and out of the military. In terms of the former, he was from 1996 to 2000, first deputy commander, then commander of American forces in the Near East (CENTCOM). Having the advantage of being one of the military's few Arabic speakers. And, in 2002-2003, he was the Bush regime's 'Special Envoy', to the Near East, trying and failing to deal with Israeli and Palestinian dispute. Thereafter, General Zinni has on various occasions has expressed his criticism of (in no particular order) the invasion of Iraq, American policy in dealing with the insurgency and in dealing with the Israeli-Palestinian dispute.

The following are among some of General Zinni comments:

On the Iraq and Afghan wars, qua warfare, both are examples of: 'a new type of war', one 'in the shadows'.

On the late Palestinian leader, Arafat:
He was not 'willing to take risks for peace'. Unwilling to 'make a deal', which would involve his having to make an compromises. Overall though, while he is not entirely pessimistic about the future chances of peace in the area, General Zinni does not see: 'an early resolution' of the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian dispute. It is not the type of dispute that can be resolved via a summit meeting between the two parties with a mediator.

On the Iraqi situation:
The current American administration is following a correct Iraq 'exit strategy', which involves the progressive disengagement of American combat forces from the country. Concerning the Iraqis themselves, General Zinni was not entirely optimistic, in particular the Iraqis ability to govern themselves: the next eighteen months being he said 'critical'.

Concerning the Afghanistan conflict:
General Zinni was impressed with both General Petraeus and with the new American strategy to fight the war. He did though caution that a 'regional approach' was necessary to properly fight the Taliban-Al Qaeda nexus. He also stated that for NATO, the current fight in Afghanistan was a 'defining moment', in terms of the organization's worth, as a military alliance. Overall, though General Zinni cautioned that a success in the Afghan theatre of operations would take from 'three to five years', before the American and their allies can think about withdrawing. The current problems in Afghanistan being due to the fact that with the Iraq debacle, the Americans 'took their eyes off the ball', as it were.

Concerning Pakistan:
Contrary to some stories in the Western press, Pakistan was not 'near collapse', but, it did require in order to solve its current problems much greater resources devoted to both the development and counter-insurgency. The Pakistan army was 'the wrong type of army', for the current conflict in the country. And, in addition India had to co-operate with its former enemy on this effort.

Concerning Syria & Persia:
There was the possibility of isolating Teheran by 'breaking the links', between Damascus and Persia. That Syria could most definitely be 'turned' diplomatically speaking from its alliances with Persia. And, so could Damascus' allies Hezbollah and Hamas.

On the origins of the Iraq War:
That the initial invasion force was 'totally inadequate', and, hence not able to do the job needed and expected initially. That Saddam Hussein was not 'a threat to anyone'. That any weapons, even those of 'mass destruction' that he might ever had, were merely 'tactical' and not 'strategic' in nature. And, that there was never any hard evidence of Iraq having any strategic weapons for mass destruction.

Comment: overall, I found General Zinni, to be a most intelligent, entertaining, broad minded and well-spoken individual. He spoke in a clear, mid-Atlantic voice, without the acronyms that the officers of the American military usually tend to pepper their conversations with. It is a true pity that someone of his experience and outlook is lost to government and the country. A true pity.


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