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THE MIDDLE EAST: General Zinni

In a new book, The Mission: Waging War and Keeping Peace, Dana Priest argues that the US relies too much on the military to solve political and economic problems overseas. Priest singles out Marine General Anthony Zinni. I asked Marine General Mike Sullivan what he knew about General Zinni. Mike replied: "I first met him when he was a Colonel attached to Marine Corps Schools at Quantico, VA where all basic, intermediate and top level school officers' training is conducted. I was Commander, Warfighting Center, as a Major General, and in the two years I was stationed at Quantico ('88-'90), I had several meetings and discussions with him regarding how to adapt and upgrade our warfighting capabilities for the 21st century. He was selected for Brigadier General during that period. He worked his way up the General officer ranks rapidly because he was a highly successful commander, warfighter and military scholar. He was not a "beat your chest" type of Marine and did very well in the Joint arena, gaining consensus without abandoning the principles of the Marine Corps.

To date, we've had three Marine Generals hold the billet of Commander, CENTCOM and they are promoted to four stars on assuming command. Gen Franks, US Army, commands CENTCOM today, and during the Gulf War it was commanded by Gen Schwartzkopf. The Command's responsibilities are protecting American interests and developing contingency plans for the Mid East. Senior members of that command spend much of their tour visiting and working with Arab nations so they can learn about their governments, their histories, their people, their politics , traditions, taboos and then plan accordingly. Gen Zinni, after he retired, was selected as an envoy of the US Government to help arbitrate the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The other CENTCOM commanders, all still living and more or less in the public eye,, were not selected for this mission; presumably they all had expertise.

I think Tony Zinni was a great choice and probably had the respect of both the Israelis and Palestinians. He was put in an difficult position with little chance of success. He understood the realities of war as he had "been there, done that" which I think gave him the instant credibility on both sides, as compared to the many a career diplomats and politicians that have tried to solve this dilemma. Gen Zinni was one of the first retired General officers to speak out against going to war with Iraq at this time (Nov, '02) as he believed solving the Israeli-Palestinian crisis was the first priority. He said Saddam must go, but if we contain him now maybe he'll die in office or get overthrown by his own people, but that we would upset the Arab world too much if the we didn't solve the Israeli-Palestinian business first. He said politicians that wanted to go to war with Iraq now "Are from a different planet" because they didn't believe it would throw the Arab world into complete turmoil. I don't think we've heard the last of Tony Zinni as I think he will emerge again to serve his country in some capacity, whether as a statesman or politician".

RH: Priest was arguing that the military should stick to their business and not get mixed up in political affairs. Mike praises Zinni's extra-military role and thus seems to disprove Priest's thesis.

Ronald Hilton - 3/9/03