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Thursday, October 17, 2002
General Anthony Zinni, former head of Central Command for U.S. forces in the Middle East, has a few things to say about the situation on the ground there and how the US has reacted to it, and what should be done in the future. Some highlights:

Anything we do in this region requires that regional coalition, support, and partnership to work. The number one ingredient that makes it work--I heard this term time and time again--is consult, consult, consult. Understand what is going on on the ground. Listen to your partners. We all have interests; some of those interests collide. How can we smooth out the rough edges? How can we work out solutions that don't destabilize?


...when I was the combatant commander in Central Command, the first thing I asked all my friends and counterparts was, "Why do you see the U.S. military presence here as important?" The answer I had was stability, stability, stability. You can, and you do, if it's done right, provide a tremendous amount of stability to a very volatile region.

But to maintain that stability, we need to consult when action is taken. You need to understand from our eyes and our viewpoint what happens when an action is taken. You have to day-in and day-out work that relationship and try to see those situations from those other eyes. You have to try and find a way to mutually fulfill our interests or obligations and take care of our threats.

Again, if we do something here, that particular partnership has to be involved and has to be maintained. If rifts or divisions come out and are magnified by this, who comes and who doesn't come, and problems are created for those relationships, then we're going to have trouble. We have a potential failure.


The next point I made was that the street had to remain quiet. A short war helps that, but the mood is not good. Anti-Americanism, doubt about this war, concern about the damage that may happen, political issues, economic issues, social issues have all caused the street to become extremely volatile. I'm amazed at people that say that there is no street and that it won't react. I'm not sure which planet they live on, because it isn't the one that I travel. I've been out in the Middle East, and it is explosive; it is the worst I've ever seen it in over a dozen years of working in this area in some concentrated way. Almost anything could touch it off.

What would the reaction be? We can see the events that are taking place now in Kuwait with our forces. Will we have security issues, embassies, military installations, American businessmen, or tourists there? Do we become vulnerable? Do others that are involved with us become vulnerable? Are the regimes of our friends and the governments that are friendly to us vulnerable? Do we need to see demonstrations and blood in the streets? Do we need to see friendly governments that operate economically, politically and pretty close to the edge being pushed by a street that is resisting support and cooperation in the conduct of the war? It is a great unknown, and it's easy to blow it off by comments that there is no street or that it won't react and nothing will happen.

The greatest moment on the street came after 9/11 when Osama bin Laden called for the Jihad. I told my friends to watch the result. I told them I could predict there would be no Jihad, that they might see some isolated demonstrations, but that we would see the true heart of the people in the region. We saw it in October, November and December. A year later now, we have lost that goodwill. We have lost that connection; we have lost that compassion. We have lost that moment when we could have corrected things, and now the language is getting hostile and bitter. We have the crazies that represent the ends of the religions and societies involved in this who are saying things that are inflammatory, inciting, and not helping. We need a lot of repair work on those relationships, culture to culture and society to society, let alone government to government.


. If we think there is a fast solution to changing the governance of Iraq, then we don't understand history, the nature of the country, the divisions, or the underneath-suppressed passions that could rise up. God help us if we think this transition will occur easily. We are going to need a period of order. We're going to need to have people come together. We're going to have to lower the passion, and we're going to have to control events in some way.

That's going to be extremely difficult. There were 98 opposition groups the last time I counted; I think now it has increased a little bit. If you believe that they're all going to rush to the palace, hold hands and sing Kum Ba Yah, I doubt it. (laughter) If you think that people won't see opportunity to do things that will cause concern in the region, whether to the Iranians, the Turks or others, and go against what we hope will happen and against agreements that will be made, then I think you could be sadly mistaken. If you think it's going to be easy to impose a government or install one from the outside, I think that you're further sadly mistaken and that you don't understand this region.

My next point was that the burden has to be shared. I don't only mean cost. I saw an estimate done by some of our financial analysts. They have predicted that the impact of a war would be an immediate 13 percent drop in the DOW and 14 percent in some of the tech stocks and NASDAQ. [emphasis mine] I'm sure the price of oil will spike; I doubt seriously that we could avoid that. The cost of this war can be great, especially if it becomes messy and long-term and if reconstruction becomes a significant issue.


The change has to be orderly. The change will not be immediate. There is no history of Jeffersonian democracy here. If we think that this is going to happen overnight, we're wrong. In my experience with any involvement I've had in nation building--and I've had some--you need a period of transition. You need an immediate sense of order; you need to assess what is happening on the ground. You need to correct some things that are not going in the right direction. You need to build confidence. You need to rebuild institutions. You need to create a system of governance that will last, that the people can understand, participate in and feel confident in. If you think you're going to do that in a month or two, or even a year or two, I think you're dreaming. I've never seen it done like that.

The attempts I've seen to install democracy in short periods of time where there is no history and no roots have failed. Take it back to Somalia and other places where we've tried. It's not an easy concept. It's not an easy form of governance to put in place and to be understood. Remember it happened well for us. We had a revolution of elites in this country, which is the exception. Every place else where this has happened, it's been bloody, difficult, and long-term with a lot of friction. We can ill afford that in this part of the region.


It's the onset of winter in Afghanistan. President Karzai faces a situation with massive refugee problems, major reconstruction problems, and tremendous political fragility in his ability to govern from Kabul. You'd better fix that one. The last time we went to help them, we left. We ended up with Mullah Omar and the Taliban. That is burned into the memories of the people in the region; they're going to be looking to us to see if we will stick this one out and stay with them until they get there. How many of these can you put on your plate? You can't have those fail where you want to see a turnaround.


My last point was that our other commitments have to be met. We have embarked on a global war on terrorism, GWOT as they call it in the Pentagon. If we are going to be involved in a global war on terrorism, we'd better understand that it goes beyond the tactical. The tactical means you go into the field, you go after the terrorists with your military, your law enforcement agencies cooperate to take down cells, your financial institutions work to peel away the resources needed, but you are treating the symptoms. Terrorism is a manifestation of something greater. There is extremism out there that is manifesting itself in the violent way of terrorism.

What are the root causes of this extremism? Why are young people flocking to these causes? Could the issues be political, economic and social? Could disenfranchisement or oppression be what drives them rather than the religious fanaticism that may be the core element to only a few? How do we cooperate to fix these problems? How do we help a part of the world that's trying to come to grips with modernity?

I would suggest that we ought to think in terms of a Marshall Plan, not a Marshall Plan in terms of a large dole necessarily but one that is international and cooperative, one that looks at what needs to be done on the economic, political and social fronts to help this important critical part of the world get through this rough patch. There are Ambassador Edward S. Walkers out there about a great religion in the process of transformation adjusting to modernity. There are Ambassador Edward S. Walkers out there about the forms of governance and whether they're going to evolve into something more responsive to the twenty-first century. There are Ambassador Edward S. Walkers out there about issues of human rights and different ways we see individual rights.

Do you best work those issues in confrontation or cooperation? I think you best work them in cooperation. Our other commitments require that as the leader of the world now and the last empire standing, not one of conquest but one of influence that has attempted to be the beacon for the world and not to conquer the world, how do we best exert that influence? How do we reach that hand out? How do we muster the resources of the world, of others who look to us for leadership to help in this region now? How do we cooperate with those in the region that want to see change and that want stability and reform? How do we do it in a way that minimizes friction instead of always resorting to what I spent thirty-nine years doing, which is resorting to the gun? When you unleash that kinetic energy on a part of the world, you never know what's going to come out of the other end. More often than not, it makes the conditions worse.

In a question-and-answer session following the speech, an audience member asked Zinni, "Do you think the war is unavoidable? Do you think that we are rushing into the war with Iraq without studying the consequences?"

He responded:

I'm not convinced we need to do this now. I am convinced that we need to deal with Saddam down the road, but I think that the time is difficult because of the conditions in the region and all the other events that are going on. I believe that he can be deterred and is containable at this moment. As a matter of fact, I think the containment can be ratcheted up in a way that is acceptable to everybody.

I do think eventually Saddam has to be dealt with. That could happen in many ways. It could happen that he just withers on the vine, he passes on to the afterlife, something happens within Iraq that changes things, he becomes less powerful, or the inspectors that go in actually accomplish something and eliminate potential weapons of mass destruction -- but I doubt this -- that might be there.

The question becomes how to sort out your priorities and deal with them in a smart way that you get things done that need to be done first before you move on to things that are second and third. If I were to give you my priority of things that can change for the better in this region, it is first and foremost the Middle East peace process and getting it back on track. Second, it is ensuring that Iran's reformation or moderation continues on track and trying to help and support the people who are trying to make that change in the best way we can. That's going to take a lot of intelligence and careful work.

The third is to make sure those countries to which we have now committed ourselves to change, like Afghanistan and those in Central Asia, we invest what we need to in the way of resources there to make that change happen. Fourth is to patch up these relationships that have become strained, and fifth is to reconnect to the people. We are talking past each other. The dialogue is heated. We have based this in things that are tough to compromise on, like religion and politics, and we need to reconnect in a different way. I would take those priorities before this one.