Commander of CENTCOM during Bush the Elder‘s Gulf war last decade, retired general Anthony Zinni of the U.S. Marine Corps has the cred to talk about what’s going on now. He was even Bush Junior‘s envoy to the Middle East early on, trying to restart the Israeli-Arab peace process as the key to promoting stability in the region. Until, that is, the neocons and oil-hungry Dick Cheney combined to shove him aside.
Three years later, what is happening is that, right in the middle of the fragile Middle East, Iraq is plummeting into full-fledged civil war, and Americans are dying over there for nothing. On Wednesday, the Iraqi daily paper Addaawa noted, “The wave of violence overwhelming Iraq is central for those who care about the country. What is astonishing in the bloody scene of Iraq is the intermingling of political and criminal aspects.”
Zinni also can’t be accused of being a Monday-morning quarterback. In a powerful speech this past May at a Center for Defense Information dinner, the general recalled his Senate testimony just before last year’s invasion of Iraq by the Bush regime:
I testified before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee one month before the war, and Senator [Richard] Lugar asked me: “General Zinni, do you feel the threat from Saddam Hussein is imminent?” I said: “No, not at all.” It was not an imminent threat. Not even close. Not grave, gathering, imminent, serious, severe, mildly upsetting, none of those.
Zinni’s speech laid out what he called “10 crucial mistakes,” and he suggested solutions, starting with a sincere, “mature” effort to enlist the U.N., instead of just “dropping paper” on the other nations with our own list of what we’re going to do.
This is not the sort of thing that Doug Feith and other fanatical neocon supporters of Israel’s right-wing government want other Americans to hear, but the tragic battle between Israelis and Arabs is one of the keys to peace in Iraq. Zinni recalled the insane patter during the run-up to the U.S. invasion of Iraq:
I couldn’t believe what I was hearing about the benefits of this strategic move. That the road to Jerusalem led through Baghdad, when just the opposite is true: The road to Baghdad led through Jerusalem. You solve the Middle East peace process, you’d be surprised what kinds of other things will work out.
The idea that we will walk in and be met with open arms. The idea that we will have people that will glom on to democracy overnight. The idea that strategically we will reform, reshape, and change the Middle East by this action—we’ve changed it all right.
So we had a basic flawed strategy. All those that believed this was going to be the catalyst for some kind of positive change out there, or some sort of revolutionary change in the region, I think got more than they bargained for, and didn’t understand the region, the culture, the situation, and the issues, and the effect that what they were about to do was going to have on those.
Once we got to Iraq, of course, we kept hanging on to our ignorance of the region the way an inexperienced stagecoach driver with a runaway team of horses jerks the reins tighter and tighter. One of the most telling episodes was in July 2003, before we offended Arabs worldwide by poking fun at their johnsons and riding their grandmothers like donkeys. Saddam’s sons Uday and Qusay were killed in a battle with U.S. soldiers, but it was the aftermath of their deaths that pointed to U.S. political strategists’ lack of shrewdness in not getting the monkey off our back. Zinni recalls it this way:
When we went through that, you know, Weekend at Bernie’s session with the sons of Saddam. After we got those two guys, I would’ve turned those bodies over to the Governing Council. Immediately.
And I would’ve said to the Governing Council, “You own them. You can bury them according to Muslim tradition within 24 hours. You can show them on Al Jazeera and Al-Arabiya. You can bury them and tell the people you verified who they are. They’re yours.”
What did we do? We kept the bodies. We violated Muslim traditional burial. We showed them out to the world. We owned the problem, and that was a small problem that could’ve been put on their back, to begin kind of transferring that monkey.
And as for the military intelligence that justified our invasion? “The books were cooked, in my mind,” Zinni said. “The intelligence was not there.”
In Zinni’s case, however, that’s not true. The general’s nothing if not web-friendly, but here’s one more piece of evidence from elsewhere. In October 2002, Zinni sorted through our country’s options during a speech at the Middle East Institute in D.C. This is how Salon put it:
Zinni stressed the need to get the Israeli-Palestinian peace process back on track, build a broad coalition against Iraq, create trust among allies in the region—and put Saddam Hussein’s threat in perspective.
He also took issue with hawks in and around the administration who downplay the importance of Arab sentiment in the region. “I’m not sure which planet they live on,” Zinni said, “because it isn’t the one that I travel.”
Now that is true. Bush thinks it’s his own planet.