Gen. Anthony Zinni, USMC (Ret.) Remarks at CDI Board of Directors Dinner, May 12, 2004Know this about General Zinni. He's going to be villified as bitter, unAmerican, terror-supporting, Saddam-loving and angry, angry, angry by the yammering media wingnuts this week if this speech makes the rounds. Just as Joe Wilson, Paul O'Neill, Richard Clarke and just about anyone who made the break and spoke their minds.
And I think that will be the first mistake that will be recorded in history, the belief that containment as a policy doesn't work. It certainly worked against the Soviet Union, has worked with North Korea and others. It's not a pleasant thing to have to administer, it requires troops full-time, there are moments when there ... there are periods of violence, but containment is a lot cheaper than the alternative, as we're finding out now.
The second mistake I think history will record is that the strategy was flawed. I couldn't believe what I was hearing about the benefits of this strategic move. [...] 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.
The third mistake, I think was one we repeated from Vietnam, we had to create a false rationale for going in to get public support. The books were cooked, in my mind. The intelligence was not there. I testified before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee one month before the war, and Senator 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."
We failed in number four, to internationalize the effort. To the credit of President Bush 41, he set a standard that held up throughout the post-cold war period up until the Iraq war very well. He went to the United Nations before we undertook the operation to expel Saddam from Kuwait. Tremendous diplomatic effort to get a resolution from the United Nations to authorize the use of force and then a tremendous diplomatic effort on his part to create what I think is one of the most remarkable coalitions, the coalition we had in the Gulf war, where we had Arab countries, Islamic countries, European countries, contributions from the Far East all over the world.
I think the fifth mistake was that we underestimated the task. And I think those of us that knew that region, former commanders in chief, I guess we can't use that term anymore - part of transformation is to change the lexicon - but former combatant commanders of U.S. Central Command, beginning with Gen. Schwarzkopf, have said you don't understand what you're getting into.
The sixth mistake, and maybe the biggest one, was propping up and trusting the exiles, the infamous "Gucci Guerillas" from London. We bought into their intelligence reports. To the credit of the CIA, they didn't buy into it, so I guess the Defense Department created its own boutique intelligence agency to vet them.
The seventh problem has been the lack of planning. And I think that lack of planning, that idea that you can do this by the seat of the pants, reconstruct a country, to make decisions on the fly, to beam in on the side that has to that political, economic, social other parts, just a handful of people at the last minute to be able to do it was patently ridiculous.
The eighth problem was the insufficiency of military forces on the ground. There were a lot more troops in my military plan for operations in Iraq. I know when that plan was presented, the secretary of defense said it was "old and stale." It sounded pretty new and fresh to me, and looking back at it, now because there were a hell of a lot more troops.
The ninth problem has been the ad hoc organization we threw in there. No one can tell me the Coalition Provisional Authority had any planning for its structure. 144 bodies scraped from embassies around the world, people that I know, for fact, walked in and were selected and picked and put in the positions. Never quite fully manned-up until well into the operation.
And that ad hoc organization has failed, leading to the tenth mistake, and that's a series of bad decisions on the ground. De-Baathifying down to a point where you've alienated the Sunnis, where you have stopped having qualified people down in the ranks, people who don't have blood on their hands, but know how to make the trains run on time.
Pandora's Box has been destroyed. It's now out of Bush's control. And America is better off for it.