General Zinni and Pre-War Intelligence

Former CENTCOM commander General Anthony Zinni recently added his two cents worth  to retired Army Maj. Gen. Paul Eaton's call for the resignation of Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld, over his alleged incompetent leadership in conducting the Iraq War.  Zinni resurrected the old complaints that there was a lack of "credible planning" for Iraq and that the US had acted unilaterally by "not adhering to the advice that was being given to us by others.'

These criticisms are nothing new.  Zinni long ago joined the ranks of retired flag officers who voiced opposition to a war that they felt was based on intelligence manipulated by the administration.  In addition, Zinni and Cold War—era techno—military author Tom Clancy expanded on this notion of flawed pre—war intelligence to proclaim that there was no casus belli for war with Iraq.  General Zinni has even said that the current administration focuses on blind loyalty rather than emphasizing results:

...integrity, honesty and performance and competence have to outweigh, in this business, loyalty.

Zinni is absolutely correct on the principles espoused in his assertion.  So, let's look at his own pre—war threat evaluation, and just as important, his own loyalties to the players in the Central Region in light of these noble principles.

General Zinni assumed command of CENTCOM in August of 1997, and, as a highly credentialed soldier—statesman, embarked upon a program of 'engagement' with the various corrupt, medieval rulers in the Middle East and Central Asia.  Later, Gen. Tommy Franks would describe engagement  as 'establishing a personal rapport with the region's government and military leaders.'  Supposedly, this was one of the necessary evils to gain information about adversaries in the Central Region since CENTCOM had no permanent large—scale troop presence and no established intelligence apparatus in the area.

Nevertheless, in February of 2000, long before President Bush assumed office, Zinni felt confident enough to provide a strikingly familiar threat assessment on Iraq to the Senate Armed Services Committee:

  •  Iraq remains the most significant near—term threat to U.S. interests in the Arabian Gulf region.  This is primarily due to its large conventional military force, pursuit of WMD [emphasis mine], oppressive treatment of Iraqi citizens, refusal to comply with United Nations Security Council Resolutions (UNSCR) ...

  •  Despite claims that WMD efforts have ceased, Iraq probably is continuing clandestine nuclear research, retains stocks of chemical and biological munitions, ...  Even if Baghdad reversed its course and surrendered all WMD capabilities, it retains the scientific, technical, and industrial infrastructure to replace agents and munitions within weeks or months. [Emphasis mine]

  •  The Iraqi regime's high regard for WMD and long—range missiles is our best indicator that a peaceful regime under Saddam Hussein is unlikely.

  •  ... extremists may turn to WMD in an effort to ...overcome improved U.S. defenses against conventional attack.  Detecting plans for a specific WMD attack is extremely difficult, making it likely such an event would occur without warning. [Emphasis mine]

  •  Extremists like Usama bin Laden ...benefit from the global nature of communications that permits recruitment, fund raising, and direct connections to sub—elements worldwide.  Terrorists are seeking more lethal weaponry to include chemical, biological, radiological, and even nuclear components with which to perpetrate more sensational attacks. [Emphasis mine]

  •  Three (Iraq, Iran and Sudan) of the seven recognized state—sponsors of terrorism [emphasis mine] are within this potentially volatile area [CENTCOM], and the Taliban regime in Afghanistan has been sanctioned by the UN Security Council for its harboring of Usama bin Laden.

    Also read the sections on Iran in Zinni's testimony for a horrifying intelligence picture concerning the mullahs. Given current circumstances, his view of Iran is proving very prescient.  For example: [Iran] continues to assemble an indigenous nuclear infrastructure.  But I digress.

    Yet, the value of intelligence gained over a decade of engagement operations by Zinni and his predecessors would later prove problematic (as Zinni now claims) when Gen. Franks was formulating plans for his campaigns in Afghanistan and Iraq as part of the War on Terror.  One would think that Zinni's conclusions on Saddam's capabilities were based on a multitude of classified bits and pieces that were analyzed and ordered into a sound threat evaluation.  But in response to a question from incoming commander Gen. Tommy Franks about enemy threats in the AOR [Area of Responsibility], Zinni said,

    'I wish I could tell you.'  Tony spread his hands in resignation.  'You'll find our intelligence picture for this region is pretty sad.  That's another reason engagement is so important.  We need friends out there who can give us the true picture.  I'd like to know a lot more about what's happening in Iraq, and with Osama bin Laden and AQ [al Qaeda].  But the fact is I do not.'[emphasis mine]

    So, what changed between Zinni's Senate testimony and his handover briefing to Gen. Franks?  Why had he been so confident of the enemy situation in February of 2000 and a short while later, complained of a woeful intelligence picture?  In reality, Zinni had been right all along.  Yet, the charge of a lack of a casus belli persists even with the release of the tens of thousands of documents seized in the aftermath of Operation Iraqi Freedom.  These recordings and papers actually confirm Zinni's earlier warnings about Saddam and his relationship with Al—Qaeda and Iraq's pursuit of WMD. 

    Zinni was right, then; but years later, the President's rationale for going to war was wrong.  Why?

    The policy of engagement was supposed to substitute for a lack of intelligence assets on the ground, but this also meant being buddies with leaders who the next day might turn around and slit our throat.  Pre—9—11, Zinni and other previous CENTCOM commanders publicly viewed the CENTCOM AOR as being the most dangerous area on the planet.  But it's clear that Zinni and many of his his current top brass anti—war cohorts held to the school of thought that the flawed concepts of engagement and containment could keep a lid on the Islamo—fascist cauldron.

    If engagement and establishing rapport with the region's rulers gave CENTCOM's leaders valuable information, we cannot be so naïve as to forget that loyalty flows both ways in this part of the world.  Information and favors are granted, but much is expected in return on the part of the powerbrokers in the kingdoms of the Central Region.  The benefits of being taken in by legendary Middle East 'hospitality' and admittance to their exclusive club of friends often include lucrative career opportunities upon retirement from military service.

    In his 2000 testimony, Zinni cited the promotion of democratic values in the CENTCOM AOR as being one of the critical aspects in securing the interests of the US and providing stability to this volatile region.  Now that President Bush and his national security team have actually had the courage and will to do just that, the General still slams the administration for implementing a key concept in his own operational plan. 

    And the influence of his Central Region buddies is evident in his parroting of the 'we did this all for Israel' criticism.  His anti—Israel stance is also reflected in his subtle anti—Semitic complaints against people in the administration who did the heavy lifting to deal with the very real threats he spoke about over six years ago.

    When the history of the Global War on Terror is written, perhaps decades from now, the lesson for the American people should be that we need to pay attention to what our political and military leaders say, versus how they actually conduct their business.  Prior to 9—11, we were lulled into a false sense of security based on canned, formulaic assessments of our national security posture, or we ignored the truth of our enemies' capabilities when it was right before our eyes while we depended on phony reassurances from leaders with questionable motives.

    As one of those leaders during the Clinton years of bread and circuses, it's obvious that Zinni's two years of continual carping and troubleshooting about our war effort now rings hollow.  The good General needs to jump on the bandwagon to win this thing, or he should take the advice of a more distinguished military leader and just fade away.

    Douglas Hanson is the national security correspondent of The American Thinker. Ed Lasky, news editor of the American Thinker, contributed research assistance for this article

  • Former CENTCOM commander General Anthony Zinni recently added his two cents worth  to retired Army Maj. Gen. Paul Eaton's call for the resignation of Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld, over his alleged incompetent leadership in conducting the Iraq War.  Zinni resurrected the old complaints that there was a lack of "credible planning" for Iraq and that the US had acted unilaterally by "not adhering to the advice that was being given to us by others.'

    These criticisms are nothing new.  Zinni long ago joined the ranks of retired flag officers who voiced opposition to a war that they felt was based on intelligence manipulated by the administration.  In addition, Zinni and Cold War—era techno—military author Tom Clancy expanded on this notion of flawed pre—war intelligence to proclaim that there was no casus belli for war with Iraq.  General Zinni has even said that the current administration focuses on blind loyalty rather than emphasizing results:

    ...integrity, honesty and performance and competence have to outweigh, in this business, loyalty.

    Zinni is absolutely correct on the principles espoused in his assertion.  So, let's look at his own pre—war threat evaluation, and just as important, his own loyalties to the players in the Central Region in light of these noble principles.

    General Zinni assumed command of CENTCOM in August of 1997, and, as a highly credentialed soldier—statesman, embarked upon a program of 'engagement' with the various corrupt, medieval rulers in the Middle East and Central Asia.  Later, Gen. Tommy Franks would describe engagement  as 'establishing a personal rapport with the region's government and military leaders.'  Supposedly, this was one of the necessary evils to gain information about adversaries in the Central Region since CENTCOM had no permanent large—scale troop presence and no established intelligence apparatus in the area.

    Nevertheless, in February of 2000, long before President Bush assumed office, Zinni felt confident enough to provide a strikingly familiar threat assessment on Iraq to the Senate Armed Services Committee:

  •  Iraq remains the most significant near—term threat to U.S. interests in the Arabian Gulf region.  This is primarily due to its large conventional military force, pursuit of WMD [emphasis mine], oppressive treatment of Iraqi citizens, refusal to comply with United Nations Security Council Resolutions (UNSCR) ...

  •  Despite claims that WMD efforts have ceased, Iraq probably is continuing clandestine nuclear research, retains stocks of chemical and biological munitions, ...  Even if Baghdad reversed its course and surrendered all WMD capabilities, it retains the scientific, technical, and industrial infrastructure to replace agents and munitions within weeks or months. [Emphasis mine]

  •  The Iraqi regime's high regard for WMD and long—range missiles is our best indicator that a peaceful regime under Saddam Hussein is unlikely.

  •  ... extremists may turn to WMD in an effort to ...overcome improved U.S. defenses against conventional attack.  Detecting plans for a specific WMD attack is extremely difficult, making it likely such an event would occur without warning. [Emphasis mine]

  •  Extremists like Usama bin Laden ...benefit from the global nature of communications that permits recruitment, fund raising, and direct connections to sub—elements worldwide.  Terrorists are seeking more lethal weaponry to include chemical, biological, radiological, and even nuclear components with which to perpetrate more sensational attacks. [Emphasis mine]

  •  Three (Iraq, Iran and Sudan) of the seven recognized state—sponsors of terrorism [emphasis mine] are within this potentially volatile area [CENTCOM], and the Taliban regime in Afghanistan has been sanctioned by the UN Security Council for its harboring of Usama bin Laden.

    Also read the sections on Iran in Zinni's testimony for a horrifying intelligence picture concerning the mullahs. Given current circumstances, his view of Iran is proving very prescient.  For example: [Iran] continues to assemble an indigenous nuclear infrastructure.  But I digress.

    Yet, the value of intelligence gained over a decade of engagement operations by Zinni and his predecessors would later prove problematic (as Zinni now claims) when Gen. Franks was formulating plans for his campaigns in Afghanistan and Iraq as part of the War on Terror.  One would think that Zinni's conclusions on Saddam's capabilities were based on a multitude of classified bits and pieces that were analyzed and ordered into a sound threat evaluation.  But in response to a question from incoming commander Gen. Tommy Franks about enemy threats in the AOR [Area of Responsibility], Zinni said,

    'I wish I could tell you.'  Tony spread his hands in resignation.  'You'll find our intelligence picture for this region is pretty sad.  That's another reason engagement is so important.  We need friends out there who can give us the true picture.  I'd like to know a lot more about what's happening in Iraq, and with Osama bin Laden and AQ [al Qaeda].  But the fact is I do not.'[emphasis mine]

    So, what changed between Zinni's Senate testimony and his handover briefing to Gen. Franks?  Why had he been so confident of the enemy situation in February of 2000 and a short while later, complained of a woeful intelligence picture?  In reality, Zinni had been right all along.  Yet, the charge of a lack of a casus belli persists even with the release of the tens of thousands of documents seized in the aftermath of Operation Iraqi Freedom.  These recordings and papers actually confirm Zinni's earlier warnings about Saddam and his relationship with Al—Qaeda and Iraq's pursuit of WMD. 

    Zinni was right, then; but years later, the President's rationale for going to war was wrong.  Why?

    The policy of engagement was supposed to substitute for a lack of intelligence assets on the ground, but this also meant being buddies with leaders who the next day might turn around and slit our throat.  Pre—9—11, Zinni and other previous CENTCOM commanders publicly viewed the CENTCOM AOR as being the most dangerous area on the planet.  But it's clear that Zinni and many of his his current top brass anti—war cohorts held to the school of thought that the flawed concepts of engagement and containment could keep a lid on the Islamo—fascist cauldron.

    If engagement and establishing rapport with the region's rulers gave CENTCOM's leaders valuable information, we cannot be so naïve as to forget that loyalty flows both ways in this part of the world.  Information and favors are granted, but much is expected in return on the part of the powerbrokers in the kingdoms of the Central Region.  The benefits of being taken in by legendary Middle East 'hospitality' and admittance to their exclusive club of friends often include lucrative career opportunities upon retirement from military service.

    In his 2000 testimony, Zinni cited the promotion of democratic values in the CENTCOM AOR as being one of the critical aspects in securing the interests of the US and providing stability to this volatile region.  Now that President Bush and his national security team have actually had the courage and will to do just that, the General still slams the administration for implementing a key concept in his own operational plan. 

    And the influence of his Central Region buddies is evident in his parroting of the 'we did this all for Israel' criticism.  His anti—Israel stance is also reflected in his subtle anti—Semitic complaints against people in the administration who did the heavy lifting to deal with the very real threats he spoke about over six years ago.

    When the history of the Global War on Terror is written, perhaps decades from now, the lesson for the American people should be that we need to pay attention to what our political and military leaders say, versus how they actually conduct their business.  Prior to 9—11, we were lulled into a false sense of security based on canned, formulaic assessments of our national security posture, or we ignored the truth of our enemies' capabilities when it was right before our eyes while we depended on phony reassurances from leaders with questionable motives.

    As one of those leaders during the Clinton years of bread and circuses, it's obvious that Zinni's two years of continual carping and troubleshooting about our war effort now rings hollow.  The good General needs to jump on the bandwagon to win this thing, or he should take the advice of a more distinguished military leader and just fade away.

    Douglas Hanson is the national security correspondent of The American Thinker. Ed Lasky, news editor of the American Thinker, contributed research assistance for this article