On the 100th anniversary of the publication of Robert Frost's "The Road Not Taken," a discussion about why the poem and poet are well-loved but misunderstood.
Leaders gathering this week at the NATO summit face a world marked by instability. Evidence mounts that Russian troops and weaponry are being used in Ukraine despite denials by the Kremlin. President Obama faces criticism at home and abroad that he has not acted forcefully enough against the terror group ISIS. And Israel is claiming more land in the Palestinian West Bank. Former CENTCOM commander General Tony Zinni says the U.S. needs to step up its leadership in these crises. At the same time, he says we need a more clear-eyed process of committing our troops to guarantee success. He joins Diane to talk about U.S. foreign policy, presidential leadership, and why we often fail to achieve the military outcomes promised by Washington.
- Gen. Anthony Zinni former Commander in Chief of CENTCOM (1997-2000) and special envoy to the Middle East. His latest book is titled, "Before The First Shots Are Fired."
Read A Featured Excerpt
Excerpted from “Before the First Shots Are Fired: How America Can Win Or Lose Off The Battlefield” by Tony Zinni and Tony Koltz. © 2014, Palgrave Macmillan.
MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. General Tony Zinni was commander in chief of CENTCOM and a special envoy to the Middle East before retiring as a four-star general. He joins me in the studio to talk about U.S. foreign policy, presidential leadership and why we often fail to achieve the outcomes promised by Washington.
MS. DIANE REHMHis newest book is titled "Before The First Shots Are Fired." I hope you will join the conversation as well. Give us a call at 800-433-8850. Send us an email to email@example.com. Follow us on Facebook or send us a tweet. General Zinni, it's good to see you.
GEN. ANTHONY ZINNIGood to be with you, Diane.
REHMThank you. You were last on this program in 2009 at the very beginning of the Obama administration. You said then that Obama's election was a response to a leadership vacuum. Do you think President Obama has filled that vacuum?
ZINNIUnfortunately, not. You know, I think the last administration had a reputation of maybe being rash and reckless and in their foreign policy and use of the military. There was an expectation, I think, that President Obama would be more measured, more careful. But now the impression I hear from leaders around the world where I travel is there's a sense of weakness, uncertainty, indecisiveness.
ZINNIHow much of that may be perception more than reality is hard to tell, but that certainly has become the tag on this administration. So with the last two administrations, you know, we've lacked a sort of direction for different reasons.
REHMSo isn't President Obama sort of following in the footsteps and the thinking of General Eisenhower who wanted very much to stay out of confrontation?
ZINNII think Eisenhower -- the differences, I would say, is Eisenhower did want to stay out of confrontations that we did not have vital national interests in. For example, Indochina, people were pressuring us to support the French. But he said -- and sometimes his speech on the military industrial complex is misquoted. He began by saying, our arms must be mighty.
ZINNIAnd I think he had a sense that we needed to retain our power, use it judiciously and to be sure that we had a strategic design for how we approached the world, particularly the Soviet threat at the time. Eisenhower reformed the Solarium group. He had a group of renowned thinkers, George Kennan and others, I think, following in the footsteps of Marshal and Kennan from the Truman administration.
ZINNIAnd the policy of containment and deterrents was foremost in our strategic thinking. I think now what we have, we have a military that we're unsure what kind of structure we should have. We see the defense budget shrinking and I think affordability is an issue. It has to be taken into consideration. We don't know what kind of military we want.
ZINNIThis president has drawn red lines and backed off of them. We have ended conflicts, but not to a satisfactory basis in any way. In Iraq, we came out unable to sustain what we started to build in Iraq. Not all the president's fault, certainly. I think Maliki bears most of the responsibility for that. I guess the biggest criticism I would have is lack of strategic direction, but I would say, to be fair to this president, I don't think since the end of the Cold War, we've been thinking strategically and acting strategically, nor do we understand the world we live in today.
REHMWhat do you mean when you say we don't understand the world?
ZINNIYou know, when the Cold War ended, if you recall, President H.W. Bush talked about a new world order.
ZINNITalked about a peace dividend. But we did nothing to shape that. If you go back to, say, at the end of World War II when I think Truman and our political leadership in the Congress, men like Marshall and Kennan, all knew that the world had changed significantly as a result, another reordering as a result of the war and they readjusted their strategic thinking. We had the 1947 National Security Act, the Marshall Plan, the creation of NATO, the revamping of our government structure, the World Banks.
ZINNIThere were a whole series of things that we did as a leader of the free world that shaped the environment that allowed us not to go to a hot war during the Cold War period and to sustain our position as the world leader economically and otherwise.
REHMSo as NATO is about to meet again, President Putin reminds the world that Russia has nuclear weapons. What do you make of that?
ZINNIWell, I think Putin -- Putin partially, I believe, we're responsible for his creation. At the end of the Cold War, there was an attempt to make sure Russia didn't believe that there were winners or loser, that they were brought into the family of now Democratic nations, but we quickly abandoned that. I mean, NATO never redefined its mission.
ZINNIWe took all these Eastern European former Warsaw Pact nations and we brought them all into NATO, rushed them in. It didn't become a military -- it didn't stay a military alliance. It became more a political alliance. It could be taken as an in-your-face to Russia as we bled away the buffer states in a paranoid way of had to maintain every since Napoleon invaded.
ZINNIAnd I think this gave rise to this sort of Russian resentment and sense of nationalism, which allowed somebody like Putin, who's a throwback, to come in. I think Putin has two objectives. One is to test American leadership, particularly in Europe. How far can he go and how strong is that leadership? The second is to test European resolve and European will and European cohesion.
ZINNIAnd I think he will take it up to the brink. At some point, all this has to be walked back and it has to be done with, I think, very deft diplomacy so that we don't have Putin feel as if he's trapped and has to make a move.
REHMBut considering the moves he's already made into Ukraine, how do you walk back from that?
ZINNIWell, I think that there may have to be some sort of summit where's there's some sort of accommodation in that the Ukraine takes a status of more neutrality, but we retain its borders and its national existence, it's not made to break up, and there's some sort of face-saving accommodation and statement as to its role and its neutrality that can satisfy Putin and satisfy us that their national sovereignty is maintained.
REHMYou almost implied that Putin has gotten into Ukraine more deeply than he actually intended.
ZINNII believe that's true. You know, I don't believe this is what Putin wanted, but he found himself trapped with this Ukrainian situation and I think, in some way, he may have seen it and misjudged that this was an opportunity, again, to test American leadership and European resolve and cohesion, but he's digging deeper and deeper and at some point, he's gonna need help in getting out of what he got into.
REHMAnd who's going to give him that help?
ZINNIWell, it's gonna have to be the United States and NATO. I think the first thing we have to show, and this is a crucial week in this, we have to show NATO solidarity. We have to show a willingness to stand up to Putin. The Europeans have to show that they will support sanctions that can be increasingly more severe. That has to be the going in price. That sort of stops his position from testing us and the Europeans.
REHMBut do you think the Europeans are willing to do that considering their stance thus far?
ZINNIThat is the big question.
ZINNIAnd that is, you know, and I think we will know this week. What comes out of this NATO conference is going to be critical. If it's a wishy-washy response and the NATO nations seem to not be totally together and behind anything that would put pressure on Putin, then I think we're in for a dangerous time. He will continue to test.
REHMIf the United States is, in itself, in a wishy-washy position, how is the U.S. going to be able to influence those European nations that they must stand up to Putin?
ZINNII think that the Europeans have to be conscious of what kind of threat they face. The president, right now, is in the Baltic states, who probably are the most nervous of the Europeans, I'm sure, and he's giving assurances in the name of NATO so that has to be backed up by NATO. If they don't see it this way, then I honestly think it's the end of NATO.
ZINNINATO never really defined its mission after the end of the Cold War. It lapsed in its military standards and capability. This is a defining moment for NATO and the Europeans and even the European Union in many respects. So what comes out of this will tell Putin whether he can push further or we need to start looking at a way to back this down.
REHMAnd, of course, part of this whole Ukrainian problem began with Ukraine saying, we want to be part of the West. We want to be part of NATO.
ZINNII think that the idea of being part of NATO doesn't have much meaning anymore because, you know, NATO was a military alliance created for one purpose. That purpose went away at the end of the Cold War. It's now become more of political club. We've seen in Afghanistan and elsewhere their military capability has really dropped off.
ZINNIThe standards are not maintained and I think we have to redefine its roles in many respects in what has to be done. As far as the Ukraine and some of the nations that border Russia, we may have to find some method where they announce more a position of neutrality where they face both east and west.
REHMGeneral Tony Zinni, he was commander in chief of CENTCOM, special envoy to the Middle East. His new book is titled "Before The First Shots Are Fired."
REHMAnd welcome back. If you've just joined us, General Tony Zinni is my guest. From the years 1997 to 2000 he was commander and chief of CENTCOM and special envoy to the Middle East before retiring as a four-star general. His latest book is titled "Before the First Shots Are Fired." The theme of your book, General, is that we need to know what the endgame is before we begin the first step.
ZINNIAbsolutely. I mean, that's the definition of strategy. We need to understand what the political objectives are, how much of our resources are we willing to expend to achieve them. That gives the military the basis for the operational design and knowing what to achieve. We have not done this very well since the end of World War II.
REHMNow let me ask you about what are said to have been General Colin Powell's comments to George W. Bush before the U.S. invaded Iraq. Do you think that President Bush took into account the fact that going into Iraq under false premises was going to lead us to the worldwide crisis we now see?
ZINNINo, I don't think he understood that. Clearly when you – when the issues were brought up about what we would face in Iraq, issues that we knew for ten years since at the end of the first Gulf War, that this population could come apart like a cheap suitcase, that the borders were porous and bad things could come in once you pop the regime. He didn't understand that.
ZINNIRemember that the members of the administration were talking about a cakewalk, a liberation, flowers in the streets. Those of us that had been in the Middle East for decades knew that this was a pipedream. And then to believe that shock and awe, a few troops with a lot of fire power, would paralyze everybody. This is a country that went through wars with Iran, went through the Gulf War with us. We had been bombing them through the containment period after that.
ZINNIThe idea of going in there and thinking this could be a quick solution, even the mission accomplished speech which was a disaster, in that it attempted to end the war by one speech on a carrier that was chronic and ongoing, showed that that administration did not understand strategically what they were getting into.
REHMWhat was your position at the time? Where were you?
ZINNIActually, I was President Bush's – actually Secretary Powell's special advisor in the Middle East and involved in the Israeli Palestinian peace process at that time.
REHMAnd what were you saying to General Powell or even more directly to the President of the United States?
ZINNIWell, I was not asked by the President of the United States my view. I certainly voiced it. I had been called before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and gave my view that Saddam was not a threat. He was contained. We were focusing on the priority of focus on the wrong part of the world. We need to get al-Qaida. This was going to drain us all from our attention in Afghanistan, which it did. We missed al-Qaida Tora Bora and they got away into Pakistan. We didn't understand what we were unleashing in this neighborhood.
ZINNII would just tell you one short story, which I mention in the book. I was listening to the president describe what this war was about and...
REHMAnd you're talking about President George W. Bush.
ZINNIYes. And he was talking about this would be about the forces of democracy and freedom against the authoritarian regime. And that was all well and good. And I happened to be with two friends of mine from the Middle East. One said, this is about a Persian in Arab. You're about to unleash a devil we never wanted to have unleashed. And another friend who was there said, this is about Sunni versus Shia. You're going to lead us into a religious war.
ZINNIAnd I would offer that that's exactly what has happened now. We can see Iranian influences growing since this. Iraq has become almost a vassal state at least under Maliki's term. And certainly the religious war between the Sunni and the Shia and the extremist end of the interpretation says rage throughout the Middle East as a result.
REHMTell us about ISIS and its growth and why now al-Qaida is seen as barely operational and ISIS has taken over.
ZINNIWell, I think what we've seen ever since the incursion into Iraq is these extremist groups are trying to outdo each other in how radical they can become, how vicious they can become, how ultraconservative they can become in interpreting Islam. And, you know, we've seen this throughout Africa. We've seen this throughout the Middle East and in southwest Asia. And I think ISIS has sort of reached the pinnacle of this sort of radical Islam.
ZINNIAnd unfortunately two things are happening that worry me most. One it's expanding, it's recruiting disenfranchised youth from almost all over the world. And...
REHMIncluding the United States.
ZINNIThe United States, Western Europe and, you know, all over, southeast Asia. And it's beginning to fill vacuums. You know, the Sunni parts of Iraq were basically a vacuum. Maliki didn't include them and that was always the fear from the time he came in. They felt this enfranchise. They're looking at this in a way where they either fear ISIS or there's apathy there and they don't care. There's nothing better that the Baghdad government has offered them. Or they may be actually supporting it in some cases and there's evidence.
ZINNIYou know, so they have gobbled up where the vacuums have been created and unfortunately have gotten to the doorstep of Baghdad which is extremely dangerous. I don't think they could take Baghdad but they can get into Baghdad, cause chaos and violence that would ineffectively make that capitol nonfunctional and create a disaster right there between Iran and the Arab world.
REHMI want to talk to you about Somalia and the operations that American military forces had launched against Qaida-linked militant network group the Shabaab or al-Shabaab terrorists led by someone named Abdi Godane. What do you know about that group and their leader?
ZINNIWell, first of all, he's relatively new on the scene, supposedly an accountant and poet, as I understand it. But al-Shabaab, you know, has been stretching out its tentacles. Obviously the bombing of the shopping mall in Nairobi, probably the most atrocious act they've committed, they threatened to destabilize parts of Kenya, the Muslim side along the coast. They're reaching out deeper into Africa. Obviously Somalia, as a failed state, has become a sanctuary.
ZINNIThis is what I worry about most. These – what we should've learned is sanctuaries allow these groups to gain a regional or a global reach. The sanctuary that the Taliban provided al-Qaida gave them safety, the ability to plan, the ability to recruit, gain resources and eventually we saw what happened at 9/11. The same thing is happening with ISIS. Syria has become – or their portion of it, a sanctuary. Now with al-Shabaab, they have a sanctuary in Somalia because basically it's not governed in any effective way.
ZINNIAnd the removal of these sanctuaries has to be the priority of the world. I mean, obviously it would be our leadership. I think it's time for UN resolution authorizing the use of force against these groups. My god, if the world doesn't get it now. I mean, even the Chinese and the Russians have elements of these extremists within their own borders. But we need some sort of global and regional sets of partnerships to deal with these.
REHMSo are there airstrikes going into Somalia?
ZINNIAs I believe, this was a drone strike. So I'm – from what I understand of it, they obviously had very good intelligence about the leadership of al-Shabaab moving somewhere and they targeted their vehicles. And obviously the success in all this has to be based on that kind of intelligence.
REHMWe have an email from Marilyn who says, "Does General Zinni think President Obama should have attacked Assad last year even though it turns out that might or would have aided ISIL?"
ZINNIWell, it goes back to the point we started with. What did we want to achieve by attacking Assad? So we attack Assad. Let's say his government is taken down. And then what? That's the question. You know, when Newt Gingrich was the speaker of the house, he spoke to my class at the National War College. And a piece of advice I always remember, he said, some of you someday will be very senior generals. And you'll be given orders by our political leadership. Always ask the question, and then what? And that's the key question.
ZINNISo we attack Assad, we destroy me. What do we have? Would it have been an ISIS-run state? Would the more moderate free Syria movement get into another civil war with ISIS? Whose side would we take then? You know, I think we have to be careful about what we unleash. This is what happened in Iraq. We certainly got rid of a horrible dictator but we ended up with a disaster that is still affecting us. Remember Charlie Wilson's war?
ZINNIAnd Charlie's Wilson's war, what – I actually had a senator ask me, what could be worse than Saddam Hussein? I reminded him of Charlie Wilson's war. What could be worse of the soviet-dominated Afghanistan? Well, we dot the Taliban and al-Qaida as a result of our intervention.
REHMAnd a question I asked General Powell himself, what if having said to George W. Bush, you break it, you own it, if General Powell had listened to you, and I presume he did, if he had stood up and resigned at that moment, do you believe that President Bush would've gone to war?
ZINNII think he was determined to do it. I think if Secretary Powell had done that, you would still see the influence of Secretary Rumsfeld. Vice-President Chaney would have still carried the...
REHMPushed. They would have...
ZINNII believe, and I don't believe that would've made a difference, unfortunately. Actually, I believe Secretary Powell gave President Bush a way out of that. Remember he went to the United Nations...
ZINNI...we had resolution 1444.
ZINNIThe inspectors were back in. They were not only back in, they were verifying that there was no ongoing program.
ZINNIThey were cutting up the Al Samoud missiles which the range had stretched beyond what the allowable range was set by the United Nations. We had an inspection regime back in place. Saddam was contained. There was no way anybody in the region felt he was a threat. And we still were – remember the answer that Rumsfeld gave on that was, well, our troops are already out there and they're in the desert and it's hot out there so we've got to do something. So for ten more years we sweat and bled in Iraq.
REHMAnd you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Britain's prime minister has said a great deal in the last few days about monitoring those British citizens who leave to travel to Iraq or Afghanistan or Somalia, parts of Africa. Monitoring their movements and also those who return from those areas feeling that they may have joined ISIS and come back to create terror. Should the United States put a similar watch process in place?
ZINNII think we have to but I would be the first one to say I would like it to be based on intelligence, based on the information that we get from responsible members of those communities that are now – people are attempting to radicalize like in Minnesota and elsewhere.
REHMBut look how much we miss in our intelligence.
ZINNIWell, I don't want to see us go to the point where we start profiling or we start doing something that is beyond just the basis of intelligence. Remember Britain has a greater problem than we are. They have a much larger community that – and their approach to this community is not as assimilating as ours is too. I'm happy to see on TV in the last couple of days, many leaders in these communities that are working to try to counter this radicalization of their youth in these committees.
ZINNII do think it's important for our Federal Bureau of Investigation, our local law enforcement agencies to monitor this if there is suspicion. I think we're warranted in checking on who's going and who's coming back from those particular regions and what they might have been up to there. I'd be careful that this doesn't go beyond just, you know, branding everybody who happens to be a member of the Islamic community and travels home or somewhere else. So I think it has to be done carefully but it should be done.
REHMHow concerned are you about another attack on the U.S.?
ZINNII think another attack on the U.S. is what organizations like al-Shabaab and ISIS really want. They want to show their reach. It helps their recruiting. It gives them stature. It allows them to engage us in the battle of the narrative and blows them up beyond their maybe threat capability. So as long as – I think they will keep looking for that opportunity. And, you know, as an open society much like Western Europe, we're very vulnerable to this too.
REHMAnd of course they're recruiting via social media rather successfully.
ZINNIThey are. And, you know, there's – part of this, like I said, are disenfranchised youth that are looking for something they don't seem to have. Secondly, there's a certain romanticism, I think, that goes with this to be out and fighting and to be part of organizations like this in certain communities. Again, the key to this is working with community leaders and trying to counter this and making sure the opportunities within those communities are there to prevent this, especially amongst the young.
REHMBut of course the question of airstrikes in Syria comes back up again and again. Should we, at this point, be partnering with al-Assad in order to try to contain ISIS?
ZINNII don't think we should be partnering with Assad. But I do think if there are targets in Syria, ISIS targets, we should engage those targets. ISIS doesn't honor that border. That border is completely porous and unrecognizable in western Iraq. So I think we should do it but not in any partnering way with Assad. Assad has basically let ISIS alone up to this point because he wants to use it for his own ends.
REHMGeneral Tony Zinni. His latest book is titled "Before the First Shots Are Fired: How American Can Win or Lose Off the Battlefield." When we come back, your calls.
REHMGeneral Tony Zinni is my guest. He was commander in chief of CENTCOM, special envoy to the Middle East before retiring as a four-star general. His latest book is titled, "Before the First Shots Are Fired." He's here in the studio and we're going to open the phones now. First to Deborah, in Alexandria, Va. Hi, you're on the air.
DEBORAHGood morning. Thank you for taking my call.
DEBORAHI'm a very reluctant caller to speak on the air this morning. But there's an issue that keeps being repeated every week in the rehash about the red line drawing by our current president who didn't act in Syria. And we're talking own his status by repeating the fact that he didn't act in Syria. Contextually, if you look at the week prior to that decision, there was a vote in the British government that they would not go along with taking action in Syria, followed by a vote in our Congress that further said we're not behind you.
DEBORAHAnd President Obama did not act. And we, by understanding history, we know where we came from. But just like with President Eisenhower talking about the military industrial complex, there's textual reference. And when we talk about all the past wrong decisions conflated with the last administration, that now are somehow -- when you look at the date -- it precedes President Obama, but he's owned them because he's the president now.
DEBORAHI have a really serious concern about what's going to happen. There are people in the House that are asking, please, let's get together and talk about this. Come back early and have a discussion and not do this the way we did it the last time. And I don't know if they're going to honor that or not.
ZINNIWell, I would make one point about red lines, which I think is at the heart of what you're asking, Deborah. Presidents need to be careful about red lines and presidential doctrines. In some ways you pre-commit yourself to action and circumstances may change. There are ways to conveying what's unacceptable and what might happen. A quiet diplomacy, making sure your partners are on board.
ZINNIBut I think when a president draws a red line and said, "I will act if this happens," he actually gives his potential enemies an advantage because they can choose then when they can draw you in. And it may not be at the most advantageous point, as I think the president found himself at that point.
REHMWhat kind of advice do you believe the president had before he made that statement?
ZINNIWell, I think that -- the president, first of all, thought he was acting within the international accepted rule about the weapons of mass destruction, particularly chemical weapons. Unfortunately, as I understand that convention, it doesn't apply to using it internally on your own people. It applies to all these signatories using it against each other. But I would have -- if you were going to do something like that, I would have done it through some international forum, like the United Nations or the Convention itself.
ZINNITo do it on a stand-alone basis committed you without understanding who's behind you. It might have been -- even been wiser to go to Congress at that point when he was considering it, before making it as an executive decision. In a way I could argue that's really the job of the Congress. I mean, that's really the declaration of war.
REHMBut of course he was getting no support, no help from the Congress at all.
ZINNIWe live in a democracy. We -- our forefathers believed that we should only go to war through the decision that's rendered by our elected representatives. That's why the Constitution says only they can declare war. The War Powers Act further says the president can do it in an emergency and react, but then there's a time limit -- 60 days -- before he has to come back to Congress. I think that there's an important democratic principle here.
ZINNIWars and things that are -- engages beyond just a defensive measure or an emergency reaction, we need the voice of our elected representatives to support that. And I would add, it's wise to get international and regional support for action, too.
REHMHere's an email from Keston, who says, "Did the U.S. invasion of Iraq further legitimize the practice of incursive force by stronger powers, such as Russia? Has the U.S. supported a bad precedent?"
ZINNII think it did set a bad precedent. And I think Putin would, you know, will use that in effected where he saw his interests and threats, where he can decide what that is. I think the decision to go into Iraq without a clear threat -- we should have learned from Vietnam and the Gulf of Tonkin Incident. Before you set up a threat you had better be sure it was there. There was never any clear indication there was an ongoing program of WMD. And that's proven out now, which delegitimized our rationale for going in from the beginning.
REHMWhere do you believe that that statement of WMDs came from? Can you trace it back? Was it a deliberate attempt to pull the U.S. in?
ZINNII don't think it -- I think what happened was -- it was obvious after the first Gulf War. Saddam still had some capability. Slowly but surely the inspectors were eliminating that and discovering where stockpiles might have been and destroying them. By the time we got to 1999, 2000, the inspectors were saying there is no ongoing program. The things they had yet to find were tactical level rockets and artillery shells. If those are laying around somewhere -- and they didn't even believe they were -- they would have deteriorated to a point they weren't very effective.
ZINNIAnd they certainly couldn't have been shot across borders. Those are short range. Secondly, he certainly did possess the capability to restart a program. I mean, you have the scientists, you have the capability, but as long as the inspectors are in that prevented it. So I think it was an excuse. I think there was another reason for going into Iraq.
ZINNII -- this is just my opinion. I believe that President Bush felt after 9/11 we needed a strategic stroke. Going into Afghanistan and chasing al-Qaida around the hills and getting them was all well and good, but we had to change what I think he believed was the environment that was creating this problem. The lack of democracies and representative government in this part of the world.
ZINNIAnd I think he honestly believed -- naively, unfortunately -- that by us going into Iraq and getting rid of Saddam, a natural flourishing of this sort of democratic movement would start there and then oil-stain out to the rest of the Middle East. He got bad advice. First of all, the way we did it certainly wasn't going to insure that. And it just was not going to happen in that environment in the way he envisioned.
REHMDo you think Vice President Cheney was naive?
ZINNIWell, I certainly believe he knew enough about the Middle East that he should have known better. You can't provide Shake 'N Bake democracy and election does not equal democracy. I mean, all the things that we did or claimed to do to say we have created a democratic state were ridiculous in that environment.
REHMAnd here's an email on exactly that point, from Marilee. "Shouldn't the U.S. change its end point, creating democracies? How can we ever succeed if none of the nations we fought in have not succeeded? Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan. Why are we fighting there?"
ZINNIWell, we have to understand the limitations of what we're able to do. This -- we got trapped in Iraq and Afghanistan on this belief we could fight this counter-insurgency, that we could eventually implant democracy, free-market economy. First of all, we couldn't afford to do it. Second of all, we didn't understand the time it takes and the resources it takes to get there.
ZINNIAnd you're trying to move societies that may be centuries behind in terms of that form of governance and to bring them up to this form of governance that we have takes a lot more in terms of time, resources and commitment then I think we could afford. That's unfortunately the reality of it. We tend not to settle for good enough. I mean, some form of reasonably representative government might be just what we need.
ZINNII was always hopeful that in some parts of the Middle East we might see constitutional monarchies, where you still have the monarchy and the traditions and maybe moderate forms of Islamic rule, but represented, where there are parliaments and all. But that is a step. You can't bring it in overnight. You can't just say, you know, in two months we have an election. Therefore, we have democracy.
REHMAnd what do you see happening between Israel and the Palestinians now that Israel has said it wants to take one and a quarter miles of Palestinian territory?
ZINNII think this is a disaster. I think this is sort of vengeful, in term -- on Israel's part. Obviously, for the killing of those young -- unfortunately those young people out there and then what ensued afterwards. You know, Israel and the Palestinians, particularly Hamas, are locked into this sort of spiral of violence. It gets worse and worse. It accomplishes nothing. I fear this land grab is the end of the possibility of a two-state solution.
ZINNIYou keep grabbing more land, you, by definition, are not going to be able to then reestablish a border and withdraw. It becomes less and less possible. There is no visible solution. I would also add, I believe our approach in this has been wrong in the mediation effort. Short-term summits and sending of envoys isn't going to do it. This is too complex a problem. We need working groups on the ground that are there all the time. It may take years, even decades to resolve it, but you have to work through it from the bottom up.
ZINNIOn the political issues, the economic issues, the security issues, the monitoring formats you need. You know, you can't just send one person or a handful of people and say, you got nine months, solve the problem. It's impossible. I've been involved in eight mediations throughout the world. This is the most complex and most difficult. It is -- can only be solved if there's a commitment over years and years.
ZINNIAnd it may have to be resolved incrementally. You may resolve parts of it, like maybe right of return and maybe even borders. But trying to eat the whole elephant in one bite on a short-term basis, with one touch-and-go envoy will never resolve this.
REHMHow are the Palestinians going to or where are the Palestinians going to get the money to rebuild?
ZINNIWell, I -- first of all, I would not do it in terms of providing money. I would provide things like schools and clinics and structure. Pumping money into that system will only go to Hamas or Fatah. And the accountability for that money in the past has not been the best. I think efforts and commitments, incentives to build the society and the infrastructure it needs to recover should be the way anybody offers that incentive for some sort of peace agreement.
REHMBut isn't that just leaving the Palestinians wide open to another session of warfare between them and Israel?
ZINNII think when -- you know, when Arafat passed from the scene and Abu Mazen came in, there was a moment there that we could have done more. He obviously needed to be built up in the eyes of his people as someone who could deliver. All he got was photo ops back here in the United States.
ZINNII think in the name of Abu Mazen and Gaza, we and others like the Europeans, other members of the quartet, could have invested in things like schools and hospitals and things like that, that people would have seen him as the future and not Hamas, possibly, and in the West Bank. He got nothing from us. He got nothing from Prime Minister Sharon at the same time.
REHMAnd you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Let's go to Shadi, in Tampa, Fla. You're on the air.
SHADIYes. Diane, General Zinni, it's an honor to be with you this morning.
SHADII do agree with General Zinni on most comments. I would say that the objective of the United States in Afghanistan was actually pretty good in that we secured a lot of the minerals, including uranium, lithium, gold. These are minerals that -- or minerals in addition that China and Russia are trying to acquire. I would argue that best country to control that would be us. The local governments are not established, they're not ready for it yet. Russia certainly isn't. And we certainly don't want China doing it.
ZINNIWell, you know, I would -- the one thing I would disagree with, I don't like the idea of the United States going in somewhere and controlling something. You know, we try to resist becoming an imperial power. And sometimes in our history we got tempted and maybe went beyond where we should, but that's antithetical to what we believe and how we should operate. Sometimes that gets us in trouble.
ZINNII mean the biggest problem we faced in Vietnam and Afghanistan and Iraq is the governments that were put in place after we intervened, we ended up being held responsible for. And, you know, so if the government doesn't have the capability to responsibly control their resources, we can help them, we can advise them. I don't like the idea of a statement that says we will take over. You know, that, unfortunately, in history has created more problems and doesn't work in our system.
REHMYou say in your latest book that we don't seem to be learning from our past military experiences. Is there anybody out there whom -- who might run for president that you think has learned the lessons?
ZINNII haven't, you know, unfortunately, when you look at our system of government, the most popular candidates are those that "run against Washington." Well, running against, you know, since Jimmy Carter, the only president we've had that really understood Washington was George H.W. Bush, that was part of it. Everybody came as a governor from outside. Or -- and even the Senator Obama had very little time in the Senate before he came here.
ZINNIWell, they don't understand the government. They don't understand how things work. They come in having run against it. They get confronted with a crisis. They have no experience on the application of military force. It -- the relationship, the civilian political relationship with the military's never been great, since the end of the Second World War. And so we end up getting thrust into things that we shouldn't get involved in.
REHMSo you don't see anybody out there?
ZINNII don't. I don't. I mean, if Colin Powell were to run, I'd certainly think that would be our hope, but I don't see anybody else that has that kind of experience and understanding.
REHMHow do you think John Kerry is doing as Secretary of State?
ZINNII have a great deal of respect for John Kerry. And I think he's overwhelmed. I think he's a one-man show out there.
REHMAnd Chuck Hagel as secretary of defense?
ZINNIThe same there. I think Secretary Hagel, you know, the thing he's faced with, he's faced with a diminishing defense budget. He's trying to manage an internal problem of restructuring service rivalries. That's all consuming.
REHMAnd those are the thoughts of General Tony Zinni. His latest book is titled, "Before the First Shots Are Fired." Thank you for being here, sir.
ZINNIThank you, Diane.
REHMAnd thanks for listening all. I'm Diane Rehm.
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