Anthony Zinni Interview (2007): Conversations with History; Institute of International Studies, UC Berkeley

Challenges for U.S. National Security Policy,î General Tony Zinni, former Commander in Chief of the Central Command (1997-2000), April 23, 2007

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The Role of the Military

As head of Central Command you had a bird's eye view of the enormous military power that we have, the control of information, the new technologies being applied on the battlefield making military victory possible -- and one has to say that looking at it from afar, that kind of power must make our leaders, not necessarily our military leaders, think that we can do anything. But on the other hand, once you put troops on the ground, the boots on the ground, then you come up against the realities you're talking about, where you have to have knowledge of the culture, knowledge of the language, and so on, if you're going to turn the military victory into a stable situation. How do we reconcile those two, and what is the problem of leadership in recognizing these two distinct realities?

First of all, military power is very blunt, and it is not the means to resolve every issue. In some ways it can contribute or assist. It could provide a secure environment, for example, where you might be able to reconstruct societies in some ways -- again: economic, political, social -- but the military is not the end answer. It is designed to confront other military threats and to win on the battlefield in its ultimate form, the release of kinetic energy. It doesn't determine anything in and of itself unless something's built around it. For example, the Second World War, which is probably the greatest expression of our military power, we created in such a short period of time from the date Pearl Harbor was attacked until victory in Europe, victory in Japan, this tremendous military machine, it accomplished the military tasks that were assigned to it, but the real victory came in the reconstruction of those societies. What we did afterward -- Truman's Marshall Plan; the creation of NATO as a deterrent entity to prevent a Third World conflict; the way we helped bring societies out of the ashes where it wasn't retribution, much like after the First World War, it was a sense of reconstructing them into societies that could better cope with the new world, less hostile, less militant; helping put an end to colonialism and imperialism; and the other things that changed the world for the worse -- these kinds of things were what really won in the end.

The use of our military power didn't bring about the end state we wanted. I think you can go back to the end of World War I and see the same thing. Even though we had won, by not following Wilson's vision to truly gain victory -- his view of Fourteen Points as creation of the League of Nations -- we didn't capitalize on a military victory. In and of itself that didn't present us with the kind of stability and end state we desired.

At the end of World War II, because of the things that Truman, Marshall, Kennan, and others did, that vision, that strategic application, that looking at the other elements of power, diplomacy, economic power, how we reach down and communicate, how we effect social connections to bring about change -- they were much more effective in the end at truly achieving the goal that the military allowed us to be in position to accomplish, but in and of itself couldn't accomplish.

Before we talk about this failure which you're just identified, which must be [ascribed to] political leaders who may not be comparable to the ones that we had at the beginning of the Cold War, I want to talk a little about the military. What you're saying is that in some ways the military has adapted but in other ways it's stuck in the Cold War. You've talked about the goals of the military: few casualties in a conflict, the use of technology, extended battlefield, clear-cut moral purpose to make the war popular, and so on, on the one hand. But now we're confronting this different kind of war where you have to worry about the aftermath, and you're saying that our soldiers, in addition to being the masters of this weaponry and this information technology, have to be part political scientists, part economists, part anthropologists, and so on. So, what is the score you give the military?

I think the military understands that it was created, it was designed, it is tasked to do things that don't fill completely the requirement in today's conflicts; but the question becomes how much of that should be their responsibility. They consistently find themselves stuck with those other aspects. They consistently find themselves stuck with reconstructing societies, nation building, if you will. Is that really what we want our military to be about? In the absence of other capabilities on the ground -- we've seen the failure in Iraq, for example, of the Coalition Provisional Authority, Bremer's group, and the predecessor to that, the ORHA, the Office for Reconstruction and Humanitarian Assistance that came in initially. We weren't prepared to do these other things, and so when they failed or they were incapable, the militaries were left with the problem.

The military has to understand how to support those kinds of missions. Certainly we bring to the table things like logistics, power, we bring the power for emergency relief, we bring the power to retain order and create a secure environment for these things to flourish in, but to step beyond that and go to the point where we become the instruments of political change or reconstruction, economic change reconstruction, even social reconstruction, may be more than we want our military to do or is appropriate.

We're faced with a dilemma. If we're going to look at reshaping the world or being involved in its reshaping, and in many ways I don't think we can help it because as things become unstable they threaten us, they threaten world security in many ways, we get thrown into these situations -- Iraq's a bad example because that was one of choice, but Afghanistan and others may be different, and places where we go in for humanitarian reasons may be different -- but we need to create the capabilities that complement the military contributions in this kind of conflict.

The military, by the same token, has to adapt. The military is structured based on world wars of the last century, of threats like the Soviet threat at the end of the century. It's based to deal with conventional and other kinds of threats. It is not the kind of military that easily can adapt to the reconstruction of societies, the instabilities and how they're generated, in many cases an enemy that, the term the military uses, chooses to approach you in an asymmetric basis, in other words, to not face you where your power is but to find a way to undermine it in other ways. They tend to do things that make it difficult, by the way we're designed, structured, tasked, and by the rules that we apply to conflict, that we find difficulty in operating. So, it's a much different world and we have to make these adjustments not only within the military but we have to look at the void we have in these other capabilities that are required.

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