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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Vision for the Future

You propose, as a way of being able to address some of these problems, to get the intelligence and information about crises before they become crises, and you call for a national monitoring and planning center to anticipate, act, and thereby lessen the cost. Talk a little about that.

The term that's being used around Washington now by people who have been around the government -- [referring to] this stovepipe system that we have, the bloated bureaucracy [that] isn't integrated, doesn't cross communicate -- is that we need a Goldwater-Nickels Act for the government. Goldwater-Nickels legislation integrated the military. We had four services that operated independently; Senators Goldwater, Nickels, and others saw the inefficiencies, the need to bring them together, the synergy that could be created, how much better we could be, and they passed legislation that was very much resisted by the services, and it was a success. We have successfully integrated our military to a degree that benefits the taxpayer and our capabilities much more than we had before.

People see the same need for the government. The State Department, Department of Defense, other agencies of government that don't communicate, the failures of 9/11, of even the sixteen intelligence agencies, of communicating and interacting together. As a matter of fact, right now this creation of a "war czar" that's gotten so much attention is a manifestation of that problem, because the president was saying, "I can't get interagency coordination, cooperation to do what I feel should be done in Iraq, therefore I have to create some sort of entity that can do this tasking, and pull it together, and articulate the requirements for integration." But it's a band-aid on a bigger problem. There needs to be an integrating organization that the president can count on.

Let me give you an example. Let's take Iraq. There was a debate on the intelligence before going into Iraq. You had elements in the Department of Defense that believed that this [allegation of] weapons of mass destruction, the association with al Qaeda was at some level that warranted intervention. You had others in the CIA and elsewhere that didn't believe it. You had this great disparity in views. Who brings that together? Who allows the decision makers to understand what's the basis for this disagreement, what are the sources, what is the credibility of the sources? Why do they look at this thing and see it differently?

So, that's why my recommendation is that in one respect you need to present the differences and be able to explain why. The second part of that is there is nothing we do now that purely falls within the authority and realm of the single agency. I don't care what it is. Even if it's going to war, conducting diplomacy, you can't do anything today without all agencies, or virtually all agencies, of government on the same sheet of music, having the same priorities, contributing their share to the programs and planning that you're building. Again, I'll go back to Iraq. In Iraq we had a war plan. As a matter of fact, the one that we had should have been the one that was used rather than the sort of hip-pocket ineffective one ...

We would have had enough troops.

We would have had enough troops. But even having said that, there were still flaws in that plan. The flaw in the original plan is we had a military plan. We didn't have a "then-what" plan, a reconstruction plan. There was no planning, there never has been done, at the end of a military intervention as to what you do next. If we were to go to war with North Korea today, there is certainly a plan, one that for fifty-some years has been developed and evolved, and every year reviewed, and gamed, and everything else. But what happens next? What happens once you close on Pyongyang, or as we closed on Baghdad when the statue came down, when we arrived in Mogadishu to set up a security environment? There's none of this planning about the other aspects of this. Within a security environment you have to restructure a society. Again, that's not the business of the military. That's why I suggest something, an entity, that works on this. It doesn't have to do all the elements of planning. It shouldn't be doing the military planning for the Department of Defense, or the diplomacy planning for the Department of State, but it should bring those plans together, ensure they're done, and then marry them up in some sort of cohesive plan. More important than the plan itself is the planning, because that's where you see these problems, these issues, what needs to be done, and you condition yourself and your whole organization. If the event comes there's a depth of understanding in just the planning that was done.

What I hear you saying in your analysis and in the book is that we have a real problem with the unbalanced power within the government to address these political, military issues over time. How do we deal with that? It's a real unbalance. You've mentioned in the book that when you were head of Central Command you often had trouble finding the plans that you wanted from the other parts of the government that represented other parts of American power.

Yes, it's a very difficult system to operate in, because authority is dispersed, resources are dispersed, and as I said before, you can't do anything without bringing the areas of all these agencies of government working together to get a plan. If I'm the commander of U.S. Central Command and I want to begin to structure a plan to create a regional security arrangement, let's say in the Persian Gulf, and you want to bring together organizations to say, "We want to help you build your security environment," or in Africa, if you want to help them understand how they can build a peacekeeping or humanitarian, disaster relief intervention capability, it's not just a military function. It's a State Department function, it's the function of probably several agencies of government at a minimum, not to mention other branches. You have to bring in congressional support, and resources, and other things.

There's no one way, for example, for a commander of a regional combat and command, like Centcom, to do it. There's no way, even if you gained a partnership of cooperation of your counterpart, let's say the Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs in the State Department. It is such a convoluted system, and it doesn't come together in any way. And so, you can't integrate it, you can't build these collaborative processes and build these collaborative programs that allow you to do this. The president can order it and be defeated by the bureaucracy in many ways because of how much gets stovepiped down, and this is a feudal system, our government. The barons are the heads of agencies and departments, and they don't communicate and interact very well. We've had very few examples, especially in modern times, when our government has really grown, and where they see things the same way or cooperate. In their defense, in some ways, the problem is more systemic than it is personality-wise. For example, when I was at Centcom we in the military were doing things in the area of counter-narcotics. There were military aspects to this. We were helping train border patrol military units, we participated in some of the monitoring, and other things, but the State Department had a program, Department of Justice had a program. When you looked on the ground in places where you had this problem and you were trying to help nations work this problem, they were confused because they had these stovepipe interventions from our government and when they would ask us how this fit we didn't know because it didn't fit. We didn't even communicate on things like that.

You've thought a lot about leadership; you're a leader yourself. What kind of political leadership do we need to address these problems and bring the people along? We seem to do very well in the military sector, leaders such as yourself who we've brought forth, and in the business sector. There seems to be a vacuum in the area of political leadership, and we're really saying here that we have systemic problems that we have to address to deal with the instabilities that threaten us.

Part of the problem is the politics and the way the system develops political leaders. It is so heavily politicized it's hard to get beyond the politics. Politics tends to be continuous and short-term. We now go from one election cycle right into another. You go from a presidential election year right into the mid-term political cycle, and then back into the presidential cycle. I suggest in the book a six-year presidency with no ability to succeed yourself, and that our requirement on the president would be that he no longer can participate in campaigning, that we legislate against that, that he no longer would have political advisors in the White House. The American people know the political advisor and who he is better than they know who the National Security Advisor is, or other key people that are more about the business of the country rather than the business of the politics.

The first problem of political leadership is politics. Politics is now overrun, statesmanship is overrun, how we think through foreign policy -- it wasn't that long ago when our congressmen and women were proud not to have a passport, which is ridiculous in this shrunken planet and the need to understand all the things we've been talking about now, what goes on in the world. They were happy to be totally immersed in their own politics, in their own narrow constituency, in many ways misreading their own constituency, as we could see, as elections have surprised people as they've gone along. Politics creates the era of spin, especially because of the way we can communicate now, the information technology that's out there. Everybody has to take truth and spin it to some degree in the way they want to portray it, and so it becomes difficult to find hard truth out there. We're more involved in shaping political mind-sets as opposed to getting at truth and understanding how to deal with it.

What's the political advantage to thinking long-term? What's the political advantage to being a strategic thinker? What's the political advantage today in doing things for the greater good as opposed to the narrow good of a political constituency? We have evolved to this point that to be successful in politics, it doesn't attract the kinds of individuals that are going to be necessary to effectively deal with this world. Part of that might be our fault, that we encourage and we support that. Then we lament that that's the kind of leadership that we have afterwards.

What will shake things up? Because obviously things need to be shaken up. Does, for example, the problem of global warming provide an opportunity -- I know that you were part of a group of military officers who just released a report raising the question of security implications of global warming. Are we going to have to confront a threat that we then define in such a way that leads us to these kinds of reorganizations that you're talking about?

Yes. The nature of threat has changed greatly. I have a friend, and I mention in the book, who used the metaphor that we slept with a cobra for fifty years, that being the Soviet Union, [which had] the ability of one bite to destroy us. Mutual destruction was certainly a possibility. We wake up one day and the cobra is dead, and we rejoice, but now the room is full of bees. No one bee can kill you but a lot of bee stings can certainly damage you. We face this room full of bees in many ways. Some of these bees, like, I believe, climate change, could be very significant, in effect change the world in many ways as we know it, and it's not that far off. You need to be thinking about it now because you could mitigate against the ill effects of what is partly a natural climate change that's being exacerbated by some of the practices, like the release of greenhouse gases and other things, that we do. But some of that change is going to happen anyway, and it may be manageable but it'll require adjustment. You have to think through it ahead of time because you've got to prepare yourself for it.

Our group looked at the security implications but there are other implications: economic, social political, and all sorts of other implications. In my mind, what we're failing to do is, again, look ahead, understand what we face, what we face now and what we're facing in the future, and then put in place the kinds of capabilities to deal with it. The reason for part of the title in the book being "America's Power and Purpose" [is to ask] what we're here to do in the twenty-first century? In the past, we sort of followed Jefferson's advice and tried to remain the bright, shining beacon that everybody could look up to and model themselves after, and in some cases the reluctant interventionists that went in to try to change or shape things.

We've now become more intervening but without that idea of the beacon and without bringing in the kinds of things based on principles and values that we have. [It's come] down to what we see as immediate practical reasons for doing it, which reduced our image in other people's eyes. We're losing something that I think the rest of the world sees as our power and purpose, the ability to lead and unite. We are disavowing our engagement in any international or regional structures to deal with these issues.

My experience in Africa, and I've spent a long time there, is the vast majority of Africans want to find a way to handle their own problems. They don't have the wherewithal. For example, on the military side they would come to me and say, "Look, help train us, help give us the capability, we'll put the boots on the ground. Help us deal with our issues that tend to be these issues of conflict, issues of health, issues of humanitarian disasters and catastrophes. Give us the capacity and allow us to develop the ability to handle it." And we don't do that, we don't invest in that. That [investment] is in our interest, because eventually it's going to draw us in, and we don't do well when our boots are on the ground in those kinds of environments.

Our power and purpose is that we are going to have to build in this shrinking planet the global institutions that can cope and deal with these problems. We're going to have to lead in that respect. If we don't assume that, we're going to fail in what truly is our power and purpose, and maybe what caused us to be the sole remaining superpower. We've survived and prospered based on principles and approaches, and things that we have done, and recognition of failures that we have had, that we can't lose sight of. We need to continue that.

Almost everywhere I go, especially in the Middle East, people will come up and say, "I have to tell you this. We don't hate Americans. Why do you believe that? We don't hate Americans. We may hate your policy, we may dislike it, but you need to understand, you as a people, the freedoms and the values you possess, your educational system, the things that are important to us ... " But more importantly they keep saying -- and I actually had, right after 9/11, a Muslim friend of mine that called me and said, "Whatever you do, don't stop being America. You have your right to get justice, to retaliate on what has happened, and it'll be our eternal shame that it came from our part of the world. But don't stop being America. Don't change your values and your standards and your principles, because," he said, "we need that."

General Zinni, on that hope for the future, and the hope that we might change so that we can realize what we truly are, I want to thank you very much for being here with us. And I want to show your book again, The Battle For Peace, which I recommend highly. So, thank you very much.

Thank you.

And thank you very much for joining us for this Conversation with History.

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