Former CENTCOM Commander on Iraq: May 2004

(By Bruce Webb. Well it is a slow night. So let me point you to perhaps the strongest indictment of Bush Iraq policy c.2002-2004. By the guy who General Tommy Franks followed into command. Bolding mine).
Gen. Anthony Zinni, USMC, (Ret.) Remarks at CDI Board of Directors Dinner, May 12, 2004

I just came back from giving a lecture at UCLA yesterday, and the lecture was on the Middle East. I tried to … for the students there, step back and take a more strategic view of the Middle East and the issues out there and maybe give them a perception of the problems and issues from the eyes of those that live with it day-to-day, the Arabs, Israelis, all those that make up the peoples of the Middle East.

On the way back I was thinking about what to talk about here and I know Iraq is a hot topic and I thought I would stay with Iraq. And I thought on the airplane about how history is going to record what happened in Iraq, how we got into it, and obviously it’s too early to tell. And oftentimes the outcome defines how history characterizes it.

But I thought about how much has been misconstrued about what has happened so far, especially at a time when I commanded CENTCOM and we were in the process of containing Iraq as part of the policy. And I thought about the mistakes we made, that as Bruce (Blair, President of CDI) said, I’ve commented on before.

And what I thought I would do tonight is go through the ten crucial mistakes to this point that we’ve made. Because I think it helps frame what, in fact, has happened over time … and is going to be the first part of that history. And I will conclude with maybe some thoughts on the way ahead, at least from my point of view.

Full text via the link above. The ten mistakes in bullet form below the fold. But really you have to read the whole thing to see how devastating Gen. Zinni’s case was. And remember this is right back in early 2004 before things really went into the pot.

*I think the first mistake that was made was misjudging the success of containment*

*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. That the road to Jerusalem led through Baghdad, when just the opposite is true, the road to Baghdad led through Jerusalem.*

*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.*

*We failed in number four, to internationalize the effort.*

*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. You are not going to go through Edelman’s “cakewalk;” you are not going to go through Chalabi’s dancing in the streets to receive you. You are about to go into a problem that you don’t know the dimensions and the depth of, and are going to cause you a great deal of pain, time, expenditure of resources and casualties down the road.*

*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. I testified again during that period with the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, right behind the panel of planners from the State Department and the Department of Defense, and I listened to them describe a “plan.” I understood and knew that Gen. Franks and CENTCOM, would do their part. I knew damn right well the security piece would be taken care of, and I knew we had a good plan. I didn’t hear anything that told me that they had the scope of planning for the political reconstruction, the economic reconstruction, social reconstruction, the development of building of infrastructure for that country. 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. It was more the (Eric) Shinseki model that I think might have been a hell of a lot more effective to freeze the situation. Those extra divisions we had in there were not to defeat the Republican Guard, they were in there to freeze the security situation because we knew the chaos that would result once we uprooted an authoritarian regime like Saddam’s.*

*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. *

*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.*

We are now at a point in history where Vice President Cheney and former DefSec Rumsfield and their apologists are saying that they would do everything all over again. At worst there is some grudging admission along the lines of ‘Who could have known’. Well I’ll tell you who knew. Four star Marine General Tony Zinni. There are some rumblings that he might be brought into the Obama Administration, but he hasn’t been retired long enough to legally serve as Secretary of Defense, which would be an ideal spot. But I suspect we have not heard the last of General Zinni.