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Ret. General Zinni on Iraq: "Ten years worth of planning were thrown away"

In the lead-up to the Iraq war and its later conduct, I saw, at a minimum, true dereliction, negligence, and irresponsibility; at worst, lying, incompetence, and corruption.
General Tony Zinni in Battle Ready.

Former CENTCOM commander retired General Tony Zinni specified these charges at Meet the Press:
I knew the intelligence; I saw it right up to the day of the war. I was asked at a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing a month before the war if I thought the threat was imminent. I didn't. Many of the people I know that were involved in the intelligence side of this, or, or in the military felt the same way. I saw the -- what this town is known for: spin, cherry-picking facts, using metaphors to evoke certain emotional responses, or, or shading the, the context. We, we know the mushroom clouds and, and the other things that were all described that the media's covered well. I saw on the ground, though, a sort of walking away from 10 years worth of planning.
You know, ever since the end of the first Gulf War, there have been -- there's been planning by serious officers and planners and others, and policies put in place. Ten years worth of planning, you know, were thrown away; troop levels dismissed out of hand; General Shinseki basically insulted for speaking the truth and giving a, an honest opinion; the lack of cohesive approach to how we deal with the aftermath; the political, economic, social reconstruction of a nation, which is no small task; a belief in these exiles that anyone in the region, anyone that had any knowledge would tell you were not credible on the ground; and on and on and on. Decisions to disband the army that were not in the initial plans. I mean there’s a series of disastrous mistakes. We just heard the secretary of state say these were tactical mistakes. These were not tactical mistakes. These were strategic mistakes, mistakes of policy made back here. Don't blame the troops. They're the ones that perform the tactics on the ground. They've been magnificent. If anything saves this, it will be them.
Meet the Press transcript and video. Clip with above quote at Crooks and Liars.

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Atlantic Review on : Iraq: Polling, Reporting, Planning, and Learning

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• Polls: The public diplomacy blog Eccentric Star quotes an AP report about Iraqi views of their country's future, including this: About six in 10 Iraqis say they approve of attacks on U.S.-led forces, and slightly more than that want their governmen

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Olaf Petersen on :

High times to talk about the thousand mistakes, Condoleezza Rice knows of, high times to talk about wrong analysis, assessments and expectations. Never before have the United States been so dependant on the good will and peaceful intentions of - The Islamic Republic of Iran. One word from Teheran and Iraq is burning. But the USA haven't accomplished creating a shiite army in Iraq yet so it might not wonder the Mullahs in Teheran decide to stay on the sidelines some weeks longer. Or months. Who knows? No security - no democracy. No times for dreams.

Clarence on :

Zinni stated "I knew the intelligence; I saw it right up to the day of the war." In fact, he retired in Sept 2000 (per his own website, www.generalzinni.com), so what is the source of his "intelligence"?

Jorg on :

He says he was doing consulting work for the CIA and the military, which makes sense since he was in charge of CENTCOM before. I guess that is the reason why the House asked him to testify. This is from the Meet the Press transcript: MR. RUSSERT: I want to bring you back to August 26, 2002. The Veterans of Foreign War had a convention, a meeting. Vice President Cheney was the guest speaker. You were honored, as you can see the medal around your neck there. This is what the vice president said on that day. (Videotape, August 26, 2002): VICE PRES. DICK CHENEY: Simply stated, there is no doubt that Saddam Hussein now has weapons of mass destruction. There is not doubt that he is amassing them to use against our friends, against our allies and against us. (End videotape) MR. RUSSERT: After that event, The Washington Post captured your thinking in a conversation with you. “Cheney’s certitude bewildered [retired General Tony] Zinni. ... ‘In my time at CENTCOM, I watched the intelligence, and never - not once - did it say, “He has WMD.”’ Though retired for nearly two years, Zinni says, he remained current on the intelligence through his consulting with the CIA and the military. ‘I did consulting work for the agency, right up to the beginning of the war. I never saw anything. I’d say to analysts, “Where’s the threat?”’ Their response, he recalls, was, ‘Silence.’ Zinni’s concern deepened as Cheney pressed on. ... Zinni’s conclusion as he slowly walked off the stage was that the Bush administration was determined to go to war. A moment later, he had another, equally chilling thought: ‘These guys don’t understand what they’re getting into.’” ===== He was in charge of containing Saddam in the 90s, i.e. he is angry that politicians don't think containment works anymore, which is one more motivation to be against the war: ZINNI: Now, I’d be the first to say we had to assume he had WMD left over that wasn’t accounted for: artillery rounds, chemical rounds, a SCUD missile or two. But these things, over time, degrade. These things did not present operational or strategic level threats at best. Plus, we were watching Saddam with an army that had caved in. It was nothing like the Gulf War army. It was a shell of its former self. We knew we could go through it quickly. We’d stripped away his air defenses. He was at our mercy. We had air superiority before we even—or actually air supremacy before we would even start an operation. So to say that this threat was imminent or grave and gathering, seemed like a great exaggeration to me. MR. RUSSERT: The president, the secretary of state, all said he was not contained, he was not in a box, that he was a madman. GEN. ZINNI: Well, I think that’s—that is an insult to the troops who, for 10 years, ran the containment: those brave pilots who flew the no-fly zones, those sailors who enforced the maritime intercept operations, our soldiers and Marines that were on the ground out there that responded to every crisis, our support for the efforts of the inspectors that were in there. You know, we—we had less troops on a day-to-day basis out there than go to work at the Pentagon every day doing this. And these were not assigned troops to CENTCOM. These were troops that rotated in and out. We had allies out there that helped foot the bill for this, $300 million dollars to $500 million dollars a year supporting us with bases, supporting us with overflights, supporting us with assistance in kind, joining us in places like Somalia and the Balkans when we required coalition troops. I thought the containment worked remarkably well, and it was a tribute to our troops and how they handled it.

Franz Hoffmann on :

Here´s another analysis from the Strategic Studies Institute: Revisions in Need of Revising: What Went Wrong in the Iraq War http://www.strategicstudiesinstitute.army.mil/pdffiles/PUB637.pdf Partially a reply to Zinni.

Jorg on :

Franz, thank you. I have read the summary and scanned the conclusions. I don't think they criticize Zinni's viewpoint. I got the impression they agree with Zinni's charges about "true dereliction, negligence, and irresponsibility." A remarkable paper. Seems to be a balaneced paper with the thesis according to the foreword: "Though they conclude that critics have made a number of telling points against the Bush administration’s conduct of the Iraq war, they argue that the most serious problems facing Iraq and its American occupiers—criminal anarchy and lawlessness, a raging insurgency, and a society divided into rival and antagonistic groups—were virtually inevitable consequences that flowed from the act of war itself. Military and civilian planners were culpable in failing to plan for certain tasks, but the most serious problems had no good solution." Sure, there would still be problems and severe challenges in Iraq today, if those mistakes had not been made. The authors, however, also acknowledge that things in Iraq would be much better if those mistakes had not been made. Or less mistakes would have been made. And they acknowledge that some of those mistakes were BIG. They write: "Operation IRAQI FREEDOM was, in basic respects, a test of the theory that civilians must intervene in the military planning process and force their perspectives down the chain of command.59 Secretary Rumsfeld did this in the first instance by starting the bidding for the forces committed to the invasion at 75,000 troops and intimating that a smaller number would be entirely adequate. Events have shown that the number was ludicrously small in relation to the tasks given to U.S. forces, and that Army Chief of Staff General Eric Shinseki was right in seeing the need for much larger numbers. On this crucial question, certainly, the record of Iraq war planning does nothing to advance the case for civilian activism." Zinni knew the military plans and is angry that the civilians threw away the military plans. The military does great work. They are professional, experienced, cautious, careful, smart etc. Civilians don't have this experience and knowledge. The CEO of a hospital should not tell a neuro surgeon how to operate.

clarence on :

Jorg, You write "Zinni knew the military plans..." Please provide any evidence (aside from Zinni's own assertions) that he could have known those plans two years after he retired. He claims to have done "consulting" for the CIA. So? Even the DCIA does not have access to the Pentagon's war plans...except on request. There is no war that cannot be justly criticized for political, strategic and tactical errors....often by ex-generals with political or commercial ambitions.

Jorg on :

Zinni and I refer to the military plans made in the 90s. Zinni was in charge of CENTCOM till 2000. "There is no war that cannot be justly criticized for political, strategic and tactical errors...." Sure! Why do you criticize Zinni then? Re your last sentence: Do you doubt General Zinni's integrity and patriotism? Those who defend the Iraq war might have political and commercial interests as well or they just don't want to lose their job. You don't have any other criticism of this post or General Zinni?

clarence on :

Jorg, You continue to avoid responding to my very simple point: Zinni can not know what you described as "the military plans" after he retired. Retired generals do not have access to that information...nor as mentioned would even the DCIA much less a consultant. Whatever "plans" existed in the 1990s, Zinni cannot know what was changed, or when, or upon whose recommendation or direction, after Sept. 2000. Therefore, he (and you) simply do not have any facts to justify your criticism of Rumsfeld et al. Zinni's opinion of things that he did not observe is simply hearsay, and of no value...except to support your political bias.

Fuchur on :

@Clarence Zinni knew the plans for an invasion of Iraq as of Sept. 2000. And he saw what happened instead. And therefore he says that somebody must have changed the plan. So, where´s the contradiction? You make it seem as if the strategic decisions made in Iraq somehow are a big secret. They are not (any more). They are now pretty much obvious for everyone to see: troop levels, trust in certain exiles, disbanding the Iraqi army, and so forth. Agreed, Zinni most probably didn´t know the "new" strategic decisions made by Rumsfeld&Co in the wake of the war. But he knows them know. Btw, when he says "I knew the intelligence", he´s IMO talking about the intelligence on Iraqi WMD, not about the military planning for the war.

Jorg on :

Let me try one last time. I have quoted Zinni im my post. Please read carefully. Or read the entire transcript or watch the video. "You know, ever since the end of the first Gulf War, there have been -- there's been planning by serious officers and planners and others, and policies put in place. Ten years worth of planning, you know, were thrown away; troop levels dismissed out of hand; General Shinseki basically insulted for speaking the truth and giving a, an honest opinion;" Zinni was head of CENTCOM in the 90s, i.e. he is a credible source of info with access to all intel. I believe him, when he says that the military planned a war against Iraq in the 90s and that ten years worth of planning were thrown away. He says he did not see the plans from the 90s implemented. If you don't believe him, so be it. You trust politicians more than military officers? What do you think of the Powell doctrin? General Powell developed this doctrin when he was in charge! The Iraq war was a violation of the Powell doctrin. I am surprised that Powell was so loyal to the president that he did not resign, when Rumsfeld threw his doctrin away. *You* have recommended a study from the Department of the Army, which says: "Operation IRAQI FREEDOM was, in basic respects, a test of the theory that civilians must intervene in the military planning process and force their perspectives down the chain of command." IMHO this proves Zinni's point! The military made plans, and the civilians changed them. Your studies says so. Again from the study *you* recommended: "Events have shown that the number was ludicrously small in relation to the tasks given to U.S. forces, and that Army Chief of Staff General Eric Shinseki was right in seeing the need for much larger numbers. On this crucial question, certainly, the record of Iraq war planning does nothing to advance the case for civilian activism." This is what Zinni said as well. I don't get it. One the one hand you criticize Zinni, on the other hand you recommend a study that makes the same statements. Your study continues to say that we should not exaggerate the mistakes. Neither I nor Zinni have done so. I just support Zinni who said that military plans were not followed as they should have been. I will leave it at that. I think I have been clear enough.

clarence on :

I did not recommend any study; another person (Franz Hoffman) did so. So, when you write "I don't get it", we agree!

Jorg on :

Sorry for the mix up

David on :

Thanks for highlighting the views of General Anthony Zinni - a true patriot and a realist. It is a tragedy of US foreign policy under the Bush administration that patriots like Zinni were marginalized as the delusions of the neoconservatives took hold in the White House.

joe on :

It would seem many here have worked on combined and joint staffs. I say this because of the comments being made about military planning. Equally it would appear your experience is quite different from my own. I found it was not unusual for much of previous developed war plans to be completely revised when it came time to implement them. This is especially true when there is time before the start of the operation. The original planners would find these operational plans almost unrecognizable when compared to there own. The reasons as you are aware have to do with force structure, deployments, C4 ISR (command, control, communications and computing, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance), smart munitions, and all-weather/day-night assets. Subsets of this would include basing, transit rights, logical support, etc. Equally a war plan that will be executed takes on the character of the commander. It is obvious if for no other reason than this Gen Zinni would have used a different plan the one used by Gen Franks. As to the so-called “Powell Doctrine”, it really should be called the Reagan Doctrine. President Reagan on whose watch the force structure and systems were developed where only employed by Powell. As to the failures of the current “Rumsfeld Doctrine” this is in fact the Clinton Doctrine because it is the force structure developed by the Clinton Administration using the Reagan weapon systems. So when the US Army goes from 18 active divisions to 10, a lot of plans are going to change and so is the execution of those plans. This is the real change in doctrine. The question of trusting the political leadership over the military leadership is an interesting one but is in fact a mute point. The US Constitution places the military under the command of the elected civilian leadership. Both Desert Storm and Iraq Freedom were planned an executed by the military. Both POTUS’s gave these campaigns their complete support and allowed the military to execute their plans to accomplish the mission. This is more about the civilian leadership trusting the professionalism and competence of the military than some contrived choice between the two. Equally the military leadership must trust their civilian leaders to provide them the support required to accomplish the mission. Had there been a question of insufficient forces to accomplish the mission, then Gen Franks being a man of honor would have resigned, as would any military commander who felt he was planning for failure and the needless lost of lives. Equally as the VPOTUS was the SecDef at time of Desert Storm, he too would have raised objections to the war plan as it was developed and executed had he felt it would result in failure. But then again I defer all of this to real war planners who seem to have both a greater understanding and insight of operations in Iraq than I do.

Jorg on :

Thank you, Joe! > As to the failures of the current > “Rumsfeld Doctrine” this is in fact the Clinton Doctrine > because it is the force structure developed by the Clinton Zinni was in charge under Clinton and saw different plans with a larger force. > Administration using the Reagan weapon systems. So when the > US Army goes from 18 active divisions to 10, a lot of plans > are going to change and so is the execution of those plans. > This is the real change in doctrine. a) So why did Shinsheki consider it possible to use more forces? b) If you think the US did not have enough troops, why did you decide to fight this war of choice already in 2003? c) Did the Republican controlled Congress strongly oppose the reduction of army divisions in the 90s? d) Did the Bush administration do anything to increase the number of army divisions, when they took over in January 2001? > military. Both POTUS’s gave these campaigns their complete > support and allowed the military to execute their plans to > accomplish the mission. This is more about the civilian > leadership trusting the professionalism and competence of the > military than some contrived choice between the two. The army study says otherwise. The civilians changed the military plans. Read the comments above. Re Franks: Didn't he resign just after the end of major combat operations? It seems to me he did not want to have anything to do with winning the peace. > But then again I defer all of this to real war planners who > seem to have both a greater understanding and insight of > operations in Iraq than I do. I did not make any of my own arguments, but quoted a former CENTCOM commander and an army study, i.e. guys with great understanding and insights. You would help us, if you would link to any independent expert who thinks the Iraq war was well planned and Zinni's charges are wrong. We are hear to learn!

Chris on :

Joe knows what he is talking about. That much is clear. Also, lots of people knew about the details of the Tommy Franks plan. Let's call that plan [url=http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0375422625/102-5674036-0671325?v=glance&n=283155]Cobra2[/url]. Some journalists even knew a great deal about those plans and their development. They came up with witty titles like [url=http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/074325547X/102-5674036-0671325?v=glance&n=283155]Plan of Attack[/url]. What I find most interesting with Gen. Zinni are the remarks he made in testimony to Congress before the invasion. In retrospect, no one should have authorized this war with such a vocal opponent. And if you read those two books, you will see that the real war planner was Rummy.

Shawn in Tokyo on :

Chris, Another book is American Soldier, by General(r) Tommy Franks himself, who was ironically appointed by Anthony Zinni. If you do a search for earlier Zinni quotes, he never hesitates to compliment General Franks on his war execution. It is what General Franks calls Stage IV of the war plan that Zinni is most critical of, the stage that involves the post-invasion stability operations. If you read American Soldier, it is obvious General Franks as well as others took a simplistic approach to this stage and did a lot on-the-fly--resulting in many mistakes. But regarding Stages I-III, General Franks himself was cautioned by Donald Rumself to take it easy on Colin Powell's ideas regarding the war plan that General Franks was planning with his joint-forces command in Tampa Bay (not Rumsfeld). The quotes, after Colin called General Franks prior to a Camp David critique of his planning: "I appreciate his call," I said. "But I wanted to tell him that the military has changed since he left it." Rumsfeld chuckled. "You could say that, Tom. But just be calm and professional. Answer his comments, point by point. If Colin has doubts, I want him to get them on the table in front of the President and NSC. Otherwise, we'll look like we're steamrolling." I recommend anyone speculating on the war planning through the use of third-party quotes to first read General Franks' book if you haven't already. Shawn

Shawn in Tokyo on :

In my first sentence, I said appointed by Zinni. I meant "chosen" as in he personally recommended Franks as his successor, after which Franks was officially appointed to lead CENTCOM.

Bruce Miller on :

Joerg, I think that you have read Zinni's criticism correctly. And he was right about many of the shortcomings of the prewar plans, especially the failure to plan for the postwar. I was also glad to see the paper "Revisions in Need of Revising" by David Hendrickson and Robert Tucker cited. I've found that papers from the Army War College like that are often far more frank about the real problems encountered in the Iraq War than what we get from the group we generously call our "press corps". In reading the entire transcript of Zinni's interview, though, I was struck by the fact that, as it sounds to me, he either has no idea about what to do now, or he's refraining from saying so to avoid being accused of advocating "cut and run". He seems to be working from the same conventional-war perspective that has lead the Army to the current defeat in Iraq. "We're not fighting the Waffen SS here," he says in the interview. "You know, we're fighting a bunch of ragtag people with AK-47s and IEDs and RPGs. " That's true. We're also *not fighting a conventional war*. The prevailing thinking among the officer corps, which Zinni reflects here, is that counterinsurgency is not "real" warfare. The *real* thing in that view is fighting the Waffen-SS, or Soviet Army Central pouring through the Fulda Gap. None of this is to detract from his prewar criticisms. He really deserves credit for getting so much of it right. It's his view of what to do now where I would say that Hendrickson and Tucker present a different perspective. They emphasize that "the more fundamental truth [than inadequate planning and particular mistakes] is that the United States had thrust itself into the middle of a bitterly divided society, and there was no apparent way to split the difference between groups whose aims were irreconcilable." In other words, it's likely that invading and occupying Iraq under those conditions was a task that was impossible to achieve at any acceptable cost. They even say: "Rather than 'do it better next time,' a better lesson is 'don't do it at all'." Zinni is still talking about how to do it better in Iraq this time around. Although again he deserves credit for being honest enough to say the current conflict could go on as long as 10 years. The Iraq War has degenerated from a counterinsurgency war to a counterinsurgency plus a three-way civil war among Sunni, Shi'a and Kurds. The best that the US or any other outside power can hope to accomplish at this point is to minimize our own losses and try to prevent the war from developing to the next stage of regional war. Zinni in that interview, unfortunately, still seems to be looking at it as a technical problem to be solved with solutions from the conventional-war set of approaches, which in practice comes down in a situation like this to dropping 500-lb. bombs on houses to kill a couple of suspected insurgents, or turning heavy artillery on a residential area to nail a sniper. What might have been possible in the immediate aftermath of the defeat of the Iraqi Army is very different from what would be needed now under current conditions.

Jorg on :

@ Shawn "If you read American Soldier, it is obvious General Franks as well as others took a simplistic approach to this stage and did a lot on-the-fly--resulting in many mistakes." I think "on-the-fly" is what Zinni calls "true dereliction, negligence, and irresponsibility." Nobody got fired, but several folks got medals. The Iraqis and the coalition forces pay the price for this. George "Slam Dunk" Tenet and Jerry "Disban the Army" Bremer got the Medal of Freedom. Franks got some medal as well. Sure, all of them served their country very well for decades, but it seems they got the medal just after having made big mistakes. What do you make of it that Franks resigned after phase III? He planned stage IV, but did not want to execute stage IV. Isn't that unusual? Eisenhower did not resign after D-Day... Or did Franks put Abizaid in charge of stage IV since Abizaid was likely to take over afterwards? @ Bruce, I don't know of anybody with some promising new concept for Iraq.

Shawn in Tokyo on :

Jorg, Read "American Soldier." Franks explains everything. I prefer not to be the inbetween. I don't think there is anything wrong with making mistakes. It is what we follow up with in terms of corrective actions that should be most scrutinized. Many a man and woman can be called a fool with the benefit of hindsight. But the real fool is the one who repeats the same mistakes over and over again. Like Franks' dad told him, "Son, you don't have to necessarily know anything to have an opinion." Best Regards, Shawn

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