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A general's resume
By Steven Martinovich
There is a saying in the highest level of the American military: Up or out. There are more generals then there are promotions and new positions available. Unless a general is promoted along a clearly defined track they will eventually realize that their military career is over. Anthony Zinni was one of the lucky few, rising eventually to the position of commander in chief of CENTCOM, the command responsible for parts of Africa and Asia, and the Middle East.
So where does a retired general go from there? Judging by Battle Ready, it appears that Zinni hopes to be the Colin Powell of a John Kerry administration if George W. Bush goes down to defeat in November. Like Powell, Zinni served his nation in time of war and peace but has lately become better known for his diplomatic skills. Though a registered Republican, Zinni has made headlines arguing against the war in Iraq, comparing it to the war in Vietnam, and accusing the Bush administration of rushing to war.
Tom Clancy begins Zinni's story with the 1998 attack on Saddam Hussein -- Operation Desert Fox -- before jumping back in time to Vietnam, where Zinni served as a Marine Corps advisor to the elite Vietnamese Marines during two tours. As Battle Ready makes clear, the life of an advisor was no less pleasant than that of a grunt. At one point Zinni became so sick that he was forced to take a medical leave and return to the United States. Upon his return two years later he was promoted to company commander and was grievously wounded during fighting in the Que Son mountains.
The societal strife that surrounded the war in Vietnam affected the military no less than society. After his service in Vietnam Zinni was stationed in Okinawa where he had to deal with native opposition to the U.S. military's presence and racial turmoil in the ranks. Displaying his gift for diplomacy, Clancy and Zinni detail how the young officer reached out to the community and disaffected soldiers to bring a measure of peace to the island.
Unfortunately Battle Ready begins to sag after Zinni leaves in the mid-1970s until the early 1990s. It was a period that Zinni spent in many different assignments that took him across the world. Although Battle Ready occasionally delves into some interesting aspects of Zinni's career during those years -- such as how global realities forced operational and training changes on the military -- it often seems like more of a catalogue of the various commands that he assumed.
Battle Ready regains its stride when in 1991, as a member of EUCOM, Zinni was part of the team that ran the northern air strikes against Saddam Hussein during the Gulf War. A few years later Zinni finds himself in Somalia where he details the humanitarian work that slowly beginning to pull the war ravaged country back together. Along the way Zinni paints a flattering portrait of the late Somali warlord Farrah Aideed and discusses the frustrations of dealing with international organizations that seemed less dedicated to solving the nation's problems.
Although diplomacy has long been a useful talent for an officer, some readers will likely be uncomfortable with Zinni's belief that American soldiers should be doing more than simply preparing for or fighting wars. In one passage he describes how military training and aid to the needy were combined under his command.
"We couldn't blatantly set up an aide program. But even here we had some room to maneuver. In Africa, for example, we might be engaged in teaching a country's military how to conduct peacekeeping or humanitarian operations, and we might set up training exercises in the villages. I would send out my military veterinarians, dentists, and doctors...to go into the villages with the African country's military, and they'd conduct the exercises together. In the context of the military exercise, we'd build an orphanage or paint a school or set up a clinic as a Civic Action project...When the exercises were over, would we have the American ambassador cut the ribbon for the new clinic."
Zinni eventually becomes commander in chief of CENTCOM and uses his position during his service and after to attempt to bring more security to the Middle East. He participates in peace talks between Israel and the Palestinian Authority -- Yasser Arafat comes out badly in Zinni's version of events -- and helps mediate the civil war in the Indonesian province of Aceh. Though now retired, Zinni continues to use his prestige and remarkable contacts around the world as a diplomat and military expert.
The reason, however, that most readers will be attracted to Battle Ready is Zinni's public opposition to the war in Iraq. Surprisingly, the book itself doesn't touch on the subject very often, leaving the strongest criticism to an October 2002 speech reprinted in the appendix. He declares, "In the lead-up to the Iraq War and its later conduct, I saw at a minimum, true dereliction, negligence, and irresponsibility, at worse, lying, incompetence, and corruption." Though he obliquely compares the war and its aftermath to Vietnam, neither Zinni nor Clancy attempt to build the case to prove that. Nor does Zinni lay the blame for the war on anyone directly though it is clear at times that he's no fan of U.S. Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and the leadership at the Pentagon.
Despite its flaws Battle Ready is a fascinating personal history of a remarkable man. Thanks to his broad experiences during over three decades of service, Zinni is well placed to speak not only on history but also on the direction that the United States is heading. Like Zinni, Battle Ready is plain spoken, intelligent and worth spending some time with. And it doesn't hurt Zinni's chances of taking the next step in his career if a certain Massachusetts senator is elected later this year.
Steven Martinovich is a freelance writer in Sudbury, Ontario, Canada.
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