Wednesday, September 2, 2009

The Eminently Bloggable Tony Zinni

I wish all speakers at DC think tank events could be as candid, dynamic, and entertaining as General (ret.) Tony Zinni. While his main point (as chronicled by Jamie Morgan, and, oddly enough, The American Conservative, as well as organizer Steve Clemons) was that the U.S. government should go about "civil affairs" or "smart power" in a totally different way, by creating a separate command committed to it (since the military "will get stuck with it anyway"). (Zinni was also promoting his new book.) It would be interesting to get Zinni and O'Hanlon in a room to discuss their visions for civil affairs.
Along the way Zinni touched on quite a few other interesting subjects, including strategy. He agreed with me that we need to actually outline a strategy for Afghanistan, but went further in stating that it should flow from and be consistent with President Obama's National Security Strategy, which has yet to be released. (Apparently an NSS is due within the first 150 days of an administration, which never happens. The Bush Administration's NSS wasn't released until2002; one small section talked about preemption, yet that became the centerpiece of the "Bush Doctrine.") That's certainly true, and a point I hadn't fully considered.
Other "Zinni Zingers:"
  • Zinni wondered what someone would think if they had been put in a coma right after 9/11, woke up yesterday, and you had to explain our response. (I'm paraphrasing here): "We were attacked by al Qaeda. We're in Iraq? And we're in Afghanistan, but fighting the Taliban? Al Qaeda is in Pakistan? We're helping Pakistan, but they're fighting the Taliban too? ...?"
  • "We shouldn't talk about 'smart power' as if we have it."
  • "Special envoys are useless!" (Zinni was the Bush Administration's special envoy to Israel and Palestine).
  • "You know where Osama bin Ladin is? Great! I don't know where bin Ladin is. He's on K Street, he's a lobbyist!"
  • "Shock and awe turned into aw, shucks."
  • "I'm tired of all this 'graveyard of empires' nonsense. The difference is we want to leave Afghanistan, we don't want it as part of an empire."

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