Clancy & Zinni - Battle Ready

August 16, 2004

Tom Clancy
Battle ready
with Tony Zinni and Tony Koltz.
New York : G.P. Putnam's Sons, c2004.

This is the fourth in Clancy's commander's sequence. And, because it is the first to discuss 9/11 and the War in Iraq, it is the book that got the most critical notice. It has been out for a few months, but it took a while to wend its way through the library system to me.

Like the second and third volumes, this is more a biography and a comment on current events and world politics than a study in leadership principles per se. As such, it is compelling. Zinni comes off well: he is smart, forthright, sensitive, and far-sighted. He focuses on the importance of learning local culture, working with others, and planning before action.

I want to focus on two things, Somalia and Iraq.

Zinni was the lead guy on the ground early in Somalia; he also led the withdrawal from Somalia after the UN and the US cut and ran. He was not there during the middle period when the relief mission went to hell.

The problem in Somalia was that there were a LOT of warlords; they were fighting one another and looting any international aide; the crops were devastated; the people were starving; and until the security situation could be fixed the nation was a humanitarian tragedy in progress.

Zinni was one who urged working with the warlords, drawing them away from fighting and towards a diplomatic and eventually a political solution - "if they are talking, they aren't fighting." He worked with all of them, helped stabilize the situation, and could see a path to some sort of stable society and a democratic future.

Things fell apart after the US turned the nation over to the UN, and after reading Zinni's account of the transition I have a LOT more sympathy for the folks (mostly on the American right) who argue that the UN is inherently broken and will fuck up any important internation affair it gets involved with. Zinni does not go that far, but he does blame Boutrous-Boutrous Ghali for the mess in Somalia. He has many more kind words for Khofi Anan. The Bush 41 administration got us into Somalia. Clinton continued our presence there. The UN fucked up - including the battle of Mogadishu which he argues the UN local forces precipitated. Clinton chose to withdraw rather than start again from scratch. Zinni is quietly critical of that last decision, despite being generally favorable toward Clinton.

The big reason people are talking about this book is not Somalia but Al Quaeda and Iraq. Here also Zinni is opinionated and fairly compelling. He thought from the start that the US was paying too much attention to Saddaam Hussein. If we responded to everything he did, then we gave him the power to manipulate the world's remaining superpower. That raised his prestige. So while the Clintons had Iraq at about12 on their to do list, and Bush 43 moved him up to about 6, Zinni would have pushed him down to the low 20s, continued to contain him, but cut back on the confrontations and posturings.

Zinni generally liked Clinton's point decisions about Al Quaeda during the late 1990s, although I think he wishes there had been more systematic focus on non-state entities. He does not say, but from reading him I wonder if Al Quaeda was the evil equivalent of the Non Governmental Organizations that he had to work with in northern Iraq after 1991 and in Somalia later on - organizations that knew a lot and could help a lot but had trouble working with armed forces and national governments because they organized and acted in a sufficiently different manner. Still, Zinni liked that during the planning for the missile strikes on Al Quaeda Clinton told his military planners to ignore any political repercussions or "wag the dog" things - that was Clinton's problem not theirs - and simply provide the most effective plan for achieving the goal. Clinton was a quick study, and Zinni appears to have been more comfortable briefing the Big Dog than he was at briefing top level staffers.

As for the run up to Iraq itself, file Zinni among those who are appalled at the lack of planning, lack of serious coalition-building, scanty evidence, and lack of long term strategic planning. The current crisis in Sudan came to a head after Zinni wrote, but from reading Battle Ready I think I know what he would say about a situation where we have a genocide in progress and the US can not intervene because ALL of our ground forces are tied up in Iraq or in the rotation to replace the troops in Iraq.

As I read the book, I asked myself a couple of times if Zinni would make a good cabinet secretary or undersecretary, and if so then under which administration. He would be a poor fit for Bush 43, simply for reasons of personal style. I don't know if a Kerry administration should contact him for government service, and I don't know if he would accept. But he is a wonderful resource and someone both sides should be listening to.

Zinni closes by arguing that the United States has stumbled into what he calls an "empire of influence." Despite being the sole remaining superpower, we do not have the armed force to impose our will on more than a small fraction of the world. But, with the reach of the American economy, American media, and American culture, everything we do resonates around the world, and the whole world responds to changes in America and American policy. It is hard to run such a loose empire - an empire built on soft power - but it is crucial that we do. I dislike the term "empire of influence" but have not yet come up with something better. If I were to be tabbed to ask a question of Kerry and Dubya at a debate, I would ask them something about empires of influence, soft power, and the most effective way to spread democratic ideals and individual freedom around the globe.

Zinni made me think, and think differently, about foreign policy. Well worth reading.

Posted by Red Ted at August 16, 2004 09:05 AM | TrackBack
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