Former CENTCOM Commander General Tony Zinni
Tuesday, September 2, 2014 - 10:06 a.m.
Ret. Gen. Anthony Zinni makes a stop to discuss and sign copies of his book 'The Battle for Peace' at Vroman's Bookstore on April 20, 2006 in Pasadena, California.
David McNew/Getty Images
Leaders gathering this week at the NATO summit face a world marked by instability. Evidence mounts that Russian troops and weaponry are being used in Ukraine despite denials by the Kremlin. President Obama faces criticism at home and abroad that he has not acted forcefully enough against the terror group ISIS. And Israel is claiming more land in the Palestinian West Bank. Former CENTCOM commander General Tony Zinni says the U.S. needs to step up its leadership in these crises. At the same time, he says we need a more clear-eyed process of committing our troops to guarantee success. He joins Diane to talk about U.S. foreign policy, presidential leadership, and why we often fail to achieve the military outcomes promised by Washington.
Gen. Anthony Zinni former Commander in Chief of CENTCOM (1997-2000) and special envoy to the Middle East. His latest book is titled, "Before The First Shots Are Fired."
Former CENTCOM Commander General Tony Zinni.
Transcript for: Former CENTCOM Commander General Tony Zinni
MS. DIANE REHM
Thanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. General Tony Zinni was commander in chief of CENTCOM and a special envoy to the Middle East before retiring as a four-star general. He joins me in the studio to talk about U.S. foreign policy, presidential leadership and why we often fail to achieve the outcomes promised by Washington.
MS. DIANE REHM
His newest book is titled "Before The First Shots Are Fired." I hope you will join the conversation as well. Give us a call at 800-433-8850. Send us an email to email@example.com. Follow us on Facebook or send us a tweet. General Zinni, it's good to see you.
GEN. ANTHONY ZINNI
Good to be with you, Diane.
Thank you. You were last on this program in 2009 at the very beginning of the Obama administration. You said then that Obama's election was a response to a leadership vacuum. Do you think President Obama has filled that vacuum?
Unfortunately, not. You know, I think the last administration had a reputation of maybe being rash and reckless and in their foreign policy and use of the military. There was an expectation, I think, that President Obama would be more measured, more careful. But now the impression I hear from leaders around the world where I travel is there's a sense of weakness, uncertainty, indecisiveness.
How much of that may be perception more than reality is hard to tell, but that certainly has become the tag on this administration. So with the last two administrations, you know, we've lacked a sort of direction for different reasons.
So isn't President Obama sort of following in the footsteps and the thinking of General Eisenhower who wanted very much to stay out of confrontation?
I think Eisenhower -- the differences, I would say, is Eisenhower did want to stay out of confrontations that we did not have vital national interests in. For example, Indochina, people were pressuring us to support the French. But he said -- and sometimes his speech on the military industrial complex is misquoted. He began by saying, our arms must be mighty.
And I think he had a sense that we needed to retain our power, use it judiciously and to be sure that we had a strategic design for how we approached the world, particularly the Soviet threat at the time. Eisenhower reformed the Solarium group. He had a group of renowned thinkers, George Kennan and others, I think, following in the footsteps of Marshal and Kennan from the Truman administration.
And the policy of containment and deterrents was foremost in our strategic thinking. I think now what we have, we have a military that we're unsure what kind of structure we should have. We see the defense budget shrinking and I think affordability is an issue. It has to be taken into consideration. We don't know what kind of military we want.
This president has drawn red lines and backed off of them. We have ended conflicts, but not to a satisfactory basis in any way. In Iraq, we came out unable to sustain what we started to build in Iraq. Not all the president's fault, certainly. I think Maliki bears most of the responsibility for that. I guess the biggest criticism I would have is lack of strategic direction, but I would say, to be fair to this president, I don't think since the end of the Cold War, we've been thinking strategically and acting strategically, nor do we understand the world we live in today.