Did retired General Anthony Zinni really call George W. Bush’s war in Iraq a “brain fart”? That seems to be the case. But first, some background.
On Thursday night, Zinni, the former commander of the U.S. Central Command, was interviewed by Ted Koppel on Nightline. And he was rather sharp in his assessment of George W. Bush’s policy in Iraq. Before the war, Zinni, who had been an envoy for Bush in the Middle East, opposed a U.S. invasion of Iraq, arguing that Saddam Hussein did not pose an imminent threat. On Nightline, Zinni compared Bush’s push for the war with the Gulf of Tonkin incident–an infamous episode in which President Lyndon Johnson misrepresented an attack on two U.S. Navy destroyers in order to win congressional approval of the war in Vietnam–and he challenged “the credibility behind” Bush’s prewar assertions concerning Iraq’s possession of weapons of mass destruction and its association with anti-American terrorists. “I’m suggesting,” Zinni said, “that either the [prewar] intelligence was so bad and flawed–and if that’s the case, then somebody’s head ought to roll for that–or the intelligence was exaggerated or twisted in a way to make a more convenient case to the American people.” Zinni said he believed that Hussein had maintained “the framework for a weapons of mass destruction program that could be quickly activated once sanctions were lifted” and that such a program, while worrisome, did not immediately endanger the United States.
Zinni raised the issue that Bush might have purposefully misled the public and not shared with it the true reason for the war: “If there’s a strategic decision for taking down Iraq, if it’s the so-called neoconservative idea that taking apart Iraq and creating a model democracy, or whatever it is, will change the equation in the Middle East, then make the [public] case based on that strategic decision….I think it’s a flawed–like the domino theory–it’s a flawed strategic thought or concept….But if that’s the reason for going in, that’s the case the American people ought to hear. They ought to make their judgment and determine their support based on what the motivation is for the attack.”
Zinni was, in a way, being polite. Earlier in the month, he addressed a forum sponsored by the U.S. Naval Institute and the Marine Corps Association. There he let loose. Reflecting the views of high-ranking U.S. military officials who were dubious about launching a war against Iraq and skeptical about the occupation that would follow, Zinni accused the Bush crowd of having not been ready for the challenges to come after defeating the Iraqi army. “We’re in danger of failing,” he noted, because the Bush administration had not readied itself for what would follow the initial military engagement. “We fought one idiot here [in Iraq], just now,” he said. “Ohio State beat Slippery Rock 62 to 0. No shit! You know! But we weren’t ready for that team that came onto the field at the end of that three-week victory.” He went on: