I propose to give you a sense of this book, and why I think everyone - especially those running for federal office - should take the time to read it as soon as possible. Because if we do not consider the insights Zinni offers us we may be making a huge, costly, and devastating mistake.
This is Tony Zinni's second book. His first, Battle Ready, was co-written with Tom Clancy, who wrote the introduction to this newly released book, on which Zinni was assisted by Tony Koltz. The book begins with two epigrams, one by JFK, one the famous lines from Alexis de Tocqueville which I believe as so appropriate in a time of Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib that I will repeat them in their entirety:
America is great because she is good, but if America ever ceases to be good, America will cease to be great
Zinni start from a premise that America has no choice but to be involved. As he notes on page 3
We have to lead. We have no choice. We're the 800-pound gorilla in an eight-by-ten room. We may not like being in that position, and we may wish we didn't make everybody else in the room nervous - when we move, the whole room knows it. But we can't help being who we are; and we can't help it that hardly anything goes on in the room that we don't affect.
It would be tempting to give extensive selections from this book, but that would have you spending far too much time reading my diary, and not reading Zinni, which you should. The book is not that long, 225 pages with no footnotes to distract you. I will give a few selections to give a sense. But let me start by simply listing the chapters so that you can sense how Zinni is approaching his topic. There are ten, in order:
One America's Power & Purpose
Two In the Foxhole
Three Beyond Checkpoint Charlie
Four The New Face of War
Five Colliding Worlds
Eight From Strategy to Foxholes
Nine On the Frontlines of Peace
Ten The Battle for Peace
Zinni looks back at his experience in service - and the broader American and international experience since World War II in particular, but also looking back at the lessons not learned originally from the First World War. He is very candid at the failures of American policy and doctrine to adjust to situations different for those for which they were designed. He cogently argues that our government is not structured to address the challenges that it confronts, as he puts it, we need
to reorganize our outdated governmental structure to better integrate the elements of power needed to deal with today's threats and requirements.- p. 8
He worries about out failure to engage in basic strategic thinking:
The two world wars of the past century were followed by worldwide seismic shifts as powerful as the one that followed the Cold War. The lesson each time has been the same: the world cannot find peace and stability by sailing on its own rudderless course. There has to be a map, a direction, to guide us through the confusing and dangerous new world environment.- p. 9
Zinni recognizes that we are in the position of being an empire, but also warns that we can not operate as did the empires of old:
It is no longer a zero-sum game. In the era of imperialism and colonialism, nations and societies gained at the expense of others. That is no longer the case. If the powerful fleece the weak, the resulting instability will breed the problems that will come to plague the powerful.- p. 12
Zinni covers a wind range of issues. He is insistent that however noble our ideals about spreading democracy may be -- and in general he agrees with such aspirations - we cannot impose them externally. We must recognize the cultural sensitivities of the societies with which we interact. He points out that assuming that the leaders most influential with the people will be those most like us can lead to tragic consequences -- it is important, for example, to understand the role of tribal leaders in many cases, and that this can, as he discovered in Kurdistan, make a difference in how you physically lay out a refugee camp -- the Kurds did not want neat military rows, but more of a focus around the site of the tribal leader.
He notes that failed doctrine can have major consequences. if we still view the projection of power as fighting set piece battles a la World War II, we will try to justify our participation on moral grounds similar to that of our last "good" war. Let me offer two brief paragraphs from p. 89 to illustrate how directly he confronts this:
Our World War II experience became the model for how we organized our military forces. It became the model for how we expected conflicts to unfold. It became the model for major combat operations. It became the model for how we looked at enemies.
When we want to engage in conflicts like Iraq and Vietnam, we must have a cause. We must have somebody to attack us. Our leaders cooked up the Gulf of Tonkin incident to justify our war in Vietnam. Our leaders cooked up Saddam Hussein's secret weapons of mass destruction and collaboration schemes with Al Qaeda to justify our war in Iraq. We had to cook up the rationale. We had to follow the model.
Please note - Zinni still thinks Vietnam was a war worth fighting, and he did several tours, first as a young lieutenant embedded with S Vietnamese Marines, later commanding an infantry company. And yet he challenges the rationale by which we went into that conflict, and the methods we used in fighting it.
I don't want to make this too long. I will offer just two more extracts, and then a final comment of my own. These will be from the end. The first will be three short paragraphs from p. 223. I will then skip to the ending subsection of the book. Both come from a section of the final chapter, a section entitled "America Must be Good".
What happened? If we can shape the environment out there, how come we can't inspire people to join us? How come we created hatred and distrust in many situations despite our good intentions?
I think we must face the reality that even though we are more than any other society in history capable of influencing the environment, that doesn't make us capable of controlling or creating it.
I think we must additionally face the reality that just as we don't know our own power or how to use it, we are not aware of the ways we actually touch, affect, or influence the environment.
Americans have to realize that we can no longer thrive in isolation from an unstable world.
We have to realize that it is in America's interest not to have growing areas of this world sink into a sea of destabilizing conditions. The problems that result will be our problems. We are at a point in history when accomplishing good, noble, and altruistic goals also happens to accomplish the pragmatic goals that will promote our self-interest in survival, security, well-being, and future growth. In effect, it is a perfect storm that responds to the one that formed to threaten us. It is the convergence of the morally right and good with practical actions. We don't have to choose one or the other in a zero-sum game. It is in our best interest to have a stable, secure, prosperous world, because that is the world in which we best thrive.
To begin to create that kind of world will take significant changes in our thinking, organization, planning, and actions as we chart our national course through the uncertain conditions of a radically changed world.
One upon a time, a long, long time ago, our nation could achieve peace, security, and prosperity by keeping ourselves isolated from the rest of the world. Isolation is no more viable in today's world than Jefferson's nation of yeoman farmers. It has become increasingly obvious that for us to prosper, for us to be secure, we must work to achieve a stable world. We can't leave unstable parts of the world unattended.
The "Battle for Peace" is not a battle in the classical sense -- a battle that follows the sudden crisis blow that triggers a military conflict. The battle is the constant struggle to develop and build the measures, programs, systems, and institutions that will prevent crisis. The battle is the constant struggle to shape and manage the harmful elements in the environment that generate instabilities.
The "Battle for Peace" is the battle to achieve a stable world.
I read widely in quite a few fields. I do not claim to expertise except perhaps in matters of public education. But from my layman's perspective, this is the most cogent book about the shape of the modern world I have ever encountered. That is why I entitled this piece the way I did.
I can think of nothing more valuable than encouraging those candidates for public office whom you support to read it. Some - perhaps a Jim Webb - will read it on their own. I hope that you will, and that you will encourage current and future federal office holders to do so as well.