I bought this book because I've known Zinni by name for a while. He is the only military commander outside of politics and war (think Powell and Schwarzkopf) that I've known. The main reason why even that happened is that I caught some testimony by him around the time my brother joined the Marines and paid attention because of that connection. I don't remember the topic or substance of his Congressional testimony at that time but do remember that I was impressed that he wasn't a blowhard hawk like the Chiefs of Staff in the movie 13 Days. I was furthermore interested in Zinni when he was sent to the Middle East following his retirement as a peace envoy. Other than these incidents, I didn't know much about him but maintained a passing respectful interest.
I then heard that he and Tom Clancy had written a book that criticized President Bush and the war in Iraq. I knew that a number of military leaders had spoken out against the proposals to go to war and was interested in what Zinni said. Even Tom Clancy has been interviewed and expressed his deep dissatisfaction with the President on this issue. So I bought the book and finished it today.
It's mostly written by Zinni. The earlier chapters have some historical background provided by Clancy but the later chapters are almost entirely Zinni. The book is a professional biography (as in biography of a professional) that looks at Zinni's military career. It begins in Vietnam and ends during Zinni's post-retirement diplomatic career, which appears to be dead, at least for now, following his critique of the administration's plans.
It's all about Zinni and predictably talks only in the most glowing terms. Zinni himself comes off as humble but Clancy pumps him up almost laughably in places. The book has a few main themes: Zinni's career, his philosophy and the events that contributed to it, and an insider's look at a number of major events and operations.
It was interesting and enjoyable but disappointingly didn't really take on the Bush administration at all. He mentions that he was sidelined because of his opposition and talks about how certain expectations he has for leadership are not being met, but these don't come to center stage at any point in the book. It is clear that Zinni would not have executed the war the way he did, but he doesn't take time to delve into why or what he would have done differently. So in that respect the book was unfulfilling.
Zinni's was an advisor in Vietnam and rode shotgun with Vietnamese soldiers. It seems that we tend to forget that Americans weren't the only soldiers fighting that war and the the South Vietnamese had an indigenous army that was really the main protagonist. Zinni's stories about working as a rookie advisor and his development trajectory are insightful and interesting. He gets REALLY sick towards the end of his first tour and then gets his back blown off by short-range small arms fire in his second.
His career moves on up and he talks about challenges he faced as commander of larger and larger units in the US Marine Corps. His experiences in dealing with racial conflict on his base, refugees following the Gulf War, and Mogadishu, Somalia, were of special interest. We see the duties and expectations of Majors and Generals in action and are provided with a birdseye view of what happened. I found Zinni's perspective of the Somalia incident to be of particular interest if for no other reason than his balanced opinion of the demonized enemy Aideed.
He closes the book with a general discussion of some of the influences on his philosophy (Catholic school and a big Italian family, mainly) and then goes on to talk about the need for military men and women to be principled and put those principles beyond their careers. He highlights how politics interferes with military matters. He impressed me with his realizations of the changes happening and the need for the military to respond to them. It is reassuring to know that people like Zinni are in charge of our military and I hope that more people like him continue to be promoted. I wish that more politicians and planners would listen to his pleas for help in reorganizing the purpose and function of the military as well.
The final theme that he closes the book with is that the days of classic warfare are essentially over or are minimally drastically reduced. The US military has perfected battlefield execution (no pun intended) but has failed to develop peripheral aspects taht typify modern conflict. Development and prevention are the tools that are most useful in securing our feature, he claims, yet the military is not well equipped in that regard. Winning the peace should become a more important if not the most important focus in the aims of the armed forces. He challenges our leadership to develop and implement a vision that gives the military a prominent role in developing security outside of the battlefield. Whether that will happen or not remains to be seen.
Comments on this book or review are welcome.Posted by Nutrimentia at August 14, 2004 02:36 PM | TrackBack