It's fairly clear that Anthony Zinni would like a big job in the next administration, and it would be a smart move for the next president to give him one. My suggestion: Make him secretary of defense.
Zinni, of course, is the retired Marine general who's made a huge splash criticizing the Bush administration's war in Iraq—from the decision to go to war (which Zinni opposed in 2002) to the setting of troop levels (which, like many officers, he considered too low) to the planning for the occupation (which he decries as "screwed up").
He has expressed his views—in surprisingly harsh language for a retired general—in speeches, TV interviews, and most recently in a new book, Battle Ready, which he wrote with Tom Clancy and Clancy's ghostwriter Tony Koltz. Zinni's already-much-quoted passage from this book:
In the lead-up to the Iraq war and its later conduct, I saw, at a minimum, true dereliction, negligence, and irresponsibility; at worst, lying, incompetence, and corruption. False rationales, presented as a justification; a flawed strategy; lack of planning; the unnecessary alienation of our allies; the underestimation of the task; the unnecessary distraction from real threats; and the unbearable strain dumped on our overstretched military.
The significance of this attack cannot be overstated. Zinni was no ordinary general. His final posting, before retiring in 2000, was commander in chief of U.S. Central Command—the command that, under his successor, Gen. Tommy Franks, ran the war in Iraq. Through his 40-year military career, Zinni was director of operations for the Somalia task force (before and after the Mogadishu disaster, but not during), head of the Marines' counterterrorism unit, commander in chief of U.S. European Command, deputy commandant of the Marine Corps, commander of the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force, director of various training and doctrine commands, and a decorated Vietnam veteran. Finally, from 2002-03, Secretary of State Colin Powell named Zinni to be his special envoy to the Middle East
In short, Zinni is the very model of a modern general—a warrior-intellectual, adept at fighting battles, commanding divisions, planning strategy and tactics, undertaking massive logistical feats, and engaging in global diplomacy.
For all these reasons, many Democrats hope Kerry will put him on the team. The bad news, from this angle, is that Zinni hasn't made the requisite first moves: He's pointedly stopped short of criticizing Bush personally, calling instead for his advisers to resign; nor has he endorsed Kerry. The good news is that he's all but shouting from the rooftops, "I'm available!"
Battle Ready is the fourth volume in Tom Clancy's biographical series on American commanders (part of it written in Clancy's voice, part of it in Zinni's), but much of it reads like an extended CV for a Cabinet-level slot in a Democratic administration. Even the title is suggestive: "Battle Ready" for what, after all?
Paul Van Riper, * a fellow outspoken retired Marine general, who lives near Zinni in Virginia and talks with him every day, confirmed in a phone conversation Tuesday that his friend wouldn't turn up his nose at a good offer. "I don't think he's actively seeking any position, but there are probably positions that he would take," Gen. Van Riper said. "He's not the kind of person who's completely retired."
Another retired general, who's known Zinni for decades but asked not to be identified, went further: "I think he's in full campaign mode."