General Amnesia: A Tale of Two Zinnis

The following is an op-ed of a previous NewsBusters piece entitled "Media Amnesia: Gen. Zinni Briefed Clinton Administration on Secret Iraq War Plan."

Have you ever considered the peculiar yet convenient amnesia that regularly strikes members of the drive-by media when it fits their political agenda? Given the development of the Internet, the accuracy and ease of search engines, and the ready access of more detailed media devices such as LexisNexis available for truly inquiring minds, the contagion no longer threatens the general public. But the as yet un-named malady (Rodham’s Syndrome, perhaps?) still remains virulent among those whose at-risk behavior persists.

Heedless of the investigative tools presently at the disposal of all interested in the grand search for information, the at-risk population who are paid to disseminate the news seem to conveniently forget what has been reported almost as soon as it happens. They appear to be counting on the population to suffer from this same instantaneous mnemonic dysfunction.

No finer example of such media memory lapse has occurred recently than what is transpiring with all the military generals now waxing publicly philosophic about why we never should have gone to war with Iraq.

One of the more prominent members of the hindsight-worshipping crowd is former Clinton CENTCOM commander Gen. Anthony Zinni, who has now conspicuously stated that he never saw any proof that Saddam possessed weapons of mass destruction or was in any way an imminent threat.

Of course, this has been thoroughly debunked by the recent revelation here of a February 29, 2000 briefing by Zinni to Congress, wherein the general made it quite clear that “Iraq remains the most significant near-term threat to U.S. interests in the Arabian Gulf region,” stating quite unequivocally that Iraq either possessed or was aggressively pursuing WMD.

Needless to say, if not for new media, Americans would never have been reminded about this briefing. The antique media hoped that this had been totally forgotten by now, and still does its best to avert its eyes.

Zinni’s War Plan

Still, an even more bizarre oddity concerning the media’s acceptance of Zinni’s current position is another revelation from 2000 that the general actually briefed senior Clinton administration officials concerning a massive military strike to overthrow Saddam.

Hadn’t heard about this? Well, as reported by the Chicago Tribune on October 2, 2000:

Zinni has briefed senior administration officials on a secret war plan that details how the U.S. military, with limited allied help, would seek to topple Hussein. The effort would be massive, involving possibly as many as half a million troops, according to one knowledgeable official.

The article continued:

Although he has confidence in U.S. forces, Zinni has no illusions that such a scheme could win public support, considering the cost in lives and dollars it would almost certainly involve.

Yet, conceivably the most telling statement made by Zinni in this piece was the following:

 Containment is what you do when you can’t come up with the popular will to take decisive military action. [emphasis added]

Clearly, Zinni was expressing frustration with containment, which, if you read the entire Tribune article, put him in quite good company, for this passive strategy was certainly not achieving its intended goal. However, as Zinni made quite clear, without popular support for a grander military solution, his options were limited.

By contrast, prior to the March 2003 Iraq invasion, Bush and Company were indeed able to come up with the “popular will” that Zinni spoke of so longingly. In fact, over seventy percent of the nation was behind the incursion when it first began.

If Zinni were to be totally honest today, he would make it clear that the only reason he didn’t go with this aggressive military option back in 2000 was because he didn’t think the public would have supported it.

As a result, the disingenuity today is that the left, the media, and these generals – including Zinni himself, it would appear – have conveniently forgotten that regime change and ousting Saddam was a huge pillar of U.S. foreign policy from 1998 through 2000.

Contrary to what is being espoused regularly today by all the usual amnesiacs, the idea that Saddam was a very bad man, and that the world would be a much safer place without him, didn’t first surface in January 2001. In fact, this same Tribune article quoted Clinton’s undersecretary of state Thomas Pickering as having said, “‘We would like to see Saddam gone.’” And, it appears that even he wasn’t happy with the Clinton strategy of containment:

But I can’t tell you that there is a magic formula to see this done. Our magic formula, in reality, is patience. ... It is not a perfect policy.

No, it certainly wasn’t a perfect policy, and, judging from this Tribune piece, Zinni knew it. In fact, what is truly revealing is that the Clinton administration was actually considering such a huge attack in a pre-9/11 world, and without much allied assistance or Arab support.

Can you say “unilateral?”

Yet, the left and their amnesiac media minions pretend that such discussions only began to occur in December of 2000 as Bush and Company started making transition plans to move into the White House. Indeed, this was a point that MSNBC’s Chris Matthews harped on in an April 3 “Hardball” interview with Zinni:

You know, Bill Cohen said the other day, defense secretary, that he was told back in 2000 when they lost the election in the Supreme Court that the first thing Cheney wanted to do was go after Iraq. He wanted all the Intel on Iraq, nowhere else in the country.

Why is this so shocking, Chris? After all, the expressed position and foreign policy edict of the latter part of Clinton’s second term was indeed the ousting of Saddam. Given the existence of said strategy, along with it having been some years since U.N. inspectors had been to Iraq, as well as the then recent testimony to Congress by Zinni concerning Iraq representing the greatest short-term threat to America in the Mid-East, wouldn’t it have been logical for the new administration to place such a strong focus on this issue?

In fact, wouldn’t it have been inexcusable if the Bush team hadn’t made familiarizing themselves with this threat a top priority?

If Zinni believed that Saddam either didn’t possess WMD in 2000, or wasn’t an imminent threat to American security and sovereignty at that time, why would he have offered a plan that would involve up to 500,000 American soldiers to overthrow this non-threatening dictator?

Nobody in the media has yet asked Zinni this question.

Moreover, if all Zinni’s grand plan needed to succeed was “the popular will to take decisive military action,” why would he oppose today’s war that was initially waged with the kind of public support that was lacking when he offered his own overthrow strategy three years earlier?

Nobody in the media has yet asked Zinni this question either. In fact, why hasn’t any major media outlet uncovered this October 2, 2000 Tribune story, revealed its existence to the public, and asked Gen. Zinni why he felt so strongly about overthrowing Saddam in 2000, but thinks it was a mistake in 2003?

Of course, unless you yourself are suffering from amnesia, you likely already know the answer to that question.

Noel Sheppard's picture