The Magazine

The State Dept. vs. Bush

The administration's Mideast envoy begs to differ on Iraq.

Sep 9, 2002, Vol. 7, No. 48 • By STEPHEN F. HAYES
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Needless to say, if Zinni had been, as Boucher suggested, merely a "private citizen," no one would have objected to his public diatribe against administration policy. Neither would anyone have objected if Zinni had argued against the policy in private. But it should be equally obvious that it is entirely inappropriate for him to publicly reject the president's policy while serving the administration.

Zinni himself seemed to concede the point later in his response: "Well, in fairness to President Bush, since I work for him (laughter), I don't get paid though, so it's okay, in fairness to President Bush, President Bush is--he invited the debate."

Beyond the matter of appropriateness, though, there is the issue of substance--especially the suggestion that civilians have no business crafting military policy (though judging from Zinni's blast, it's fine for generals to pronounce on geopolitics). "If you ask me my opinion," Zinni said, "General Scowcroft, General Powell, General Schwarzkopf, General Zinni--we all see this the same way. It might be interesting to wonder that all the generals see this the same way, and all those that never fired a shot in anger are really hell-bent to go to war."

This line of reasoning seems to be gaining currency among those opposed to intervention. Sen. Chuck Hagel, a Vietnam veteran, suggested recently that Pentagon adviser Richard Perle might "like to be in the first wave of those who go into Baghdad." And Richard Armitage, Powell's number two at the State Department, expressed similar sentiments late last month when an Australian journalist asked him about the divide between hawks and "relative doves" in the administration. Said Armitage: "Doesn't it tell you something that the two relative doves [Armitage and Powell], to use your term, are the two that have seen combat?"

This argument flips the conventional wisdom, that "hawks"--both inside and outside the administration--are the ones seeking to squelch debate on Iraq. But it is largely a media-driven fantasy that the hawks are so irrationally predisposed to war that they just don't have time to discuss the wisdom of their policy prescriptions. Like most journalistic generalizations, this oversimplifies to the point of caricature.

Those who favor Saddam's removal have been patiently making their case for years. Many of the same people now pressing President Bush to move against Iraq similarly urged President Clinton to get serious about implementing his own official policy of regime change in Iraq.

For that matter, not every battle-hardened participant in the foreign policy process agrees with Zinni's comments implying that those who have worn the uniform are necessarily the best judge of war and peace. Administration officials who favor a war with Iraq say they're reluctant to get involved in a "your generals versus my generals" contest. But they point to prominent combat veterans such as Alexander Haig, Bob Kerrey, Wayne Downing, and Tom McInerney who support military intervention. Zinni's comments "are a direct contradiction of Clemenceau's statement that 'war is too important to be left to the generals,'" says Senator John McCain, veteran of the Hanoi Hilton. "If civilians can't contribute to the debate, then Lincoln, Roosevelt, Reagan--they all would have been excluded from sharing their views."

General Zinni "has a right to give his views," McCain continues, "and I respect those views even though I don't agree with them. But to dismiss opposing views just because some of those who hold them haven't served, frankly, that just should never be a part of the debate." Why? "It's a way that people use to close off debate when they may be losing it. And they're losing this one."

Stephen F. Hayes is a staff writer at The Weekly Standard.