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Meet the Press: Abstract from interview with General Zinni, ret.

Transcript for April 2
John McCain, Tony Zinni
updated 10:44 a.m. PT, Sun., April. 2, 2006



MR. RUSSERT: I want to bring you back to a book you co-wrote with Tom Clancy called “Battle Ready.” And you wrote this: “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.” That’s very serious.


MR. RUSSERT: Where did you see that? At what level?

GEN. ZINNI: Well, I—first of all, I saw it in the way the intelligence was being portrayed. I knew the intelligence; I saw it right up to the day of the war. I was asked at a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing a month before the war if I thought the threat was imminent. I didn’t. Many of the people I know that were involved in the intelligence side of this, or, or in the military felt the same way. I saw the—what this town is known for: spin, cherry-picking facts, using metaphors to evoke certain emotional responses, or, or shading the, the context. We, we know the mushroom clouds and, and the other things that were all described that the media’s covered well. I saw on the ground, though, a sort of walking away from 10 years worth of planning.

You know, ever since the end of the first Gulf War, there have been—there’s been planning by serious officers and planners and others, and policies put in place. Ten years worth of planning, you know, were thrown away; troop levels dismissed out of hand; General Shinseki basically insulted for speaking the truth and giving a, an honest opinion; the lack of cohesive approach to how we deal with the aftermath; the political, economic, social reconstruction of a nation, which is no small task; a belief in these exiles that anyone in the region, anyone that had any knowledge would tell you were not credible on the ground; and on and on and on. Decisions to disband the army that were not in the initial plans. I mean there’s a series of disastrous mistakes. We just heard the secretary of state say these were tactical mistakes. These were not tactical mistakes. These were strategic mistakes, mistakes of policy made back here. Don’t blame the troops. They’re the ones that perform the tactics on the ground. They’ve been magnificent. If anything saves this, it will be them.

MR. RUSSERT: Should someone resign?

GEN. ZINNI: Absolutely.


GEN. ZINNI: Secretary of defense, to begin with.

MR. RUSSERT: Anyone else?

GEN. ZINNI: Well, I think that, that we—that those that have been responsible for the planning, for overriding all the, the efforts that were made in planning before that, that those that stood by and allowed this to happen, that didn’t speak out. And there are appropriate ways within the system you can speak out, at congressional hearings and otherwise. I think they have to be held accountable.

The point is, those that are in power now that have been part of this are finding that their time is spent defending the past. And if they have to defend the past, they’re unable to make the kinds of changes, adjustments, admit the mistakes and move on. And that’s where we are now, trying to rewrite history, defend the past, ridiculous statements that, “Well, wait 20 years and history will tell you how this turns out.” Well, I don’t think anybody wants 20 years to continue like it is now.

MR. RUSSERT: Should the president say to the country, “I was wrong about weapons of mass destruction, wrong about troop levels, wrong about the cost of the war, wrong about the level of insurgency. But we need to put all that behind us and come together as a nation, because this is too important to lose”?

GEN. ZINNI: I, I think the president of the United States ought to certainly say that there were mistakes made at each of those levels. In some cases, these were presented to him. It may not be necessarily the case that he was wrong. He was given bad information. Every president in history has held people accountable and moved on. Look at President Lincoln in the conduct of the war. He went through every general till he found Grant. Senator McCain mentioned Douglas MacArthur. Well, when he screwed up, the president relieved him. You know, you have to make tough choices. You know, integrity and getting on with the mission and doing it right is more important than loyalty. Both are great traits, but integrity, honesty and performance and competence have to outweigh, in this business, loyalty.

MR. RUSSERT: I want to bring you back to August 26, 2002. The Veterans of Foreign War had a convention, a meeting. Vice President Cheney was the guest speaker. You were honored, as you can see the medal around your neck there. This is what the vice president said on that day.

(Videotape, August 26, 2002):

VICE PRES. DICK CHENEY: Simply stated, there is no doubt that Saddam Hussein now has weapons of mass destruction. There is not doubt that he is amassing them to use against our friends, against our allies and against us.

(End videotape)

MR. RUSSERT: After that event, The Washington Post captured your thinking in a conversation with you. “Cheney’s certitude bewildered [retired General Tony] Zinni. ... ‘In my time at CENTCOM, I watched the intelligence, and never - not once - did it say, “He has WMD.”’ Though retired for nearly two years, Zinni says, he remained current on the intelligence through his consulting with the CIA and the military. ‘I did consulting work for the agency, right up to the beginning of the war. I never saw anything. I’d say to analysts, “Where’s the threat?”’ Their response, he recalls, was, ‘Silence.’ Zinni’s concern deepened as Cheney pressed on. ... Zinni’s conclusion as he slowly walked off the stage was that the Bush administration was determined to go to war. A moment later, he had another, equally chilling thought: ‘These guys don’t understand what they’re getting into.’” Why did you think that on that day?

GEN. ZINNI: Well, first of all, prior to that, I heard the president say because this—these rumors of debates and people pushing for this entry into Iraq that the president said, “Well, look, I’m going to listen to the debate, and then I’ll look at the intelligence.” First of all, I thought that was a little backwards, but I said, “Well, the president hasn’t made up his mind to this point, and when he looks at the intelligence, takes an honest look at it, when he hears the debate, he’ll realize that this isn’t something that should be done now, and it should—and if you’re going to do it, you would do it in a way to try to restart the United Nations process, go back to what President Bush 41 had done.”

But what I heard on that stage today, or that day was not the case of restarting that process in any serious way. I heard the case being built to go to war right away. And what bothered me, I had been hearing about some of the assumptions on the planning, dismissal of the for—previous plans, and I was hearing a depiction of the intelligence that didn’t fit what I knew. There was no solid proof, that I ever saw, that Saddam had WMD.