Listen to an extended excerpt of Gen. Zinni's speech.
Comments of Gen. Anthony Zinni (ret.) during a speech before the Florida Economic Club, Aug. 23, 2002:
Attacking Iraq now will cause a lot of problems. I think the debate right now that's going on is very healthy. If you ask me my opinion, Gen. Scowcroft, Gen. Powell, Gen. Schwarzkopf, Gen. Zinni, maybe all see this the same way.
It might be interesting to wonder why all the generals see it the same way, and all those that never fired a shot in anger and really hell-bent to go to war see it a different way. That's usually the way it is in history. (Crowd laughter.)
But let me tell you what the problem is now as I see it. You need to weigh this: what are your priorities in the region? That's the first issue in my mind.
The Middle East peace process, in my mind, has to be a higher priority. Winning the war on terrorism has to be a higher priority. More directly, the situation in Afghanistan and Pakistan, Central Asia need to be resolved, making sure Al Qaeda can't rise again from the ashes that are destroyed. Taliban cannot come back. That the warlords can't regain power over Kabul and Karzai, and destroy everything that has happened so far.
Our relationships in the region are in major disrepair, not to the point where we can't fix them, but we need to quit making enemies we don't need to make enemies out of. And we need to fix those relationships. There's a deep chasm growing between that part of the world and our part of the world. And it's strange, about a month after 9/11, they were sympathetic and compassionate toward us. How did it happen over the last year? And we need to look at that -- that is a higher priority.
The country that started this, Iran, is about to turn around, 180 degrees. We ought to be focused on that. The father of extremism, the home of the ayatollah -- the young people are ready to throw out the mullahs and turn around, become a secular society and throw off these ideas of extremism. That is more important and critical. They're the ones that funded Hezbollah and other terrorist organizations. That ought to be a focus. And I can give you many, many more before you get down to Saddam and Iraq.
Our friends in the region who, a couple years ago, every time we wanted to throw a bomb at Saddam, kept saying, "Why don't you get serious? We'll support you if you take him out. But if you're only going to piss him off and let him rise from the ashes, we don't want to do it."
Now that we want to do it, it's the wrong time. He'll drag Israel into the war. The mood on the street is very hostile at this moment. It is the wrong time. You could create a backlash to regimes that are friendly to us. You could create a sense of anti-Arab, anti-Islamic feelings from the West (among people who) misinterpret the attack.
We could end up with collateral damage.
You could inherit the country of Iraq, if you're willing to do it -- if our economy is so great that you're willing to put billions of dollars into reforming Iraq. If you want to put soldiers that are already stretched so thin all around the world and add them into a security force there forever, like we see in places like the Sinai. If you want to fight with other countries in the region to try to keep Iraq together as Kurds and Shiites try and split off, you're going to have to make a good case for that. And that's what I think has to be done, that's my honest opinion.
You're going to have to tell me the threat is there, right now. That immediate, that it takes the priority over all those things I've just mentioned.... I've just hit the tops of the waves.
(Person in audience speaks. Laughter.)
In fairness to President Bush, because I work for him -- I don't get paid, though -- in fairness to President Bush, President Bush has invited the debate and he allows anyone who has a view to speak to the debate. I mean, within his own administration you hear different views.
So I'm encouraged by the fact the debate takes place. It ought to be, and it ought to be public and open. And although it's messy and we're trying to figure out which way to come down on it, I think it's good that it's happening, that Congress is looking into it. That it isn't a party issue. I mean, you have Sen. Hagel and Dick Armey and others, that have taken a position, and other -- Sen. Inohofe and others who have taken another -- even within the parties, you have people on both sides. That's what great about the U.S.
So I don't mind the debate. It should be confusing because it's a confusing issue, but in the end the people are going to have to decide, if this -- if the threat is there, and the case is going to have to be made to them.