Stability is key for peace, a retired general writes

  • By Michael Abramowitz / The Washington Post
  • Saturday, April 22, 2006 9:00pm
  • LifeGo-See-Do

Well into his new book, Marine Gen. Tony Zinni lists what he thinks ought to be the nation’s strategic goals. They include keeping regions and countries stable, making unstable countries stable, and working with regional partners to address unstable conditions.

For Zinni, stability is the lodestar of modern national security policy. Wresting order out of a chaotic world is the mission he sees, in “The Battle for Peace: A Frontline Vision of America’s Power and Purpose” (with Tony Koltz, published by Palgrave Macmillan), as job No. 1 for the U.S. government.

“The real threats do not come from military forces or violent attacks; they do not come from a nation-state or hostile non-state entity. They do not derive from an ideology (not even from a radical, West-hating, violent brand of Islam),” Zinni writes. “The real new threats come from Instability. Instability and the chaos it generates can spark large and dangerous changes anywhere in the land.”

Notably absent from Zinni’s list is any mention of spreading democracy and freedom, among the goals articulated in 2002 by the White House in its National Security Strategy, often with soaring, idealistic rhetoric.

Zinni’s contrast in tone and emphasis seems purposeful. With “The Battle for Peace,” the retired general has set out to present an alternative vision of the national interest to the one espoused by President Bush. It is a less ambitious, more incrementalist vision.

Zinni is a combat veteran whose experience in Vietnam brought him three rounds from an AK-47 and a near-death experience. Before retiring, Zinni served as chief of the military’s Central Command, which oversees operations in the Middle East and South Asia.

He was one of a raft of former generals who endorsed Bush for president in 2000, but he has since broken with the administration over what he sees as its ill-thought-out adventurism in Iraq. Zinni was against the war before it was popular to be so.

Zinni believes far too little thought and attention are being paid to the management of what, as he describes it, is the nation’s most urgent issue: how to manage the problems posed by dysfunctional countries or those that are in danger of becoming dysfunctional. Those countries, such as Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iraq, are the breeding grounds for the radicals and terrorists who hate the United States and want to attack us.

Yet as Zinni tells it, we have expertise in only one tool – military force – for dealing with these countries, and we too often use our power in ways that alienate other societies.

He offers a variety of proposals to better organize U.S. agencies to respond to droughts, famines, civil wars and other sources of instability before they metastasize into situations that require military force. He wants an interdepartmental team drawn from relevant agencies to watch for tensions and other signs of instability and a deployable force of civilians to handle recovery and reconstruction in war zones.

Zinni has many interesting things to say about the dangers of pursuing our current course in foreign policy. He is a distinctly non-ideological man in an era when ideology is running rampant both home and abroad. He seems to be saying that the world is full of problems that can be better managed if only we had more competent U.S. leadership, different bureaucracies and less idealism from our leaders.

The premise is debatable, but the next president may decide to give it a go.

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