Amateur Hour

If the President of the United States calls you and congratulates you on being offered an ambassadorship, it is reasonable for you to start packing your bags for a long trip overseas. Or so you would think. Unless you are General Anthony Zinni.

This is not a good sign:

“Jones had called me before the inauguration and asked if I would be willing to serve as ambassador to Iraq or in one of the envoy jobs, on the Middle East peace process,” Zinni told Foreign Policy. “I said yes.”

“Then two weeks ago, Jones called,” Zinni continued, “and said, ‘We talked to the secretary of state, and everybody would like to offer you the Iraq job.’ I said yes.

“The president called and congratulated me,” Zinni said.

Then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton asked for a meeting last Monday night, Zinni said. He said he went to the meeting in her office at the State Department, where Deputy Secretary of State James Steinberg and Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs Williams Burns were also in attendance.

“She thanks me, asked me my views on Iraq,” Zinni recalled. “She said to Burns and Steinberg, ‘We’ve got to move quickly, Crocker is leaving, we’ve got to get someone in there and get the paperwork done and hearings… Lots to do to get ready to go.”

Zinni said he expected a call from Burns the next day. Not hearing from him, he called him.

“To make a long story short, I kept getting blown off all week,” Zinni said. “Meantime, I was rushing to put my personal things in order,” to get ready to go.

“Finally, nobody was telling me anything,” Zinni said. “I called Jones Monday several times. I finally got through late in evening. I asked Jones, ‘What’s going on?’ And Jones said, ‘We decided on Chris Hill.'”

“I said, ‘Really,'” Zinni recalled. “That was news to me.”

Jones asked him if he would like to be ambassador to Saudi Arabia, Zinni said. “I said, ‘You can stick that with whatever other offers,'” Zinni recalled, saying he had used more colorful language with Jones. Asked Jones’s response and if he was apologetic, Zinni said, “Jones was not too concerned. He laughed about it.”

It is unclear who pulled the plug on the Zinni appointment, but I am sure it is an interesting story. One wonders if the White House and the State Department are reading from the same script. I of course would not be surprised if they were not.

This is amateur hour. If you want to bring about Middle East peace, this is not the way to start.

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8 Responses to Amateur Hour

  1. jasper says:

    Mash, it was the Vice President who called Zinni to congratulate, not Obama.

    Zinni should not have talked to the reporters till the offer was official.

    If Obama disn’t want him in Iraq I could understand why.

    He’s just as much trigger-happy. He never opposed Iraq invasion – he only criticized the US strategy only after the invasion. He sat before congress even before 9/11 and implied that Iraq was a huge threat (just as much as Iran and Sudan) and was ‘probably’ manufacturing WMDs. He likes resolving conflicts with guns rather than talks.

    Besides, Zinni’s company has million’s of dollars worth business in Iraq. It would have looked really bad. Nobody liked it when Halliburton got multi billion dollar business contracts in Iraq that Cheney coordinated.

  2. Mash says:

    Jasper, Zinni is quoted as saying it was the President who called him. I have not yet seen any reporting contradicting that.

    You dont diss a man like General Zinni. He is extremely highly regarded. You don’t offer him the job and then toss it to someone else and leak that info to the Washinton Post. Someone in the Administration screwed someone else to score political points. I have a pretty good idea who it might have been.

    I think you have it backwards on Zinni. Zinni is by no means is trigger happy. His reputation is exactly the opposite.

    Zinni’s comments on Iraq in 2000 were exactly right. No one disputes that Iraq, according to Zinni, posed “near-term threat to U.S. interests in the Persian Gulf region”. So does Iran. The issue is that that is not a justification to launch a pre-emptive war on a country. That is where Bush went loco.

    Zinni opposed the Iraq war early and was a vocal opponent of it. He warned against the “regime change” plan of PNAC long before Iraq was invaded. Dems cited Zinni every chance they got. He was an early and important backer of both Obama and Jim Webb. Zinni gave important military support to Obama during the campaign. This was crucial. You dont screw friends like this in politics and expect to have many backers afterwards.

    Zinni has both military and diplomatic experience in the Middle East. He was considered to be Obama’s VP and national security advisor.

    As for Zinni being on the board of DynCorp for a while, that is hardly comparable to running a company like Halliburton. If the criteria is serving on a board, most of the senior members of Obama’s administration would have to resign. As I recall, no one seemed particularly concerned (and I had raised this as a question at the time) that NSA Jim Jones was on Chevron’s board or Bill Clinton, husband of our Secretary of State, has gotten millions from Middle East governments.

    Obama needs to act quickly to clean this up.

  3. jasper says:

    The site you linked in your post (FP) has cleared up the error and states that Obama never called Zinni to congratulate, it was the VP (Biden) who did.
    Zinni himself spoke with Washington Post reporter about his possible new job (not WH insider).
    And he should not have used colorful language to express his disgust towards Jones. Jones is Obama’s advisor after all.

  4. Mash says:

    Jasper, I’ll update my post to reflect the updated quote from Zinni. However, whether it was the President or the Vice President who spoke to him, it really doesnt change things much.

    On the leak to Washington Post, it was a Administration source not Zinni who said someone else had been picked. Zinni was responding after the initial news became public of Hill being picked.

  5. jasper says:

    Well, you are the one who typed in bold fonts that the President congratulated him.
    I only hate the fact that Zinni was so pissed that he would just lay it out – even if it made Obama’s people look incompetent and made Zinni a laughing stock in the press and electronic media as well. People are saying he had a hissy fit because he couldn’t deal with the rejection.
    Do we not have one general in Afghanistan already? Do we really need to send another bis shot army guy in middle east?

  6. J. Belleausi says:

    Dr, offtopic quesiton, but what is your take on the economic package winding its way through the Capitol?

  7. Secret Dhaka says:

    Now that’s quite a topic for a post. Would love to see your take on this Mash. Tax-cuts and let people spend as they wish (or save, damn) or pump in the 1 trillion?

  8. Mash says:

    Sorry for being absent for the last few days. I just posted briefly on Obama’s press conference and my take on the stimulus plan 🙂

    Jasper, Zinni is hardly a laughing stock. Those trying to defend the Obama administration by going after Zinni now were singing a different tune just months ago when Zinni was walking on water. I happen to think he did the right thing by going public. An administration that behaves like the Keystone Cops needs a swift kick in the ass to get its act together.

    If Obama’s people did not want to give Zinni the job for the reasons you cite, they needed to make that decision before offering him the job. It would have saved them looking like amateurs by doing what they did. You don’t diss someone of Zinni’s stature like that and expect no blowback.

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