April 16, 2008

Gen. Anthony Zinni to America's next president: truly learn the 'new world order'

Retired U.S. Marine Corps four-star general Anthony C. Zinni has three suggestions for America's next president: Get to know and truly understand the world as it is; devise a strategic design for engaging in that world; and rebuild diplomatic relationships with the world's nations while restructuring government at home.

Zinni, a former commander in chief of U.S. Central Command, gave his first public talk, billed as "The New World Order," as a Frank H.T. Rhodes Class of 1956 Professor in Kennedy Hall's Call Auditorium April 15.

In a swift and personalized summation of recent history, from the collapse of the Soviet Union to the final year of the Bush administration, Zinni discussed globalization, the emergence of non-state entities and movements -- both good and bad -- the rise of the information age, climate change, global diasporas and the advent of failed states in a hostile environment. This 12-minute tour de force brought him to the meat of his presentation -- making sense of the comprehensive change the world has undergone since 1989. The post-Cold War "peace dividend" never panned out, said Zinni, and "the new world order" is emerging as complex and volatile, requiring a nuanced understanding.

"Remarkable changes have occurred in the world since the end of the Cold War and we don't get it," he said. "There is a new form of instability, and it doesn't stay confined to any one place."

To counter "the trend toward failed and failing states" requires sensible international aid and "capacity building" -- a Cold War term for assisting struggling and developing nations that is now being recycled. That, he said, "is the job of the entire world."

"We need to do this not because it is altruistic or as a feel good [project]," said Zinni, who is the author of two best-selling books on his military career and foreign affairs, including "Battle for Peace." "We need to do it because it is necessary" to living in the modern world.

In 2002 he served as special envoy to Israel and the Palestinian Authority. Today he teaches at Duke University and is president for international operations of M.I.C. Industries, makers of a mobile factory used for the automated construction of steel buildings.

He is an outspoken critic of the Bush administration and opposed the decision to invade Iraq. Zinni also opposes pre-emptive strikes against Iran's alleged nuclear facilities, instead urging a diplomatic course.

Zinni said many of America's leaders still view the world through a Cold War lens at a time when the international community has become so interdependent that conflagrations anywhere on the planet affect our lives. He said he is opposed to building walls, whether ideological or along the U.S. border with Mexico, and stated that the United States cannot function effectively in the world without a "recognition of interdependence in every aspect."

Sounding more politician than retired general, Zinni called for streamlining Washington's bloated bureaucracy, moving away from cronyism in government and a return to placing a premium on competence as opposed to loyalty, and de-politicizing discussions of climate change and the future of the world. Zinni said the country could demonstrate change to the international community by reengaging in the Kyoto climate protocols and "taking its role as a world leader seriously." He also called for a genuine transformation of the military from the "rump of a Cold War military" (that, he noted, even World War I General John J. Pershing could recognize) to "the kind of military we need in the 21st century."

Zinni said he believes historians will look at the beginning of this century as "the era of Muslim and Islamic transformation and adjustment to modernity." He said: "Some elements (of the Muslim world) will come through this transformation OK, some will have a difficult time, and some won't make it."

If he sounded like a politician, Zinni denied any intention of getting involved in politics. He said the next president is likely to have a honeymoon period, and the world will be willing to welcome America back "to its role as a respected and trustworthy leader."

The talk was part of the Mario Einaudi Center Foreign Policy Distinguished Speaker Series.