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Retired general critiques U.S. policy in Iraq

Monday, February 28, 2005 - Bangor Daily News CAMDEN - The general who commanded U.S. forces in the Middle East from 1997 to 2000 says the nation's policy in Iraq has been characterized by a series of compounding mistakes and that too often Americans infer that the region's Islamic residents hate the West.

In a keynote address to the 18th annual Camden Conference on Friday night, retired Gen. Anthony Zinni said the Middle East is best understood as a group of nations not always in agreement, dealing with rapid changes and great pressures from within and without.

"We always seem to think there's some design, some monolithic purpose," Zinni said, but that misses the reality. Having lived in both the West and the Middle East, Zinni said, "I don't see anything that makes this an inevitable clash."

The Middle East is more like Europe at the beginning of the 20th century, he said, with monarchies and quasi-democracies struggling to enter the modern world. "This part of the world wants to be involved in determining its future and feels it's being left out," leaving people confused and frustrated, he said.

Generalities about the region bother him, Zinni said, because in his years observing the area, he has often uncovered "another layer I didn't know about before." The Islamic Middle East is not a unified bloc opposed to the West, Zinni said. Described as "the warrior diplomat" by conference moderator Rushworth Kidder, Zinni has served in peace negotiations in hot spots around the world.

He was in charge of U.S. forces in the Middle East from 1997 to 2000, succeeding Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf and preceding Gen. Tommy Franks. Zinni broke with the Bush administration on its plans to invade Iraq.

In his remarks Friday, Zinni maintained that U.S. policy in Iraq has been characterized by mistakes. Of the question posed in the conference's title - "The Middle East: Compromise or Conflagration?" - Zinni answered, "Yes," noting the inherent conflicts and contradictions of the region. Though a longtime observer of the Middle East who lived and served in the region for 15 years, he confessed, "I never felt that I understood the Middle East. But I always felt that those who live in the Middle East don't understand the Middle East."

The United States should recognize reform efforts within the region, he said, such as the recent elections in Saudi Arabia and Indonesia, as well as those in Afghanistan and Iraq. And eight Islamic countries have been led by a woman or had women in key leadership posts, he said. "Many of the reformers out there are nervous about us taking credit," he said. These reformers don't want to see the "made in America" stamp on those changes.

Zinni said the folly of President Bush's approach was recently illustrated at a meeting of the eight largest industrial nations, when the president unveiled a plan for the democratization of the Middle East. From his experience as a diplomat and envoy, Zinni said, it does not bode well when the mediator presents the plan for peace. "Small countries that move forward put pressure on big countries," he said, advocating for a process that empowers reformers rather than forces their hands. "We don't need to use a sledgehammer in every case," he said.

U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East keeps changing, Zinni said. The United States supported Iran and Saudi Arabia in the early 1970s; supported Saddam Hussein in the 1980s as an enemy of Iran; waged war against Iraq and contained it during the 1990s; and now is introducing democracy through military intervention. "They've seen us change the doctrine ... about once a decade, and they feel they're due," he said. "We have been inconsistent," he said. "It is confusing on the receiving end." Middle Eastern nations are "arguing their future," not necessarily marching in lock step against the West, Zinni said. At the same time, he acknowledged that there is strong opposition to U.S. policy in the Middle East.

Osama bin Laden cleverly networked several terrorist groups, some with a narrow focus, to create al Qaida. "It worked very effectively," he said. '"Where we encourage the anger, we have to be more careful." Though bin Laden has tapped anger and frustration, he is doomed to failure, Zinni believes, because he offers no viable vision for the region other than to "march people back to the seventh century."

The invasion of Iraq "was a horrendous mistake," which has destabilized the region, he said. The Islamic Middle East is watching the fate of Libya and Pakistan, which lean toward the West,and Syria and Iran, which defy the United States, he said. The remaining nations will choose one way or the other, Zinni said.

Retired Gen. Anthony Zinni (right) was the keynote speaker at the 18th annual Camden Conference on Friday. After his remarks, Zinni fielded questions from the audience of 500 with conference moderator Rushworth Kidder (left). Bold notes by Prissy

* Staff* ©2005 Bangor Daily News. All rights reserved.

Hot Links News From KOREAN CENTRAL NEWS AGENCY of DPRK(Democratic People's Republic of Korea) Trailer for Spain documentary on 911-they say the evidence does not add up with the official story . Prissy hasn't seen this movie, but she has looked at the evidence and no....It does not add up.

No conspiracy theory here folks, there is simply just too much evidence that defies logic, using forensic analysis . Engineers have lost jobs for pointing out these inconsistencies. Clearly the 911 Commission did NOT do a through investigation, Prissy recommends reading it for yourself. Do tell her what parts make no sense to you, dear readers. The British Military Families Against the War "War torn Families Unite"

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