Processed Internationalism

Finally got around to reading The Battle for Peace by Tony Zinni tonight. Thanks to JP for providing the book written by his old boss.

It was a good read and touched on a lot of subjects being batted around international policy salons in Washington DC these days. Most particularly, General Zinni's design for an integrated advisory group comprised of elements of the Departments of State, Commerce and Defense (what Tom Barnett calls "a department of everything else", and which Peter Pace has discussed extensively) is well thought out and something we needed yesterday. Additionally, his view that the Department of Homeland Security was ill conceived and his more general thoughts on the failure of "stovepipe" government structure are on target.

That said, I've never been a great fan of Zinni's. Certainly he's an accomplished Marine officer and diplomat. But he falls within the realist school of international relations -a school of thought that emphasizes stability over strategic change, and process over result. Call me a neocon, but I'm of the mind that it was the realists who led us down the path toward 9/11. Now in a post 9/11 world, we should better appreciate that propping up corrupt regimes for short term gain is often worse than actively undermining them.

The book itself reads a bit like a curriculum vitae for a diplomat whose sponsors are in the political wilderness. Zinni lists his various jobs, accomplishments, and consulting gigs in a way that suggests he is writing for the benefit of a presidential transition team. But he doesn't bring a great deal of insight to the events in which he was involved. Most lacking, I thought, was any detail on the main event of his career, his Middle East shuttle diplomacy. Perhaps he intentionally avoided that sad subject, but I would have liked to know more about how all that went down.

General Zinni's sparse writing style makes for a quick and easy read that you can get through in a couple of hours. It's not in depth policy analysis or compelling history. In point of fact, it is pretty light reading. And he tends to over use rhetorical questions in the process of making his points. I think I counted five straight paragraphs comprised wholly of questions in one chapter. It kind of begs the question - as in "aren't we reading this to get the answers?"

At the end of the day the book is most useful in evaluating the kind of international relations policy we should expect from the National Security Council of the next Democrat president. Think more process, less confrontation. More soft power, less hard power. More from NGOs and international institutions and less from the First Marine Division. Seems odd coming from a Marine general, but that is Anthony Zinni.

Perhaps after eight years of President Bush, Zinni's way is not such a bad approach. But immediately post 9/11, it would not have been enough. After one of your cities is turned into a smoking whole, people don't really care that structural change in the other guy's country needs to be given time. They want immediate and measurable change - things that General Zinni seems not to have on offer.