Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Gen. Zinni at BC this afternoon

Photo from an appearance at Southern Illinois University, Carbondale:

A great speaker, confident and handling himself with military poise, a true military leader and hero. I respect his assessment of U.S. preparation before the invasion of Iraq and also of the conduct of the war and what is taking place now.

I had a chance to ask him to sign his book, Battle Ready (which he co-wrote with Tom Clancy); he has some other books as well, including The Battle for Peace. I don't see anything else currently in print, though he says that he has written a book titled America's Power and Purpose. I'm not sure if I would read them; why do you ask? I'm sure he is an expert on all things military, and what doesn't work if the military is to deal with 4GW. (Colonel Hackworth had high praise for General Zinni.) But...

When he was signing his book I asked him two questions:

1. Is there an impending energy crisis, especially with respect to oil?

He said there may be one 50-70 years down the road, there may be an energy crisis, and we should be looking for alternative fuels. But at present, no. (Apparently he accepts the more optimistic estimates of when peak oil will take place.) He does admit that at this point supply is meeting demand, but what needs to be done is to construct more refineries, so that production can be increased. In this way there can be a cushion against emergencies and keep oil prices low. (Supposedly this is what the Saudis have been demanding.) But from what I have read from those claiming peak oil is at hand, there are reasons why new refineries are not being built.

2. Had he read Thomas Barnett's books, and does he have any major disagreements with what Barnett says in those books?

He has read his books, and there wouldn't be any major disagreements; General Zinni would just caution against generalizations. For example, Muslims countries differ from one another, and so one should not generalize and try to come up with a solution that will match every Muslim country--rather, it has to be more nuanced. (Solutions have to address particulars.)

Why did I ask this latter question? Because during the lecture (which was about leadership and what is required of our future leaders), he made several recommendations that seemed very close to what Barnett advocates. General Zinni believes that neo-isolationism is not possible (we can't build a wall), and that globalization is inevitable. Naturally, I want to argue that globalization is certainly the trend, and it may very well be impossible to stop, given the power and influence of those who are pushing for it, and benefit from it, but it certainly is not determined.
During the lecture

Someone asked the general about the divide between those doing the fighting and those who are at home, benefitting from it. (Or, living as if there is no war going on.) The general emphasized that "war" is really the wrong metaphor to use in understanding what is going on. Rather, what we are trying to do is to bring stability to the world, and this is to be done not only through military force, when necessary, but by building up institutions in other countries. He lamented the fact that the possibility for national service had been passed up, something akin to the Peace Corps for college students and young adults. (The proposal sounds familiar to me, but I can't remember the details. It would be something akin to conscription/national service in other countries, particularly Europe, where one does not have to enter into the military but can fulfill service through other ways.)

Do we really need to send the young overseas? After all, what can they really do to make things better? Perhaps "diversity training" and multiculturalism can prepare them to understand others, but I wonder about this. How well can Americans really understand other cultures, without being immersed in them for an extended period of time? (I wonder if 1 or 2 years is enough, especially if Americans are not adopting the local customs and etiquette, and just acting like "friendly Americans.") And is this wise, if we are concerned about them losing touch with their own traditions and roots?

Also, do we really need this sort of missionary spirit among the youth? (This is a prominent practice for certain Protestant groups--sending teenagers, college students, and young adults to other countries, especially Catholic countries, to spread their version of the Gospel. Are social justice /charity projects in poor countries, by Protestants, Catholics, and non-Christians nothing more than feel-good exercises? What do these projects teach them about functioning as citizens and the importance of the local community? Or the defects of current economic practices?)

It is bad enough that most young adults are infantalized during college--what will another one or two years do? Will this provide the growth experience they need? Yes, they may learn how to take responsibility and to work for a common purpose, but can this not be done in a way that more directly fosters citizenship? Young adults should be formed as citizens by learning the ropes in their own community--recognizing what the common good is, and how it is to be fostered.

What developing countries do need are experts who can teach them how to build sustainable economies. I really doubt our youth have much knowledge of this, if our academics and politicians don't. If modernization = aiding other countries to become servants of corporations, are we really doing them a service? Should we not look at how self-sufficiency can be achieved overseas? And if self-sufficiency is a concern abroad, why not at home?

General Zinni does not think we can become self-sufficient--we are too enmeshed in the global economy/community. I think we can become self-sufficient with respect to food production and the production of necessities; but this needs to be coupled with efforts at relocalization. Is there a political will for this? Not at the present moment. He states that it is necessary for us to be engaged with the world, because the system's problems will eventually be transferred to us. Now, if we cannot bring about reform in our own country that will disentangle us from being dependent upon other countries, this would seem to follow. But is this ideal? Should we not work towards disentangling ourselves. The general and others talk about the dimunition of national identity and the nation-state in favor of the global community. Mr. Lind and others see the decline of the nation-state, not towards greater global unity, but towards fragmentation and possible chaos.

I won't attempt to justify my opposition to the global community or global citizenry, as the internationalists understand it, if the reader is interested in learning more, I would invite them to learn more about distributism and paleoconservatism.

General Zinni also advocates nation-building--not that we should build socities in our shape or image; they don't have to have Jeffersonian democracy, but a native form representative government may be possible, one blended with their culture and traditions. (But by what standard do we judge representative government to be desirable? What if there is nothing within their culture or tradition to support this ideal?) The intellect is not enough--desire must also be swayed, and this may not be possible, and I think the general at least recognizes this. For example, talking about Islam, he says that the moderates must speak out against the "extremists" and take charge of their religion--they are prevented from doing so because they are intimidated by the "extremists" and do not receive support and protection from the government (Or there any moderate governments? Would not the secular government of Syria and possibly Turkey qualify? I do wonder about Turkey, since it does not seem to be as free as Syria or Iraq, before the downfall of Saddam, at least as measured by the freedom given to Christians to worship in their own religion.) As I have stated before, what Islam teaches will not be decided by numbers or the amount of airtime a group gains--it will be decided by those who are deemed to have authority, and those who have authority are more amenable to an understanding of Islam that justifies the use of force than not.

The general is correct in saying that we should do what we can to resolve the issue or problems that lead some to join violent groups; if we can resolve the issue, then we remove the opportunity. But he thinks that this is to be done primarily by improving the quality of life, economically, socially, and so on. No doubt that those whose bodily needs are not satisfied may become desperate and resort to violence to get what they need. But what if they want more than this? Nothing can be done to combat inordinate desire or jealousy over the things that industrial and post-industrial countries have, our toys, gadgets, etc. But what if it is not things that they want? What if those who have authority recognize that this masks a deep spiritual poverty? What if what they want is a preservation of a traditional way of life? And what if their tradition and culture is truly at variance with Western liberal ideals? While it is said that many of the 9/11 terrorists partied it up before they sought "martyrdom" can it really be the case that religion is just a mask used to justify a power grab? Do we really think Osama is doing what he does so that he can obtain power and create a future earthly paradise for himself? What if those who become terrorists are really reacting against what they perceive to be corrupting influences on their societies? Would not further globalization fan their fears instead of allaying them?

As for the preparation of future leaders, General Zinni encourages a broader understanding of the world. What will they need to address? (1) Our global identity. (2) Our core, or ethics, ethos. (3) The mastery of technology. (2) is especially important when looking at, for example, the question of torture. American cannot abandon its moral standards, and adopt a "the end justifies the means" mentality. We cannot compromise our ethos for the sake of profit (greed) or because of threats (fear). He does think that America is the "birhgt shininng light on the hill" and cites anecdotal evidence that non-Americans do see America as the model for the rest of the world. "Oh, really." He quoted Toqueville--America is great because she is good; if she ever stopped being good, she would stop being great.

Well, if you know me you can guess what my reaction is to rhetoric like that.

One final point--he talked about the bloated bureaucracy of the Federal Government, and stated that the solution is not more layers of bureaucracy, but streamlining of government; our leaders need to be quick thinkers and a broad education, able to make decisions with less info. But is this really possible, if what is being governed (or managed) is too big? Might it not be the case that the problem lies primarily not with the government, but with what is being governed? After all, one could say that bureaucracy is needed precisely so that enough information filters up for those at the top to make decisions. (I don't think this is how our bureaucracy works, nor is it the ideal in this country, but it could be an argument.) Streamlining government does not sound to me to be the same as decentralization/relocalization. If those in the Federal Government have less info, would it not be better than to leave decision-making to those who presumably have a better idea of what is going on, those who are close to the issue or problem?

Rather than seeing the building up of a global community as a solution to the decline of the nation state caused by globalization, we should recognize that those forces pushing for globalization ultimately work against stability at all levels.

(One wonders if there isn't a conspiracy to destablize the world on such a broad scale precisely through economic means. Who needs political power when financial power suffices? Without a sound economic system and sufficient economic freedom diffused among its members, a community is left at the mercy of those who hold economic power.)

General Anthony Zinni
Photos (large): 1, 2
official website
Meet the Press (April 2, 2006)
Interview on The Battle for Peace (audio file)
A Middle East Assessment
Remarks at CDI Board of Directors Dinner
Appearance on Hardball with Christ Matthews (May 25, 2004)
Smearing General Zinni, by Justin Raimondo
San Diego Tribune Q&A
60 minutes interview
Florida Economic Club
interview by Harry Kreisler
BBC profile

Plus: DraftZinni.com

Photos of him at BC to come.

The Chinese are our Friends, by Thomas Barnett
Patterns of Insurgency and Counterinsurgency, by John A. Lynn

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