BOOKS/Alvena Bieri

Battle for Peace

On the back cover of a new book by Gen. Tony Zinni, former commander-in-chief of the US Central Command, James Fallows of The Atlantic says Zinni's suggestions "are sensible and deserve wide support." He is praising The Battle for Peace: A Frontline Vision of America's Power and Purpose [New York: Palgrave Macmillan]. It came out before the present problems with Israel and Lebanon, but that makes it move important than ever.

I'd say after reading -- and studying! -- it that this book reveals suggestions that are a little more than "sensible." They are essential. I almost put aside some of my antimilitary feelings as I went through it.

In ten chapters Zinni, a four-star Marine who has worked in that capacity all over the world, including time in Vietnam and the Middle East, shows how "a warrior becomes a diplomat." He has even taught ethics classes in college, he says.

The underlying point to which all other ideas are related is that the United States, being the richest and most powerful country in the world, has no choice except to lead. Zinni says that without the participation of the US the world will have no peace, global environmental policy, global health or trade policies, or an effective United Nations. It sounds as if we are a world empire, and Zinni says that's right, adding that "empires have a nasty reputation." But he softens that a little bit by saying we are "an empire of influence."

But we are not doing very well right now with a positive influence on the world. He keeps coming back to the many opportunities we lost as the USSR broke up and the Cold War ended.

The world, especially the US, might have been able to lead toward more peaceful settlements of issues when the threat of war between US and the USSR seemed to fade.

But, today, how well-suited is the United States to being a moral leader in the world? We need to realize how complicated international relations, especially with countries that have been at war with us in the past, can be.

Very often American forces, whether in Korea or Vietnam, or Iraq, are seen as outsiders. He gives numerous examples in the chapter, "In the Foxhole." That symbolism of "foxhole" is his way of emphasizing that it is vital to get to the source of problems, to see situations from the grassroots and not just from the top. And that is exactly his criticism of the present administration. Not only do they not have a clear perspective of the problems, but the "planners have no plan!" On Iraq Bush obviously did not understand what the serious aftermath of our invasion would be. Incidentally, Zinni takes a shot at Bush's power of appointment, saying that under our present "spoils system," the president can make over 3000 appointments on his own. So appointed, not necessarily qualified, officials are to blame, he thinks, for the failure of hurricane relief and many other things.

In the latter part of the book Zinni goes into great detail about how unstable our world is. He says, "Suppose African hackers get into the Social Security system and destroy it. Social Security checks cease for six months" or all foreign oil shipments are somehow cut off. Instability of various sorts Zinni calls "the death of a thousand stings."

He says forget the White Man's burden. Instead think of foreign aid and general help for the world's poor as investments in the security of all of us. NATO and the UN are needed more than ever. And peace is not a boring, passive condition. It is an active state of affairs, a society that is dynamic and prosperous where conflicts are dealt with by the rule of law, not violence. He concludes that "peace is not merely a distant goal that we seek, but a means by which we arrive at that goal." That reminds me of what A.J. Muste said -- "There is no way to peace. Peace is the way."

Contact Alvena Bieri, 2023 W. 11th Ave, Stillwater, OK 74074; or email

From The Progressive Populist, October 1, 2006

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