updated 5/25/2004 7:51:31 PM ET 2004-05-25T23:51:31

For Marine Corps Gen. Anthony Zinni, who served as George W. Bush's Middle East envoy and spent four years commanding U.S. forces in the Middle East, the Iraq War seems like a series of almost unbelievable errors. A close confidant of Secretary of State Colin Powell and decorated Vietnam veteran, Zinni has co-authored a book with Tom Clancy about his experiences as a warrior diplomat called "Battle Ready." Parts of the new book delve into what Zinni regards as enormous blunders in the pursuit of Saddam Hussein. On Tuesday, Zinni spoke about his views in a recorded interview for 'Hardball with Chris Matthews.'

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST: Was Iraq a blunder?

GEN. ANTHONY ZINNI: Yes, in my view, it was a blunder. The president was not served well with strategy, planning, and decisions made from there. I think they misled him on what to expect— the rationale, the elements for the strategy, to the situation on the ground. It wasn't going to be a pie-in-the-sky welcome in the streets with flowers. Anyone who knew the region and knew the country knew what this was not going to happen.

MATTHEWS: The sales pitch was that it was for democracy, or that scarier still, there were weapons of mass destruction. Was the salespitch, either of them, honest?


ZINNI: Neither one was. Bush 41 knew Baghdad was going to be a problem. That's why we went through a course of sanctions. To believe that Saddam was an imminent threat was a real stretch for us who saw the intelligence.

MATTHEWS: When [Defense Secretary] Donald Rumsfeld was on ‘Hardball' he expressed that he wasn't expecting us to be viewed as occupiers. Anyone who spends three seconds in a foreign country knows this could be the case. How could they believe that Iraq would welcome us?
ZINNI: It is hard to believe. We're viewed as colonial power, especially when we don't come in under a U.N. mandate that shows a international cooperation. It plays into the hands of extremists who want to use it against us on the streets of Baghdad.

I think we owe the American people the straight show. If you're doing this for a strategic reason, you need to lay it out. We bought into the exiles and their stories.

MATTHEWS: Why is that?


ZINNI: It's the desire to believe in it. They had a strategy. Except for those of us who know the region and had experience out there, we knew this was a disaster in the long run.

I think it's the fault of the planners at the Pentagon who were responsible for the construction phase. They didn't understand the depth and complexity, and dumped this problem onto the military. But there was enough of us who had experience that expressed our worries and voiced our concerns.

I have tremendous respect for [Secretary of State] Colin Powell… I don't know what went on in the inner workings of the admininstration. Colin was on the right track on Resolution 1441 in the U.N. that would internationalize this… why not wait for the inspections that would make it take a couple of months longer?

MATTHEWS: Why did the president and the vice-president go together in this war with Iraq?

ZINNI: The president was hit hard with 9/11 as we all were. He saw the need to make sure there were no threats that would materialize. He thought, “If this is a big threat as I'm being told, we need to do something about it.” I believe he was misled.

MATTHEWS: If we were misled in terms of how easy it would be for us to go into Iraq? Who should be accountable? [Under Secretary of Defense for Intelligence Stephen] Cambone, [Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Douglas] Feith, [Deputy Defense Secretary Paul] Wolfowitz, Rumsfeld?


ZINNI: Somebody ought to be held accountable. The president, the country, and the troops weren't served well. Why not all of them?

MATTHEWS: What should we do with Iraq now?


ZINNI: Its going to take time, hardwork, help from us, and insistence, that they execute the reform. To do it in one stroke in an intervention like this is absolutely the wrong way.

We're trying to create something for Iraq it's never known. These people are confused and don't understand where you're taking them.

There's suspicion on the streets that we're after oil and resources. This is diffuclt. This is not a one-year project. I think we need to convince them we're there for their futures. We have to create within them the willingness and desire to reform government and their economic system. It's not going to work with us paying it for them on the dole.

We need to secure borders, road networks, troops on the ground.  It's not only an issue of security. While you en-place security, that's the only way you get economic and infrastructure reconstruction to develop. Or else insurgents will blow it up every chance they get.

The full interview airs on 'Hardball with Chris Matthews,' Tuesday, 7 p.m. ET on MSNBC TV.

Discuss:

Discussion comments

,