Anthony Zinni is a retired U.S. Marine Corps four-star general, whose last military assignment was heading United States Central Command. Subsequently, he was an special envoy of to Israel and the Palestinian Authority in 2002, resigning over policy differences over launching the Iraq War.
He is a vocal critic of the George W. Bush Administration's handling of the occupation phase of the Iraq War. Zinni said America was "headed over Niagara Falls." Zinni is one of many officers that accepted, however, that their role, while on active duty, that they might need to execute policies with which they disagreed. In his autobiography, he recounts that after giving strategic proposals, to the Clinton Administration Secretary of Defense and Congress, after taking Central Command, he was told to "stay out of policy and stick to execution."
From 1996 to 1997, he was Deputy Commanding General of CENTCOM, and took command in 1997 until 2000. As a lieutenant general from 1994 to 1996, he commanded the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force; he was promoted to that rank effectively skipping the two-star major general level.
Staff and task force
He became a brigadier general in 1989, and was assigned to his first joint command tour, as deputy director of operations for United States European Command. This exposed him to what U.S. doctrine calls operations other than war, such as noncombatant evacuation operations in Liberia, Sierra Leone and Zaire, and support to Iraqi Kurdish refugees, which fell into the broader discipline of peace operations.
After a battalion command at the early rank of major, he attended the National War College during the 1983-1984 academic year. While he had though he would be assigned to staff duty focused on European and NATO issues, he became the Special Operations and Counteraction officer at Headquarters, U.S. Marine Corps. For several reasons, this was a challenging assignment.
The U.S. Marine Corps historically has resisted the formation of special operations forces, creating them only after high-level pressure (e.g., the WWII Raiders); see Marine Special Operations Command. In 1983, 281 Marines died when their barracks in Beirut was destroyed by a suicide bomber; a French unit was also hit, almost simultaneously. The Marines gave a high priority to countering this type of threat.
He was involved in what has been variously called resistance to special operations formations, or a Marine-specific way to deal with the requirement: modifying the capabilities of the Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) to become MEU Special Operations Qualified, or MEU-SOC.
As his staff tour ended, he was offered command of one of the new MEU-SOC's, but elected, instead to take command of a Marine regiment.
- vanden Heuvel, Katrina (16 June 2004), "Former Bush (41) and Reagan Officials Say Bush (43) Must Go", The Nation
- Clancy, Tom; Tony Zinni & Tony Koltz (2004), Battle Ready, Putnam, p.4