A retired four star marine general who served in the Middle East and criticised the Iraq war, Zinni gave up on brokering peace between the estranged gulf allies.

Marine Corps Gen Anthony Zinni, head of US Central Command, briefs reporters at the Pentagon on Operation Desert Fox, the four-day campaign against Iraq, December 21, 1998 in Washington.
Marine Corps Gen Anthony Zinni, head of US Central Command, briefs reporters at the Pentagon on Operation Desert Fox, the four-day campaign against Iraq, December 21, 1998 in Washington. (AP)

A retired 71-year-old US marine Anthony Zinni is largely known for two reasons: one, for his role as the US envoy for the Middle East prior to the 2006 American invasion of Iraq; and two, for his return to the Trump administration in 2017 to resolve the Saudi-led economic blockade against Qatar – one of the worst disputes between the gulf states in decades.  

On January 8, Zinni resigned from his post citing "unwillingness" of regional leaders to end the gulf diplomatic crisis. The resignation came after a series of high profile departures from the Trump administration, including former Defense Secretary James Mattis and Brett McGurk, the US envoy to the global coalition fighting Daesh.

One of Zinni's initial assignments was the Clinton administration's Operation Desert Fox, a series of air strikes against “potential weapon sites” in Iraq in 1998.  But Zinni wasn't on similar terms with the Bush administration as he broke ranks with it over the US policy in Iraq, and retired in 2000 as a four-star Marine general. During his numerous diplomatic roles in his 39-year military career, he served in more than 70 countries including Pakistan, Somalia, Eritrea and Ethiopia. He also served as the US special envoy to Israel and the Palestinian Authority.

A year after the US intervention in Iraq, he took on the Pentagon officials and a group of policymakers who “saw the invasion as a way to stabilise American interests in the region and strengthen the position of Israel.” 

“There has been poor strategic thinking in this. There has been poor operational planning and execution on the ground. They’ve screwed up,” Zinni commented on Pentagon’s handling of the Iraq war in his book “Battle Ready” that he wrote in 2004.

“.... it's been a failure .... Now we’re being viewed as the modern crusaders, as the modern colonial power in this part of the world,” he wrote.

Thirteen years after he resigned, the Trump administration approached him to solve the crisis and to push to develop a Middle East Strategic Alliance (MESA), also known as 'Arab NATO'. He was appointed by former secretary of state Rex Tillerson in August 2017, two months after the dispute between Qatar and the Saudi-led bloc erupted in May, when the US President Donald Trump visited Riyadh. 

The four state Arab bloc, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt galvanised power against Iran and severed diplomatic ties with Qatar, accusing the tiny neighbour of supporting terrorism, a charge Qatar denies. 

Former US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said in 2017 that Zinni’s presence would help to maintain a “constant pressure on the ground” to solve the crisis. There has been no breakthrough in the dispute since Zinni’s appointment, however. 

Stepping down with a “soft resignation,” as described by a senior State Department official, Zinni said in an interview that his efforts to resolve the gulf crisis “did not make any progress.”

Nicknamed “the Godfather” due to his Italian lineage and known for his bold statements about the 2006 American invasion of Iraq, Zinni has reportedly felt that there was no need for his involvement with the Trump’s Arab NATO plan. But this time, he didn’t comment on the US administration’s handling of the crisis. 

Zinni’s mission was to help introduce the concept of the Middle East Strategic Alliance and start a conversation with leaders in the region. "That is happening and well underway thanks to his efforts,” the State Department said in a statement regarding his departure. 

In an interview, however, Zinni struck a pessimistic tone.  "I did not think my services were needed," he said.“I had done my thing and didn’t see anything else to do.”

Zinni also said that his resignation was “nothing really dramatic” but “it’s not a good time for generals, anyway.”

Source: TRT World