Retired U.S. Marine General and current U.S. Peace Envoy to the Middle East Anthony Zinni says that he shies away from strictly political questions.
"I’m just a simple soldier," he told a small audience gathered in the Tower Room of Iacoccoa Hall.
Nonetheless, Zinni fielded a series of questions posed to him by international relations students, who took advantage of his visit to campus to learn more about his role in negotiating peaceful resolutions to conflicts all over the globe.
Zinni came to Lehigh to deliver the 16th Annual Cohen Lecture, which drew an estimated 700 people to Baker Hall Thursday on a snowy March evening. In the Cohen Lecture breakfast that followed on Friday, Zinni took advantage of the intimate and unhurried setting to offer detailed answers to questions that ranged from the impetus to embark on a military career, to the pending war in Iraq. He also took pains to provide context to some of the notions expressed by students, such as the opinion that the U.N. was an essentially defanged and useless organization.
"The U.N. still serves many useful purposes," he argued. "It’s a vehicle for peacekeeping missions, for humanitarian missions, and it’s extremely useful in addressing a whole series of events where we wouldn’t want to bear the full burden.
"And it does provide universal legitimacy," he added. "Even our constant ally, the United Kingdom, says we need it before going into Iraq. It’s particularly useful for the aftermath of any conflict, for the reconstruction of police forces and economic systems, for example."
Moreover, he said, the U.N. provides a "great forum for bringing issues to the table and debating them without resorting to violence."
"Consider the smaller countries, such as Cameroon," he said. "It not only gives them a voice, but it confers upon them a level of global respect that keeps them involved in finding diplomatic solutions to problems."
Regarding a number of questions about Iraq, Zinni made it clear that although he understands the threat Saddam Hussein poses to the world, he feels now is not the right time to launch an invasion.
"There’s already been a great deal of damage to the relationship the U.S. has enjoyed with Europe, for example," he said. "I was in Europe last week, and I’ve never encountered such hostility. Verbal attacks on these countries by representatives of the United States, use of terms like `old Europe’ loosely tossed about, the op eds and such--they’ve caused great damage and it will take a long time to heal this."
The greatest danger, he added, lies in the possible isolation of the U.S. and the rise of the European Union.
"It would represent the loss of everything we’ve done to build relationships since the Marshall Plan," he added before articulating his hope that the U.S. "begins to mend fences.
"We need them, and they need us," he said. "This ‘go it alone’ approach, this old thinking, went out with World War II."
An accomplished and well-respected peace negotiator on the international stage, Zinni is a 40-year Marine Corps veteran whose career has been characterized by a commitment to humanitarian values. He’s overseen missions in Somalia, Northern Iraq, the former Soviet Union and Pakistan, among others. Those experiences have colored his view of world leaders, including Shiekh Zayed, president of the United Arab Emeritus, one of the leaders he listed when asked by a student to name the most respected political figure he’s ever known.
"I remember seeing him, and noticing jars of what looked like cloudy water placed in front of him," Zinni said. "It turns out that he had samples of water from every well in the country brought to him so that he could make sure it was safe for his people to drink.
"That’s the kind of humanitarian concern that stands out to me."