The theater at the Williamsburg Regional Library was filled to capacity Tuesday evening for Anthony Zinni, a retired four-star Marine Corps general and former commander-in-chief of the United States Central Command.
He spoke about and answered questions concerning the Middle East in an event set up by the James City County and City of Williamsburg Democratic Committees.
“There are so many potential enemies that want to exploit us, and we have lost focus [on potential foreign issues] because of internal issues. We are so caught up in our own domestic issues,” Zinni said. “The absent part of the world really bothers me because it is ready to light up and it will really require the focus of our leadership.”
Zinni showed his support for President Barack Obama on domestic matters, but stressed that the U.S. needs to provide more support overseas.
“I think President Obama is right on about helping education, the economy and creating sustainable energy plans, but we can’t neglect external events or create a situation that can come back and bite us,” Zinni said. “Let’s just say these next five to 10 years will be extremely interesting.”
According to Zinni, providing aid to foreign nations and conducting commerce with foreign nations are positive and vital foreign policy endeavors. However, he said, there are always potential threats from extremists abroad that the U.S. cannot neglect when dealing with foreign aid.
“Not enough attention is paid to remove these potentials,” Zinni said. “We give countries aid, and have always been given clearance for the use of bases [such as Egypt]. Other countries need to know the U.S. is there.”
Zinni emphasized that the U.S. needs to be more involved overseas. He acknowledged the current problems with the country’s economy, including budget cuts, but said the country’s focus on internal problems is preventing it from providing more aid to countries that are struggling with problems of their own.
During the question and answer section for the last hour of the presentation, Zinni addressed many concerns regarding Egypt, Iran, Palestine and Saudi Arabia.
“I think all sides can be argued,” Zinni said. “Palestine would say they’re acting the same way they did in the 1940s. But in order for them to become a state, they need defined borders, which they don’t have. There needs to be negotiation, because without it, there is a greater opportunity for violence. There is a huge potential for disaster than needs to be arbitrated and mediated before anything can happen in Palestine. Saudi Arabia is just trying to force the helping hand of the United States.”
Zinni criticized media portrayals of the Middle East.
“We need to be constructive instead of just acknowledging the problem and complaining about it,” he said.
Regarding foreign wars, Zinni maintained that, despite abuses within the system, honest people are serving in the military.
“I don’t know you, but myself and many other people would give our lives to keep you safe,” Zinni said.