EXCLUSIVE: Obama backs out on Iraq appointment
The Obama administration asked retired Marine Gen. Anthony Zinni to be U.S. ambassador to Iraq but abruptly withdrew the appointment without explanation, Gen. Zinni said Tuesday.
Gen. Zinni, a former commander of Central Command, told The Washington Times that he had been offered the job by the White House national security adviser, retired Marine Gen. James Jones, two weeks ago and that Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton confirmed the offer on Jan. 26.
“I started making arrangements,” Gen. Zinni said, but became concerned because he heard nothing further from the State Department or White House. He called Gen. Jones Monday night and was told that Christopher Hill, the outgoing assistant secretary of State for East Asia, was getting the job.
Gen. Zinni said no explanation was given. “That kind of bothered me,” he said. “I was told that I had it.”
Tommy Vietor, a White House spokesman, said, “We have spoken to a number of extraordinarily talented individuals about serving in this important role, and have made no announcement about who will be the U.S. ambassador to Iraq.
“Obviously, the president has enormous respect for Gen. Zinni, and believes he would be on anybody’s short list for a number of critical national security roles.”
The State Department had no immediate comment.
Gen. Zinni indicated that he was not interested in other offers from the administration.
“I’m not going to give up my day job” writing books and teaching at Cornell University, he said.
Mr. Hill has extensive experience in Northeast Asia and the Balkans but not in the Middle East.
Gen. Zinni, on the other hand, was the deputy commanding general of “Provide Comfort,” a U.S. operation that provided relief to Iraqi Kurds in 1991.
He was deputy commander in chief of Central Command from 1996-1997 and commander from 1997 until 2000. In 1998, he supervised “Operation Desert Fox,” a series of U.S. air strikes against Iraq targeting what the U.S. believed were weapons of mass destruction programs.
“I know Chris,” Gen. Zinni said. “He’s a fine guy.”
• Jon Ward and Nicholas Kralev contributed to this story.