NEW YORK – A brand name author with many admirers in the military criticized the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, citing it as proof that "good men make mistakes."
That same writer said he almost "came to blows" with a leading war supporter, former Pentagon adviser Richard Perle (search).
The author is Tom Clancy (search).
The hawkish master of such million-selling thrillers as "Patriot Games" and "The Hunt for Red October" now finds himself adding to the criticism of the Iraq war, and not only through his own comments.
His latest book, "Battle Ready," is a collaboration with another war critic, retired Marine Gen. Anthony C. Zinni (search). "Battle Ready" looks at Zinni's long military career, dating back to the Vietnam War, and includes harsh remarks by Zinni about the current conflict.
In an interview Monday with The Associated Press, Clancy and Zinni sat side by side in a hotel conference room in midtown Manhattan, mutual admirers who said they agreed on most issues, despite "one or two" spirited "discussions" during the book's planning.
Zinni has openly attacked the war, but Clancy reluctantly acknowledged his own concerns. He declined repeatedly to comment on the war, before saying that it lacked a "casus belli," or suitable provocation.
"It troubles me greatly to say that, because I've met President Bush," Clancy said. "He's a good guy. ... I think he's well-grounded, both morally and philosophically. But good men make mistakes."
"Battle Ready" was published Monday with a first printing of 438,700. It is the fourth in Clancy's "Commanders" series, in which military leaders reflect on their careers and discuss military strategy.
"In the movies, military leaders are all drunken Nazis," said Clancy, who has worked on books about retired Gen. Chuck Horner, who led U.S. Central Command Air Forces during the Gulf War, and retired Gen. Carl Stiner, whose missions included the capture of Panama leader Manuel Noriega.
"In fact, these are very bright people who regard the soldiers and Marines under them as their own kids. I thought the people needed to know about that. These are good guys, and smart guys."
While the 57-year-old Clancy is tall and thin, with bony arms and round, sunken eyes, the 60-year-old Zinni has the short, stocky build of an ex-Marine. He served as commander in chief of the U.S. Central Command from 1997 to 2000 and as a special Middle East envoy from 2001-2003.
But even as an envoy, Zinni spoke out against invading Iraq, regarding it as disastrous for Middle East peace and a distraction from the war against terrorism. On Monday, he said getting rid of Saddam Hussein was not worth the price.
"He's a bad guy. He's a terrible guy and he should go," Zinni said. "But I don't think it's worth 800 troops dead, 4,500 wounded — some of them terribly — $200 billion of our treasury and counting, and our reputation and our image in the world, particularly in that region, shattered."
In discussing the Iraq war, both Clancy and Zinni singled out the Department of Defense for criticism. Clancy recalled a prewar encounter in Washington during which he "almost came to blows" with Richard Perle, a Pentagon adviser at the time and a longtime advocate of the invasion.
"He was saying how (Secretary of State) Colin Powell was being a wuss because he was overly concerned with the lives of the troops," Clancy said. "And I said, 'Look ..., he's supposed to think that way!' And Perle didn't agree with me on that. People like that worry me."
Both Clancy and Zinni praised President Bush but would not commit to voting for him. Clancy said that voting for Sen. John Kerry, the Democrats' presumptive nominee, would be "a stretch for me," but wouldn't say that he was supporting Bush.
Zinni, a registered Republican who voted for Bush in 2000, said he could not support the president's re-election "if the current strategists in the defense department are going to be carried over."
Zinni makes a point of answering all questions, just as he prides himself on speaking out against Iraq. He called it a lesson learned from Vietnam, when "we were all imprinted with the idea that we can't let this come about again."
Clancy, meanwhile, was more close-mouthed, and not only about his views on Iraq. When asked what Jack Ryan, the fictional hero of "Patriot Games" and other Clancy novels, would have thought of the war, the author offered an enigmatic smile.
"I don't like to comment on works in progress," he said.