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Ex-Commander Blasts Iraq 'Nightmare'
Retired Army Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez, who commanded U.S. forces in Iraq for the first year of the occupation, blamed “incompetence” by President George W. Bush’s national security team for creating a “nightmare” that could last far into the future.
Sanchez, who led coalition forces from June 2003 to June 2004, used an Oct. 12 speech to a conference of Military Reporters and Editors in Arlington, Virginia, to castigate nearly everyone connected to the Iraq War, including the U.S. news media, Congress, the State Department, the White House and the Pentagon.
“There has been a glaring, unfortunate display of incompetence in strategic leadership among our national leaders,” Sanchez said. “They have unquestionably been derelict in the performance of their duty. In my profession, these types of leaders would be immediately relieved or court-martialed.”
Though Sanchez did not criticize Bush by name, he left little doubt that he placed most of the blame on the administration’s top leadership, particularly the National Security Council which is led by the President and which was under the day-to-day direction of Condoleezza Rice until her elevation to Secretary of State in 2005.
Sanchez said that starting in July of 2003, the generals on the ground warned that the war could not be won by military means and required a coordinated strategy that brought to bear the full panoply of American power and influence.
“Any sequential solutions would lead to a prolonged conflict and increased resistance,” Sanchez said about these messages to Washington. “By neglect and incompetence at the National Security Council level, that is the path our political leaders chose and now America and more precisely the American military finds itself in an intractable situation.”
Sanchez didn’t spare his fellow commanders from harsh criticism. Asked why they neglected to insist on more effective pre-invasion planning and “did not come forward to prevent the debacle,” Sanchez answered: “It was an absolute lack of moral courage to stand up and do what was right in terms of planning.”
Yet, while lambasting the Iraq War strategy, Sanchez declined to call Bush’s decision to invade in March 2003 a mistake and argued that the United States has no alternative now but to continue fighting in Iraq even if there is little prospect for success.
“Continued manipulations and adjustments to our military strategy will not achieve victory,” Sanchez said in an apparent reference to Bush’s decision to "surge" U.S. troops this year. “The best we can do with this flawed approach is to stave off defeat.
“The administration, Congress and the entire inter-agency [structure], especially the State Department, must shoulder the responsibility for this catastrophic failure and the American people must hold them accountable. …
“There is no question that America is living a nightmare with no end in sight.”
Also lashing out at what he called “partisan politics,” Sanchez called for congressional “bipartisanship” and continued support for the troops in the field, but the retired general presented no clear-cut plan for how to turn the Iraq War disaster around.
“There is nothing going on today in Washington that would give us hope,” Sanchez said. “Our commanders on the ground will continue to make progress and provide time for the development of a grand strategy.
“That will be wasted effort as we have seen repeatedly since 2003. In the meantime, our soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines will continue to die.”
Sanchez added that the open-ended Iraq conflict has caused – and will continue to inflict – severe damage on the structure of the U.S. Army. “It will take the Army at least a decade to fix the damage that has been done to its full-spectrum readiness,” he said.
Yet, the retired general said, “America has no choice but to continue our efforts in Iraq. A precipitous withdrawal will unquestionably lead to chaos, in my opinion, that would endanger the stability of the greater Middle East.”
Sanchez’s military career ended in 2006 partly as fallout from the Abu Ghraib prisoner abuse scandal which erupted in 2004 under his command. In giving the Oct. 12 speech, Sanchez broke nearly a year of silence since he resigned from the Army, but he ducked a question about the Abu Ghraib scandal.
Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories in the 1980s for the Associated Press and Newsweek. His latest book, Neck Deep: The Disastrous Presidency of George W. Bush, was written with two of his sons, Sam and Nat, and can be ordered at neckdeepbook.com. His two previous books, Secrecy & Privilege: The Rise of the Bush Dynasty from Watergate to Iraq and Lost History: Contras, Cocaine, the Press & 'Project Truth' are also available there. Or go to Amazon.com.
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