Sanchez Lambasts Handling of War (Updated)
The general who presided over the Abu Ghraib scandal gave a speech yesterday railing against the incompetent administration of the Iraq War. David Cloud summarizes for the NYT:
In one of his first major public speeches since leaving the Army in late 2006, retired Lt. Gen. Ricardo S. Sanchez blamed the administration for a “catastrophically flawed, unrealistically optimistic war plan” and denounced the current “surge” strategy as a “desperate” move that will not achieve long-term stability. “After more than fours years of fighting, America continues its desperate struggle in Iraq without any concerted effort to devise a strategy that will achieve victory in that war-torn country or in the greater conflict against extremism,” Mr. Sanchez said, at a gathering here of military reporters and editors.
But his role as commander in Iraq during the Abu Ghraib prisoner abuse scandal leaves General Sanchez vulnerable to criticism that that he is shifting the blame from himself and exacting revenge against an administration that replaced him as the top commander in the aftermath of the scandal and declined to nominate him for a fourth star, forcing his retirement. Though he was cleared of wrongdoing in the abuse matter by an Army investigation, he nonetheless became a symbol, along with officials like L. Paul Bremer III , the chief administrator in Iraq, of the ineffective American leadership early in the occupation.
Questioned by reporters after his speech, he included the military and himself among those who made mistakes in Iraq, citing the failure to insist on a better post-invasion stabilization plan. But his main criticism was leveled at the Bush administration, which he said he said has failed to mobilize the entire United States government, other than the military, to contribute meaningfully to reconstructing and stabilizing Iraq. “National leadership continues to believe that victory can be achieved by military power alone,” he said. “Continued manipulations and adjustments to our military strategy will not achieve victory. The best we can do with this flawed approach is stave off defeat.”
The overwhelming consensus is that Sanchez is correct on almost all counts. The main exception is the last of these; both rhetorically and in deed, there has been substantial attention paid to the non-military part of the equation.
Still, Cloud is right on Sanchez’ vulnerability as a critic. As Kelly Kennedy‘s report for the Army Times (an independent paper owned by Gannett, not a government publication) makes clear, he comes across as a bitter man trying to shift blame away from himself.
Sanchez was head of coalition forces in Iraq from June 2003 to June 2004. When asked where accountability lay while he headed the forces, as well as for his part in the Abu Ghraib prison scandal, Sanchez said it was too late for him to do anything when he took over.
Sanchez retired in 2006 after he wasn’t offered another command position after the Abu Ghraib scandal broke in April 2004.
He berated the room of about 30 to 40 reporters, saying he had been portrayed as a “liar” by people who had never met him. Many of the reporters, in Arlington, Va., for a Military Reporters and Editors conference, had covered the trials that came from photos leaked to the media showing pyramids of naked Iraqi prisoners, a hooded man convinced that if he fell off a crate he would be electrocuted, and dogs snapping inches away from a prisoner.
Jaws dropped as Sanchez glared out at the room, and then eyes rolled as he spent an hour blaming everyone but himself. Most of what he said about the military has been said before: There’s no grand strategy, the Iraqi Army should not have been disbanded, there was no planning for stabilization or recovery past the initial invasion and, “the administration has failed.”
He said deployment cycles aren’t working with current troop levels, that it will take decades to fix the “military’s full-spectrum readiness,” and that if the U.S. were to withdraw from Iraq, it would lead to “chaos that would lead to instability in the Middle East.” And, he said the Powell Doctrine — which requires a clear exit strategy as part of a war plan — was violated.
He said some poor strategic decisions in Iraq had become “defeats because of the media,” and that some reporters feed from a “pigs’ trough.” He lamented the media’s treatment of Federal Emergency Management chief Michael Brown during Hurricane Katrina. Brown resigned from FEMA after accusations that he had mishandled the hurricane.
This is especially bizarre:
When asked for specific names involved in failures he cited, he said, “I’m not into second-guessing decisions of our political leadership.”
From reading Fiasco and Cobra II, I got the impression that Sanchez was “a micromanager with a conventional warfare mentality” and very much the wrong man for the job. Presumably, appointing Sanchez is part of the long list of things the administration did wrong in carrying out this war.
Update (Dave Schuler)
Here is the complete text of Gen. Sanchez’s speech. I didn’t take quite the same thing away from the speech as the NYT apparently did. Criticism of the Bush Administration’s conduct of the war? Sure. But I think the emphasis is more on a unity of effort, impossible with an antagonistic press:
America has sent our soldiers off to war and they must be supported at all costs until we achieve victory or until our political leaders decide to bring them home. Our political and military leaders owe the soldier on the battlefield the strategy, the policies and the resources to win once committed to war. America has not been fully committed to win this war. as the military commanders on the ground have stated since the summer of 2003, the U.S. military alone cannot win this war. America must mobilize the interagency and the political and economic elements of power, which have been abject failures to date, in order to achieve victory. Our nation has not focused on the greatest challenge of our lifetime. The political and economic elements of power must get beyond the politics to ensure the survival of america. Partisan politics have hindered this war effort and America should not accept this. America must demand a unified national strategy that goes well beyond partisan politics and places the common good above all else. too often our politicians have chosen loyalty to their political party above loyalty to the constitution because of their lust for power. Our politicians must remember their oath of office and recommit themselves to serving our nation and not their own self-interests or political party. The security of america is at stake and we can accept nothing less. anything short of this is unquestionably dereliction of duty.