‘No end in sight’ in Iraq, retired U.S. general says
washington -- Retired Army Lt. Gen. Ricardo S. Sanchez, who led U.S. forces in Iraq for a year after the March 2003 invasion, accused the Bush administration Friday of going to war with a “catastrophically flawed” plan and said the United States is “living a nightmare with no end in sight.”
Sanchez described the current troop increase in Iraq as “a desperate attempt by the administration that has not accepted the political and economic realities of this war.”
“The administration, Congress and the entire interagency, especially the State Department, must shoulder the responsibility for this catastrophic failure, and the American people must hold them accountable,” Sanchez told military reporters and editors. “There has been a glaring unfortunate display of incompetent strategic leadership within our national leaders.”
Sanchez lashed out specifically at the National Security Council, calling officials there negligent and incompetent, without offering details. He also blasted war policies over the last four years, which he said had stripped senior military officers of responsibility and thrust the armed services into an “intractable position” in Iraq.
“The best we can do with this flawed approach is stave off defeat,” Sanchez said in a speech to the Military Reporters and Editors’ annual conference in Arlington, Va. “Without bipartisan cooperation, we are destined to fail. There is nothing going on in Washington that would give us hope.”
He faulted the administration for failing to “communicate effectively that reality to the American people.”
Sanchez offered little advice about fixing military problems in Iraq. Efforts generally need more resources and skill, he said. “From a catastrophically flawed, unrealistically optimistic war plan to the administration’s latest surge strategy, this administration has failed to employ and synchronize its political, economic and military power,” Sanchez said.
Sanchez led Combined Joint Task Force 7 in Iraq beginning on June 15, 2003. Under his command, an insurgency erupted in Iraq, and he and other top officers were slow to respond to it, in part because of the reluctance of then-Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and other Bush administration officials to recognize its existence.
Some officials thought the anti-U.S. attacks would fade away after Saddam Hussein was captured in December 2003, but the insurgency intensified, with pitched battles the next spring in Najaf and Fallouja. Some analysts have argued that Sanchez had little feel for strategy and permitted commanders to use tactics that helped intensify opposition to the U.S. presence in the country.
Sanchez might be remembered most as the top general in Iraq during the period when the Abu Ghraib prisoner abuses occurred and were later revealed. Photographs of Iraqi detainees being humiliated shocked many, and provoked a reevaluation of the U.S. presence in Iraq. Some enlisted troops and Army Reserve officers were charged in the scandal, but in legal proceedings and official reviews no top commanders were deemed responsible.
Sanchez retired after officials decided not to give him a fourth star; they feared a public confirmation hearing would go badly in light of Abu Ghraib. He is now a senior mentor at the military’s Joint Warfighting Center.