WASHINGTON, (Reuters) – A “catastrophic failure” in the Bush administration’s leadership of the Iraq war has mired the United States in a nightmarish conflict with no clear way out, the former top U.S. commander in Iraq said on Friday.
The blistering assessment by retired Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez was one of the harshest yet by a top military leader involved in the war. “There has been a glaring, unfortunate display of incompetent strategic leadership within our national leaders,” Sanchez told a group of military reporters, according to a copy of his remarks. “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,” he said.
Without mentioning President George W. Bush by name, he called the president’s troop-escalation “surge” strategy a “desperate attempt by an administration that has not accepted the political and economic realities of this war.” “There is no question America is living a nightmare with no end in sight,” he said.
Sanchez commanded the U.S.-led coalition in Iraq from June 2003 until July 2004 as the anti-U.S. insurgency took hold. He retired in 2006 and blamed the Abu Ghraib prisoner abuse scandal for wrecking his career. He aimed his sharpest attacks at the White House National Security Council, headed during his Iraq tenure by now-Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. “Our National Security Council has been a catastrophic failure,” he said, blaming the council for adopting a strategy that overly relied on the military and failed to effectively mobilize the government.
A spokeswoman for the council responded by saying progress is being made in Iraq. “We appreciate his service to the country,” National Security Council spokeswoman Kate Starr said of Sanchez. “As Gen. (David) Petraeus and Ambassador (Ryan) Crocker have said, there is more work to be done, but progress is being made in Iraq and that’s what we’re focused on now,” Starr said in a statement, referring to the U.S. military commander in Iraq and the U.S. ambassador to that country. Sanchez also spread blame to Congress, the State Department and politicians in general. “America has not been fully committed to win this war,” he said. “Partisan politics have hindered this war effort.”
Sanchez said military commanders on the ground would continue to make progress in Iraq, providing time in which a “grand strategy” could be developed. But he predicted the effort would be wasted and in the meantime U.S. troops “will continue to die.” He urged that the U.S. force presence be quickly reduced “given the lack of a grand strategy.” But the United States had no choice but to stay in Iraq, given the prospects of regional instability if it withdrew suddenly, he said. “There is nothing going on today in Washington that would give us hope,” he said.