There was yet another news headline today in which the press reported on a general critical of the Bush Administration. The headline read “‘No end in sight’ in Iraq, retired general says.” I read the news story and that is, in fact, what Lt. Gen. Ricardo S. Sanchez said. Indeed, Sanchez is one very angry man about how the war was and is conducted:
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.
That’s quite a scathing indictment, and there is no doubt but that he’s correct about the vast problems caused by the Administration’s attempt to run a big war on the cheap. I was a little surprised, though, at the vitriol, only to become less surprised when I read at the Dread Pundit Bluto that there’s more than this story than meets the eye: and the more is that Sanchez’s vitriol isn’t specifically limited to the Administration, but also sweeps in the press, something that, as Bluto points out, all major press coverage ignored. Indeed, the heart and start of Sanchez’s anger is the way the press pilloried him because of Abu Ghraib, a smear job that cost him his 4th star and led to his retirement.
The former top commander of forces in Iraq lambasted reporters Friday for having “agenda-driven biases” he called “a threat to democracy,” and then laid out the Bush administration and Congress for bad planning and no clear end state for the war in Iraq.
“There is no question America is living a nightmare with no end in sight,” said retired Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez at an annual professional conference for military reporters outside Washington, D.C. “There is nothing going on today that would give us hope.”
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. Leaked photographs depicting mistreatment of detainees at the prison outside Baghdad erupted into an international story that harmed U.S. efforts to build support for the war. Nine enlisted soldiers were court-martialed and convicted of crimes in connection with the scandal.
Sanchez said his career was a casualty of the Abu Ghraib scandal.
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.
Watchdog organizations such as the American Civil Liberties Union complained that lower-enlisted soldiers took the brunt of the blame for what many called a “leadership void.”
“I’m still being sued by the ACLU, so I have to be careful,” Sanchez said, after he was asked if he was happy with the conclusions of the Abu Ghraib trials.
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.” (Emphasis mine.)
There’s no doubt that Sanchez is really mad at the powers that be, and that is news and should have been reported (although, as the Army Times noted, he’s scarcely original in his criticism). The press should have been honest, though, and reported that they too came in for a tongue lashing from one very angry retired general. Indeed, the Army Times reporter indicates that the press, as it sat in the room, was discounting what he said because he’s such an angry man. However, when it came time to write the story, the anger was presented as legitimate anger against the Administration, with no mention whatsoever of the equally legitimate anger against the press. Double standards, anybody?
UPDATE: And here’s more on one paper’s really crude sin of omission.