He indicted everyone involved in Iraq, including the media and Congress.
By Daniel Henninger
Thursday, October 18, 2007 12:01 a.m.
Over the past weekend there were front-page accounts everywhere of Gen. Ricardo S. Sanchez's description of the war in Iraq as a "nightmare." The New York Times led its story this way:
"In a sweeping indictment of the four-year effort in Iraq, the former top commander of American forces there called the Bush administration's handling of the war 'incompetent' and said the result was 'a nightmare with no end in sight.' " Gen. Sanchez said this last Friday to a gathering of reporters and editors in Washington who cover military affairs. It was a dramatic denunciation from the man who led U.S. forces in Iraq from 2003 to 2004.
On Monday my colleague John Fund wrote an item for the Journal editorial page's daily email newsletter, Political Diary, noting that most of the news reports of the speech had failed to note that Gen. Sanchez had also severely criticized the press's performance in Iraq. "For some of you," Gen. Sanchez said to the reporters, "the truth is of little to no value if it does not fit your own preconceived notions, biases and agendas."
By now I was curious to see what Gen. Sanchez actually did say. The full text is an indictment all right, of everyone connected to this war--the president, the press, Congress, the bureaucracy and maybe the country itself.
Gen. Sanchez was running the U.S. war effort in Iraq when the Abu Ghraib scandal blew up, though an investigation absolved him.
It's possible to dismiss some of what he says as over the top or to cavil with the particulars. One cannot really know how extensively Gen. Sanchez's views are shared across the officer corps. But there is a discomfiting, Cassandra-like quality to this speech. It is a scream of rage.
Whatever happens in Iraq, this country at some point will have to think seriously (if possible) about the war's effects on its politics and its institutions. Gen. Sanchez's scream is as good a place as any to start.
With elided excerpts, I'll summarize what he said. Body armor recommended.
• The media. "It seems that as long as you get a front-page story there is little or no regard for the 'collateral damage' you will cause. Personal reputations have no value and you report with total impunity and are rarely held accountable for unethical conduct. . . . You assume that you are correct and on the moral high ground."
"The speculative and often uninformed initial reporting that characterizes our media appears to be rapidly becoming the standard of the industry." "Tactically insignificant events have become strategic defeats." And: "The death knell of your ethics has been enabled by your parent organizations who have chosen to align themselves with political agendas. What is clear to me is that you are perpetuating the corrosive partisan politics that is destroying our country and killing our service members who are at war."
• The Bush administration. "When a nation goes to war it must bring to bear all elements of power in order to win. . . . [This] administration has failed to employ and synchronize its political, economic and military power . . . and they have definitely not communicated that reality to the American people."
• Congress and politics. "Since 2003, the politics of war have been characterized by partisanship as the Republican and Democratic parties struggled for power in Washington. . . . National efforts to date have been corrupted by partisan politics that have prevented us from devising effective, executable, supportable solutions. These partisan struggles have led to political decisions that endangered the lives of our sons and daughters on the battlefield. The unmistakable message was that political power had greater priority than our national security objectives."
• The bureaucracies. Gen. Sanchez argues that "unity of effort" was hampered by the absence of any coordinated authority over the war effort of the bureaucracies: "The Administration, Congress and the entire interagency, especially the Department of State, must shoulder the responsibility for this catastrophic failure."
"Clearly," he says, "mistakes have been made by the American military in its application of power. But even its greatest failures in this war can be linked to America's lack of commitment, priority and moral courage in this war effort. . . . America has not been fully committed to win this war."
He says leaving Iraq is not an option, and he has no doubt about the threat: "As a nation we must recognize that the enemy we face is committed to destroying our way of life."
In sum, what Gen. Sanchez is describing here is a nation that is at risk and is in a state of disunity. Does disunity matter? He is saying that in war, it does.
In politics, a degree of disunity is normal. But in our time, partisan disunity has become the norm. The purpose of politics now is to thwart, to stop.
We may have underestimated how corrosive our disunity has been on the troops in Iraq, and how deeply it has damaged us.
Those of us in politics--politicians, reporters, bureaucrats--are largely inured to all this, and we seem to have assumed that the system shares our infinite capacity for antipathy and tumult. But is this occupational toughness natural to politics, or is it cynicism? I don't think the soldiers or the American people see the difference.
Arguably it is the proper role of politics to intervene, to question. But during Vietnam and again now, we haven't been able to avoid simultaneously putting troops on the battlefield while fighting bitterly amongst ourselves at home for the length of the war.
The U.S. officer corps is aware of this. While no one is talking about a stab in the back, they may conclude that the home front and its institutions are unable to, or will not, protect their back.
One may ask: Will we ever want to do this again? Are we able to undertake military missions that prove difficult? Or is the projection of U.S. military power into the world an idea that now irreparably divides the American people? Before November 2008, we had better have some answers, from our presidential candidates and from ourselves.