When senior war planners devised their strategies for Iraq, most concluded that it would be a cakewalk, a campaign that would be over within a matter of weeks.

The war for Iraq has now outlasted the Second World War with no end in sight. Although no civilian leader sought repentance for any number of egregious errors, and while a few mediocre characters justified their own narrowly defined exoneration, retired Lt. Gen. Ricardo S. Sanchez, the commander of US forces in Iraq from June 2003 to June 2004, finally lambasted his superiors for sheer incompetence.

What does this lashing out mean?

It is critical to note that the Washington DC speech last Friday, was delivered to the influential Military Reporters and Editors Association, whose members maintained solid contacts with high-ranking officials. No feeble characters among this group.

Moreover, and this too must be pointed out, Sanchez was unceremoniously stripped from authority after the unconscionable Abu Ghraib scandal. Consequently, his scathing attacks against President George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney were probably motivated by sheer disgust, after former secretary of defence Donald H. Rumsfeld denied him a fourth star.

In his own colourful language, and quoting a Japanese proverb -"Action without vision is a nightmare" - Sanchez emphasised that America was now "living a nightmare with no end in sight" because of a "glaring, unfortunate, display of incompetent strategic leadership" at the highest levels of government.

In the sharp address, Sanchez pointed his finger at neoconservatives who failed to serve in the military and, therefore, were clueless. The Pentagon, he maintained, adopted a "catastrophically flawed" war plan which doomed any concrete progress from the get-go. This was equivalent to dereliction of duty, which should have earned senior leaders reprimands, he emphasised.

Importantly, Sanchez was also critical of Congress for its partisan preferences, as well as Iraqi leaders for moving slowly.

He reserved his harshest words towards the correspondents themselves, several of whom printed that the military officer was "dictatorial and somewhat dense", perhaps even a "liar" and certainly one of "the most inexperienced" generals to serve in contemporary times.

The officer concluded that the press was as guilty as civilian leaders, often parroting unnamed sources for exclusivity, not realising they were victims of manipulation. He quoted an Arab proverb -"Four things [do not] come back: the spoken word, the spent arrow, the past, [and] the neglected opportunity"- to underline what reporters in Iraq allegedly failed to do, namely to file accurate and truthful stories.

He accused members of his audience of unethical behaviour, elevating "tactically insignificant events" to heights that transformed them into "strategic defeats for America". Sanchez rhetorically wondered who was responsible for maintaining ethical standards to protect democracy while enlightening the public?

For Sanchez to seek accountability for the Iraq failures is a positive first step but blaming Bush for allegedly being ignorant and delusional are too easy. In his carefully written presentation, he was probably correct to chastise those who concluded that Arabs could be easily whacked, and equally justified to single out the National Security Council (then under the leadership of the Soviet specialist Condoleezza Rice), for ineptitude, even if the current secretary of state was not specifically named.


These are severe condemnations and, naturally, the knives are out to silence Sanchez. Key Republican senators such as Lindsey Graham and John McCain are castigating the general for changing his tune. These parliamentarians strongly reject the conclusion that American soldiers "were destined to endure decades of fighting and killing people without the focused, synchronised application of all elements of national power".

In his passionate vindication, and surprisingly, Sanchez did not take the opportunity to apologise for Abu Ghraib, which happened under his watch and approval. Repeatedly, he pointed the finger at specific actors, without acknowledging that Abu Ghraib was an albatross perpetually stuck around his neck. Just like the journalists he chastised, he too failed to ensure that American democracy was "threatened by this dangerous shift away from ... sacred duty of public enlightenment", because he too did not apply ethical standards.

In the event, the speech illustrated that no matter how hard Sanchez and others tried to shift the blame, there was enough dirt to go around and sully just about every participant in this poorly thought out adventure.

The saddest part of the Sanchez speech was his concluding line: "Praise be to the Lord my rock who trains my fingers for battle and my hands for war." It may be useful to ask the dejected general which God condones humiliation, torture and killing?

Sometimes, the dignity of a true soldier is best served by silence, especially when a volunteer is willing to sacrifice his life for the greater good. Sanchez should remember the image of the hooded prisoner with electric wires in each hand that stood at attention. That is the Sanchez legacy which transformed preferred Abu Ghraib tactical procedures into the greatest strategic blunder in modern history.

Dr Joseph A. Kechichian is a commentator and author of several books on Gulf affairs.