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Dereliction of Duty

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As I noted a couple of weeks ago, General Petraeus’s predecessor, General Ricardo Sanchez, has now emerged as one of the harshest critics of the Bush Administration’s management of the Iraq War from among a whole division of retired flag and senior officers. The New York Times’s David Cloud reports:

In a sweeping indictment of the four-year effort in Iraq, the former top American commander called the Bush Administration’s handling of the war incompetent and warned that the United States was “living a nightmare with no end in sight.”

In one of his first major public speeches since leaving the Army in late 2006, retired Lt. Gen. Ricardo S. Sanchez blamed the administration for a “catastrophically flawed, unrealistically optimistic war plan” and denounced the current “surge” strategy as a “desperate” move that will not achieve long-term stability.

“After more than fours years of fighting, 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,” Mr. Sanchez said, at a gathering here of military reporters and editors.

The Houston Chronicle picked up on still harsher language in the remarks:

National leaders, said Sanchez, “have unquestionably been derelict in the performance of their duty. In my profession, these types of leaders would immediately be relieved or court-martialed.”

ricardo-sanchez

I previously studied General Sanchez’s conduct as the field commander in Baghdad in connection with the detainee abuse issue. As I told the Texas Monthly in connection with their profile of Sanchez (who hails from the impoverished Rio Grande valley and now lives in San Antonio), the evidence was unequivocal: Sanchez did not originate, and neither did he object to, any of these policies—they flowed directly from Washington. He bears responsibility for what went wrong under command responsibility standards in any event, however. Sanchez’s decision to speak now comes at great personal risk, which his critics need to appreciate.

Sanchez made very clear that his words are not a criticism of General Petraeus or of other commanders on the ground in Iraq; they are not a criticism of military strategy in any form. Rather they put the focus squarely where it belongs: on the White House’s failure to provide political leadership and to establish clear, achievable political objectives for the military deployed in Iraq. The charge is dereliction of duty. And the charge sticks. Given the reported absenteeism of a certain Texas Air National Guard pilot who also had a problem with drug testing, it’s a long-standing charge.

Now let’s sit back and watch all those forces who kowtow to Petraeus and hold his honor and integrity inviolable. My bet is that this crew will leap on his predecessor like a schools of piranhas. It’ll afford us another lesson in watching the hypocrisy of the G.O.P.’s agitprop team.

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