ARLINGTON, Va. – The U.S. mission in Iraq is a "nightmare with no end in sight" because of political misjudgments after the fall of Saddam Hussein that continue today, a former chief of U.S.-led forces said Friday.
Retired Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez, who commanded coalition troops for a year beginning June 2003, cast a wide net of blame for both political and military shortcomings in Iraq that helped open the way for the insurgency — such as disbanding the Saddam-era military and failing to cement ties with tribal leaders and quickly establish civilian government after Saddam was toppled.
He called current strategies — including the deployment of 30,000 additional forces earlier this year — a "desperate attempt" to make up for years of misguided policies in Iraq.
"There is no question that America is living a nightmare with no end in sight," Sanchez told a group of journalists covering military affairs.
Sanchez avoided singling out at any specific official. But he did criticize the State Department, the National Security Council, Congress and the senior military leadership during what appeared to be a broad indictment of White House policies and a lack of leadership to oppose them.
Such assessments — even by former Pentagon brass — are not new, but they have added resonance as debates over war strategy dominate the presidential campaign.
The Bush administration didn't directly address Sanchez's critical views.
"We appreciate his service to the country," said White House spokesman Trey Bohn. He added that as U.S. commander in Iraq Gen. David Petraeus and U.S. Ambassador to Iraq 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."
Sanchez retired from the Army last year, two years after he completing a tumultuous year as commander of all U.S. forces in Iraq. As he stepped down, he called his career a casualty of the Abu Ghraib prison scandal.
He was never charged with anything but he was not promoted in the aftermath of the prisoner abuse reports. He was criticized by some for not doing more to avoid mistreatment of Iraqi prisoners.
Sanchez told the gathering that he thought he had made mistakes and said he didn't always fully appreciate the secondary affects of actions the military took.
He did deny reports that he and then-Iraqi administrator L. Paul Bremer were not on speaking terms. He said they spoke every day.
The retired soldier stressed that it became clear during his command that the mission was severely handicapped because the State Department and other agencies were not adequately contributing to a mission that could not be won by military force alone.
When asked when he saw that the mission was going awry, he responded: "About the 15th of June 2003" — the day he took command.
"There is nothing going on today in Washington that would give us hope" that things are going to change, he said.
Sanchez went on to offer a pessimistic view on the current U.S. strategy against extremists will make lasting gains, but said a full-scale withdrawal also was not an option.
"The American military finds itself in an intractable situation ... America has no choice but to continue our efforts in Iraq," said Sanchez, who works as a consultant training U.S. generals.