WASHINGTON – The Pentagon on Monday played down remarks from retired Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez, who made news over the weekend after he called U.S. efforts in Iraq catastrophically flawed and said the media's reporting may have contributed to the deaths of soldiers.
"I suppose everyone has to deal with the things that haunt them in their own way," spokesman Bryan Whitman said, alluding to the former Iraqi commander's battle over the scandal at Abu Ghraib prison and his being stripped of his fourth star. "The department is focused on what is required for success in Iraq and to bring stability to the region and to fight terrorists world wide. Our military commandeers believe strongly that the strategy we are embarked on is the right strategy for success."
In his speech to the Military Reporters and Editors Association in Washington, D.C., on Friday, Sanchez made many accusations, including blaming reporters for "unscrupulous reporting, solely focused on supporting an agenda and preconceived notions of the U.S. military."
Without naming a specific company, Sanchez said "parent media organizations" have political agendas that direct the news coverage of the war and in some cases put U.S. service members in deadly situations.
"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. My assessment is that your profession, to some, has strayed from these ethical standards and allowed external agendas to manipulate what the American public sees on TV, reads in newspapers and what they see on the Web," Sanchez said.
In his speech Friday, Sanchez took aim at nearly everyone in Washington — from Congress to the State Department, the National Security Council to the Pentagon — for the conduct of the war, which he said had become "a nightmare with no end in sight." He also saved no criticism for the current surge policy proposed by current Multinational Forces in Iraq commander Gen. David Petraeus and seen largely as a success.
"The latest 'revised strategy' is a desperate attempt by an administration that has not accepted the political and economic realities of this war and they have definitely not communicated that reality to the American people," he said.
Regardless of his pessimism, Sanchez said that a full-scale withdrawal is not currently 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.
The White House offered only a polite response to the remarks, which are not Sanchez's first criticisms to be aired publicly.
"We appreciate his service to the country. As General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker said, there's more work to be done but progress is being made in Iraq. And that's what we're focused on now," said White House Deputy Press Secretary Tony Fratto said Sunday.
On Monday, Whitman said he does not share Sanchez's criticism of war coverage.
"The media has a tough job to do, and by and large the ways you all cover this building on daily basis — you do it in a professional, comprehensive and thorough way."
Many military experts have said they worry that the latest attacks could jeopardize efforts to do right in Iraq. Some note that Sanchez was part of the old strategy, and had a chance to make the operation work while he was in command.
"He has clearly said some things that are correct. But I think the negatives are coming more out and he was one of the key persons responsible for the strategy," said retired Gen. Tom McInerney, a FOX News analyst.
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 denied reports that he and then-Iraqi administrator L. Paul Bremer were not on speaking terms, saying they spoke daily.
Sanchez also took issue with the press over their indictments of his service. Sanchez retired in 2006 after being replaced in Iraq following the Abu Ghraib prison abuse scandal. He was cleared of wrongdoing but became a symbol in some media accounts of flawed leadership.
He acknowledged that much of his career will now be seen through the lens of the Abu Ghraib scandal, and blamed that in part on what he called biased coverage of the scandal in the Stars and Stripes newspaper.
"Over the course of this war, tactically insignificant events have become strategic defeats for America because of the tremendous power and impact of the media and by extension, you the journalist," Sanchez said.
Responding to the comments by Sanchez, Robb Grindstaff, executive editor of Stars and Stripes said Sunday, "We have an organizational policy not to talk to other media about our stories. We don't comment."
Sanchez, on the other hand, isn't done talking. He has reportedly considering writing a book and promises to name names in his blunt talk about the handling of the Iraq war by government officials and the media.
FOX News' Julie Kirtz and Mike Emanuel and The Associated Press contributed to this report.