No … Seriously … Consider the Source

October 17th, 2007  |  Published in etc

Remember the over-the-weekend stir about Gen. Sanchez saying mean things about the war in Iraq?


“Lt. Gen. Ricardo S. Sanchez, who retired in 2006 after being replaced in Iraq after the Abu Ghraib prisoner abuse scandal, blamed the Bush administration for a ‘catastrophically flawed, unrealistically optimistic war plan’ and denounced the current addition of American forces as a ‘desperate’ move that would not achieve long-term stability.

“‘After more than four 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,’ General Sanchez said at a gathering of military reporters and editors in Arlington, Va.”

There were all sorts of ways reaction could have gone on that.

Since everyone’s still raw from the whole MoveOn thing, brittle carping from lefties about how wingnut hawks would have a hard time deciding whether to hypocritically savage the general in retaliation or remain silent with impotent rage dominated the initial wave of bon mottery. Personally, I hate that shit. I get it, though: AdSense makes Borscht Belt wits of us all. Plus, it’s easier to focus on right-wing stupidity than indulge in our own brand of soldiers-as-wronged-saints piety: “Spit on him? Heck no! I was kissin’ him, coz I sure do love me a soldier!”

Because wingnuts are capable of wiliness now and then, some of them focused on an interesting point, which was that the general also blamed the media for just not telling us about all the good stuff. There’s no need to hypocritically condemn a soldier when you can gank the MSM for self-serving quote-mongering. So, delusional, savage, wiley, and maybe hypocritical deep in their hearts, but not where you can see, liberal swine!

So those were the meta-reactions.

If I were the type to link to stories like that, I don’t think I would have, though. Not to carp about wingnut hypocrisy or pump my fist jubilantly over “yet another general daring to tell the truth,” anyhow.

That reticence would be based on little but two things: I read “Fiasco,” and I was watching the news after Abu Ghraib broke, paying attention each time a related verdict came down afterward. Oh … three things: We’re still in Iraq, and the whole Surge thing was about salvaging the situation Sanchez inherited, then left behind under a cloud, having advanced the cause little.

So this particular general doesn’t have a lot of authority with me: By most accounts I’ve read and by discerning the mounting sense of desperation that produced the gussied-up escalation that is/was The Surge, he wasn’t very good at his job. Ricks’ “Fiasco” paints a picture of a paralyzed bureaucrat-general who conducted himself disastrously.

And really, it’s no big deal. Certainly nothing personal. Our military … surely like most militaries … has a tradition of elevating mediocrities to high rank before the stress of combat tests and breaks them. Hell, I was little more than a private-in-all-but-name with above-average responsibilities, and one of the great unanswered questions of my life will forever be “what if the balloon had gone up?” To the extent a section sergeant threatened me with summary execution if we ever rolled out together, and to the extent I had a buddy in airborne school who regularly said things like “I know you’ll change for the better if we’re ever in the shit” in a way I think was as comforting to him as was kind to me, I’m glad it’ll go unanswered. Point being, sometimes you go through a lot of indecisive, hamstrung, bureaucracy-minded, weak, ineffective, bad generals before you get a Grant, because the peacetime military trains to enforce habits it hopes will survive the stress of combat. It doesn’t always seem to do so well at producing people it knows will thrive in that environment.

General Sanchez didn’t seem to thrive. His failure may seem to loom larger because it’s in the context of a campaign we could comically compare to First Manassas if there weren’t all the needless dead to harsh our ironic little mellows, but I think it must be par. You hate to see it in a general, but in only four years of serving with Desert Storm veterans I heard more than enough “then the fucker locked himself in the switch van and wouldn’t come out because he thought we’d all been gassed, and Top had to butt-stroke him when he finally came out because he was crying and waving his gun around” stories to convince me even a highly trained, disciplined, confident military has some quality control issues.

Which is all the long way around to saying he’ll be happier when he forgives himself, whenever that may happen. In the mean time, though, it doesn’t seem to be quite right to crow over any truths he cares to share.

But now that it’s Tuesday, the professionals have arrived to end our national nightmare of nutpicking and selective focus. Like Spencer Ackerman, who successfully argues that we should want no part of any case the general cares to make:

“The Iraq war was probably doomed from the start. And while Sanchez couldn’t have won the war, he could have contributed less to its loss. And this is what Sanchez’s account never grapples with: The proposition that a war likely to fail shouldn’t be fought. That omission makes sense. After all, if Sanchez really saw the writing on the wall in July 2003 — the beginning of his command — he was derelict in his responsibility to either refuse command or to speak out in favor of drastic changes in strategy. Instead, he’s emblematic of the general officer described in Lt. Col. Paul Yingling’s recent essay ‘A Failure In Generalship’: supine to civilian zealotry, hobbled by conventional wisdom, ignorant of counterinsurgency, and deceptive to the public. It should probably come as no surprise that his account of who’s to blame for Iraq is as bitter and distorted as it is.

“Earlier this year, Sanchez told AFP, ‘it’s not about blame because there’s nobody out there that is intentionally trying to screw things up for our country.’ The obviously self-pitying Sanchez of October 2007 has clearly amended his views. His new perspective is no sounder, and just as corrosive, than the ones that guided him in Baghdad. Having abetted one catastrophe, Sanchez may do even greater violence to the historical record.”


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