War on Iraq

Diplomats and Soldiers v. Bush

Former diplomats and retired military commanders accuse George W. Bush of endangering the nation and call for his defeat in November.
On Wednesday a group of former senior diplomatic officials and retired military commanders -- several of whom are the kind who "have never spoken out before" on such matters -- issued a bracing statement arguing that George W. Bush has damaged the country's national security and calling on Americans to defeat him in November. It's too early to tell if the statement will have an impact on this fall's campaign. But Diplomats and Military Commanders for Change, as the group is called, reveals (again) how dangerously isolated the Bush Administration is not just around the world but even from America's own bipartisan foreign policy and military establishments.

This latest missive, as both the LA Times and the Washington Post reported last Sunday, is being sent by Democratic and Republican officials who refuse to stay silent in the face of Bush's extremist and ideological foreign policy which, they say, is squandering America's moral standing. These signatories aren't exactly a Who's Who of the American left.

Jack Matlock, who served as Reagan and Bush 41's ambassador to the Soviet Union, has signed the statement, as has Ret. Adm. William Crowe, who served as Reagan's Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Phyllis Oakley, who served as a State Department spokesperson under Reagan, added her name as well. The vast majority of the signatories are, in fact, either conservative Republicans who served under Reagan and Bush 41 or they're bipartisan, consensus-driven ex-diplomats who served their country from Africa to Asia because they believed in America's leadership role around the world.

Now they feel so enraged by Bush's extremist foreign policies that they can no longer stand by as this Administration makes America less secure by upending alliances and alienating much of the world. Against the metastasizing scandal of Abu Ghraib; the botched postwar occupation of Iraq; and the Administration's lies about Iraq's WMDs in the run-up to the war, these old hands are now taking an uncompromising, intelligent stand against what they see as the most arrogant, unilateral and incompetent foreign policy in their adult lifetimes.

Today's signatories join a large and growing chorus of former senior officials who were so enraged by Bush's conduct of the Iraq war that sitting on the sidelines simply wasn't an option for them. John Brady Kiesling, now a retired diplomat, led the charge in February 2003 when he courageously quit his foreign-service job with the American Embassy in Athens, and wrote a stinging rebuke to Bush's headlong rush to wage a war in Iraq. He was followed by another career diplomat Gregory Thielmann who went public, telling Bill Moyers that Iraq didn't pose an "imminent security threat" to America. Thielmann attacked Bush for hyping intelligence reports and for misleading the American people about the need to go to war in the Middle East. The Administration, he said, "has had a faith-based intelligence attitude.We know the answers -- give us the intelligence to support those answers'."

Around the same time, retired military commanders were growing aghast at Bush's utter ineptitude in planning for the occupation of Iraq. That's why, for example, the former Centcom commander Gen. Anthony Zinni ultimately went on 60 Minutes last month and argued that if Bush stayed on the current course in Iraq, America was "headed over Niagara Falls." Retired Marine Gen. Joseph Hoar, who commanded U.S. forces in the Middle East under Bush 41, has publicly declared that the United States is "absolutely on the brink of failure" in Iraq.

Meanwhile, other former ambassadors and career foreign-service officers began speaking up, each in their own way and on their own timetables. GOP strategists with ties to the White House were quick and shameless in denigrating those who've spent their life serving the national interest.

Ronald Spiers, the former Ambassador to Turkey and Pakistan and well-versed in the politics of the Middle East, argued that George W. Bush's policies have unraveled our most important alliances around the globe. Spiers faulted the President for causing us to lose "a lot of our international partnerships. We've lost a lot of lives. We've lost a lot of money for something that wasn't justified."

George Harrop, a former ambassador to Kenya and Israel, spoke for many in the diplomatic corps, and I suspect even for some former Bush 41 officials like Brent Scowcroft, when he said: "I really am essentially a Republican. I voted for George Bush's father, and I voted for George Bush. But what we got was not the George Bush we voted for." And former ambassador Joseph Wilson has reminded Americans of just how many lies the Administration was willing to tell in its quest to convince people that Iraq posed a nuclear threat to the United States.

Then, of course, there are the high-level NSC officials who, after getting a ringside seat for Bush's bumbling national security strategies, decided that enough was enough, and that now was the season to speak up and take a stand. Rand Beers left Bush's White House after serving under Reagan and Bush Sr., and he is now running foreign policy operations for John Kerry's presidential campaign. Richard Clarke, is one of the most experienced counterterrorism officials America has produced in the last three decades; he, too, could no longer stand idly by as the Administration ran a fool's errand by starting a war against Iraq.

Just last month a separate group of fifty-three ex-diplomats and other high-level national security officials wrote a letter to Bush in which they excoriated the President for sacrificing America's credibility in the Arab world and squandering America's status as honest broker in the Israeli-Palestinian crisis.

This most recent statement marks the high-water point of dissent among diplomats and military commanders who cannot stomach Bush any longer, but there is still time, and a need, for more high-level officials to come forward and voice their opposition to policies that are undermining our security.

The anger towards Bush and his extremely dangerous policies has now, at long last, reached a critical mass. Wednesday's statement reveals just how extremist in approach and radical in ideology the Administration actually is.
Katrina vanden Heuvel is Editor of The Nation.
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