October 15, 2007

McCain: Sanchez's Criticisms Never Communicated To Congress

Senator John McCain appeared on Heading Right Radio this afternoon, and as always gave our listeners a good dose of straight talk. He spoke about the pitfalls of his campaign, and how he has learned from the immigration debate that the borders have to be secured before any other decisions can be made about the illegal immigrants already in the country. McCain also felt that the recent criticisms of his fellow candidates on core issues for the party's base may give him an opening to make a case that he is the most reliable conservative in the race.

However, his most explosive comments came when I asked him about the criticisms leveled by General Richard Sanchez about the politics, strategy, and reporting of the war in Iraq. Sanchez ripped the administration for strategic blunders, which came as news to Senator McCain, who had spent years making the same criticisms of the Rumsfeld strategy. McCain claims that Sanchez never told Congress of his dissatisfaction with the situation.

This comes at about eighteen minutes into the podcast:

EM: What did you think about [General Richard] Sanchez's speech?

JM: I honor and respect his service to the country. I respect anyone who spends their adult life in the military as he has, but I respectfully have to say, General Sanchez, why didn't when I was in Baghdad, meeting with you and Jerry Bremer five years ago -- well, four years ago -- and I said, "You don't have enough troops here. You're going to fail. Looting is going on, Al-Qaeda is coming in, you're going to have these problems. Why aren't you settling the de-Ba'athification issue, etc etc." And he defended the present policy [at that time], he said it was succeeding, and he testified before the Armed Services Committee, of which I am a member, the same way.

When we confirm a senior officer to a position in the military, there's always a standard question that is asked, and that they always say Yes to, and that is "When asked, will you give your candid and personal opinion in answer to a question by a member of the committee?" They always say Yes. He said Yes. He was asked in several hearings about the strategy, and he not only didn't complain about it -- in all due respect again -- but he supported it. And I wish he had done that back when he was on active duty.

EM: Active duty generals are able to have that sort of candor in dealing with members of Congress. It's expected of them, isn't that right?

JM: They are required to. They are required to, because when they are confirmed in their positions, when they are promoted to a high level, they are specifically asked in writing that question, and they have to answer in writing.

This puts Sanchez's criticisms into an entirely new light. The impression he gave was that his was a lone voice in high command, opposed to the strategy from the start. He made it sound as if no one listened to his input and that the administration and Congress simply ignored dissenting opinions from the field.

McCain begs to differ. Sanchez, McCain says, had several opportunities to inform Congress of any dissent he might have, but Sanchez simply didn't offer any. Not only did Sanchez not voice dissent, he actively endorsed the policies and strategies employed before his retirement. McCain, who was looking for credible allies at the time, would have loved some corroboration for his own criticisms of the war strategy -- and McCain was making headlines for offering those as far back as 2004.

It appears, from McCain's account, that Sanchez indulged in a little historical revisionism to make himself look better on his way out the door. If you listen to McCain, you can hear the frustration in his voice when he says he wished Sanchez had voiced those criticisms -- and the lack of belief he has in Sanchez' implied claim to have been a dissenter.

ADDENDUM: Why is this important? If McCain's correct -- and there's no reason to think he's not -- then Sanchez didn't lift a finger to get the strategy changed when he was tasked with implementing it. McCain notes later that Rumsfeld didn't exactly encourage debate on policy, but that's exactly why McCain interacted directly with Sanchez and the other commanders. It doesn't exactly build Sanchez's credibility as a war critic to find out that he didn't take advantage of any opportunity to change the direction of the military plan.


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» Sanchez Credibility Gap? from Sierra Faith
Roger Simon thinks so. Ed Morrissey elicits similar frustration with Sanchez from John McCain. [Read More]

» McCain, Sanchez and Morrissey from AZAMATTEROFACT
Ed Morrissey of Captain's Quarters asks the right questions and gets the right answers. [Read More]

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