2024-06-13 6:08 AM

Helen Thomas: How Bush Can Still Repair His Legacy

WASHINGTON — President Bush has good reason to worry about his legacy.

Take, for example, the blistering assessment that his administration reaped last week from retired Army Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez, who commanded U.S. forces in Iraq for a year after the 2003 U.S. invasion.

In a speech to journalists, Sanchez accused the Bush administration of going to war with a "catastrophically flawed" plan and said the United States is "living a nightmare, with no end in sight."

So are the Iraqi people, I might add.

But that kind of statement has special import when it comes from a general, who was the top commander in Iraq. This is especially pertinent because this administration has put so much stock in the U.S. military leadership in Iraq — even wanting us to believe that the military controls major war decisions.

Sanchez dismissed the president's much-ballyhooed "surge" of troops in Iraq as a "desperate attempt by the administration that has not accepted the political and economic realities of this war."

He blamed the administration, Congress, the entire interagency process and the State Department, saying they "must shoulder the responsibility for this catastrophic failure — and the American people must hold them accountable."

Sanchez accused the White House National Security Council of negligence and incompetence. The council helps the president address national security and foreign policy issues — and is chaired by President Bush. At the time of the Iraq invasion in 2003, its principal members were Vice President Dick Cheney, Secretary of State Colin Powell and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, with the Chairman of the Joints Chiefs of Staff, Air Force Gen. Richard Myers, as its principal military advisor.

"The best we can do with this flawed approach is stave off defeat," Sanchez said. 

He also had some tough comments about the news media.

Administration officials may dismiss Sanchez's charges as sour grapes coming from a senior commander who was denied a fourth star and forced to retire.

Sanchez also carries the burden of being the top U.S. general in Iraq when photos published worldwide showed the horrors of the treatment of the prisoners held in Abu Ghraib, the infamous prison near Baghdad.

As a result of that scandal, some enlisted men and Army reserve officers were charged in legal proceedings, but no top officers were held responsible for the shocking abuse of the detainees.

One might say of Sanchez, "So now he tells us."

He follows a growing line of former administration officials who want to set the record straight. Little by little, through the memoirs of insiders, we are learning more about the origins of the Iraqi debacle and how we got into this mess.

Better late than never.

In recent years, Bush claims he has been reading a lot of history, especially the biographies of presidents.

I'd like him to study the last year of the presidency of fellow Texan Lyndon B. Johnson, who knew when to hold 'em and when to fold 'em.

It took a lot of courage on the part of LBJ, a consummate politician, to throw in the towel in 1968 when it was clear that the Vietnam War was unwinnable.

Some generals kept telling him what he wanted to hear, that victory was possible.

But he also heard from Gen. William Westmoreland — the commander in Vietnam from 1964 to 1968 — that he needed 240,000 more troops. That did it for Johnson, not to mention his fading hopes for reelection. He was also hearing the uproar from the streets.

Bush should call it quits and bow out of Iraq. That way he can save lives and salvage some of his legacy in his waning presidency.


(c) 2007 Hearst Newspapers 





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