Former U.S. diplomats want Bush voted out
WASHINGTON (FinalCall.com) – The Bush administration’s foreign policy has been such a “complete and terrible disaster” that President George W. Bush should not be re-elected, according to a group of 26 former diplomats, and military commanders.
The “structure of respect and influence” built up by the U.S. during the last 60 years is now “crumbling under an administration blinded by ideology and a callous indifference to the realities of the world around it,” Phyllis Oakley, former assistant secretary of state for Intelligence and Research and spokesperson for the group Diplomats and Military Commanders for Change, told reporters at the National Press Club June 16.
“Never in the two and a quarter centuries of our history has the United States been so isolated among the nations, so broadly feared and distrusted,” said the group’s statement, an unprecedented rebuke of a sitting president from a bi-partisan group of respected retired four-star military commanders and ambassadors.
“Never before have so many of us felt the need for a major change in the direction of our foreign policy. The lack of confidence in the present administration in Washington is so profound that a whole new team is needed to repair the damage,” Ms. Oakley continued.
Members of the group date their service back to the Harry Truman administration. Their ranks include Admiral Stansfield Turner, former head of the Central Intelligence Agency; Admiral William Crowe, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff under former president Ronald Reagan; Marine Corps Gen. Joseph Hoar, named by President George H.W. Bush to lead U.S. forces in the Middle East; two former ambassadors to the Soviet Union; two former ambassadors to Israel; and two former ambassadors to Pakistan.
Mr. Bush bears the sole responsibility, not the five or six well-known “neo-conservative” advisers who a reporter suggested “have hijacked the presidency under the direction or under the protection of the office of the Vice President and the Secretary of Defense.”
“(Mr. Bush) listens to (the neo-cons) because he wants to. (They give him) the kind of advice he’d like to hear,” said General Merrill A. “Tony” McPeak, former chief-of-staff of the U.S. Air Force, former Oregon state chairman of the Dole-Kemp presidential campaign in 1996 and a member of Veterans for Bush in 2000, in response to that question.
Indeed, the Bush team, “motivated more by ideology than by reasoned analysis, struck out on its own,” when it invaded Iraq, the group said. Mr. Bush led the United States into an “ill-planned and costly war, from which exit seems uncertain.”
The President justified the invasion of Iraq by the “manipulation of uncertain intelligence about weapons of mass destruction and by a cynical campaign to persuade the public that Saddam Hussein had links to al-Qaeda and the attacks of Sept. 11. The evidence does not support this argument,” said Ms. Oakley.
Before the Iraq war, the suggestion that Iraq and al-Qaeda were linked was universally regarded by people in the region and by “anybody who knew anything” as “ludicrous,” said Charles Freeman, former ambassador to Saudi Arabia. “Saddam Hussein was a secular tyrant, not in any respect devoted to Islam. He put the words ‘Allah-u-Akbar’ on his flag during the first Gulf War because he–like Joseph Stalin during World War II–suddenly decided that he required the support the religious majority in his country. But he was no more sincere in that conversion than Joseph Stalin was.
“A very bad man who was, however, firm in his detestation for Islam and religion. He and Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda were, in fact, mortal enemies during this period,” Mr. Freeman insisted.
The administration has relied on the widely held perception that “everything changed” in this country in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks. In addition, the President and Vice President Dick Cheney continue to insist that the former Iraqi leader collaborated with al-Qaeda in planning the 9/11 attacks.
“That has become a kind of mantra: that 9/11 changed everything,” said Bob Keeley, former ambassador to Mauritius, Zimbabwe and Greece. “The fact is, it didn’t. It changed very little. The fundamentals of protecting American citizens, protecting our national interests, protecting our national security have not changed. We had domestic terrorism–Oklahoma City–that didn’t change everything. Why did 9/11 change everything?
“What has happened is that that mantra has been used as an excuse to say the President can do anything he wants now, because he’s fighting a war on terrorism and 9/11 changed everything, so anything we do is okay.”
U.S. Middle East policy and its relations with the Muslim world were also sharply criticized by the group. “I think there has been a complete failure of leadership on that issue,” said Mike Sterner, former ambassador to United Arab Emirates. “There has even been a failure of the administration to stick by its own positions, i.e. the Road Map.”
The broader issue of U.S. relations with the Muslim world has also been made more difficult by the current administration, not only concerning the Palestinian-Israeli standoff, but as much in the way Muslims have been treated in this country, according to Mr. Freeman.
He cited common practices authorized by the “Patriot Act” which have been repeatedly criticized in this country: detention of foreigners–who happen to be Muslims–without charge, access to counsel, or revealing the names of those detained, as well as the wholesale round-ups of Muslims on U.S. soil.
“These are all things that have been produced in the post-9/11 atmosphere of hysteria. They remind people of the Palmer Raids after World War I, or the lock-up of Japanese in World War II. I think we will in time come to be very ashamed of this period in history,” said Mr. Freeman.
History may record that the U.S. was duped into the Iraq “quagmire” the same way it was led into Vietnam, according to Donald McHenry, former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations. “There was no debate,” Mr. McHenry told The Final Call. “We found ourselves acting the same way we did in Tonkin (Gulf, Vietnam), rushing emotionally into a blank check for the President.
“Some rationalized. They hoped that the President was going to act in good faith and to carry out negotiations with the UN, but the President had made up his mind. The decision was already there.”
The group therefore, does not expect any change in administration policy. “Oh, I don’t think this is going to move the administration,” Mr. McHenry continued. “Our hope is that the American public will take the fact that this group found it necessary to speak out as an indication of real concern about what is going on, in terms of American foreign policy.”
Allen Holmes, former assistant secretary of Defense for Special Operations agreed. “We got distracted into Iraq unnecessarily. I got those intelligence briefings for five years, every morning in the Pentagon. The administration did not, in my view, did not make the case that there was an imminent, danger to our national, vital interest in Saddam Hussein. A danger down the road, yes. Somebody that would have to be dealt with later, but not imminent.”
The announcement in 2002 of the Bush administration’s new strategic doctrine of preemption or “preventive war” has created more problems for the world than it solved, said Mr. Holmes.
“And now, this administration has established a standard and the preventive war doctrine now lies around like a cocked weapon for just about any world leader to pick up and use.”
Several Bush administration figures rejected these criticisms.
Secretary of State Colin Powell, speaking later that day to Al-Jazeera, said the diplomats and commanders were engaged in a political act. The signers, many of whom he knows personally, “made it clear what they wish to see–they wish to see President Bush not reelected.
“I do not believe that will be the judgment of the American people,” Mr. Powell continued. “I disagree that the United States is so isolated as they say.”
The White House said at least 20 members of the group have been involved in partisan political activities in the past. “It is not surprising that John Kerry has the support of a group of people who share his belief that the threat of terror is exaggerated,” Bush spokesperson Steve Schmidt said, according to The Toronto Star. “This is a group that shares John Kerry’s pre-Sept. 11 world view and supports John Kerry’s failed ideas for treating terrorism as a matter mainly for law enforcement and intelligence.”
When asked if any of them had anything positive to say about the President, Dan Phillips, former ambassador to Burundi and the Republic of Congo, replied. “We’re not here to say that everything President Bush has done from day one has been negative, far from it. But we’re not here to discuss whether the steel tariff and things like that were appropriate or not appropriate. Our genuine feeling is that, on the balance sheet, the negatives so strongly outweigh the positives, that we feel that change is essential.”
Conservative supporters of the President’s policy have now also begun to argue that the Iraq war is worthwhile because it is better for the U.S. to fight its “war on terror” overseas, in Baghdad for example, than to fight it in Baltimore.
“The best way to get them into Baltimore is to do what we’ve done,” Mr. Freeman told The Final Call. “I read, back (in April) when (the battle in) Fallujah was going on, a quote from somebody in Fallujah, an Arab. He said, something like: ‘The Americans brought the Kurds in here and four days ago they killed my brother. Two days ago, my 8-year-old daughter was killed by a Marine sniper.’
“And he said, ‘I don’t know what’s going to happen when this is over. But I know my brothers are going north to kill Kurds, and I’m going to the United States to kill kids.’ You want to get them in Baltimore? Just do what we’ve done,” Mr. Freeman continued. “We’re allying Hamas with Sunni insurgents in Iraq. Allying the Ba’athists with these religious fanatics. Why?”
When Lyndon Johnson recognized that “he had made a fundamental error on foreign policy” and that “he had put himself in an irreparable position, that he could not lead the country out of it, he resigned rather than go into the election. It’s always open for the president to do that,” said Mr. Phillips.
The professional, career government employees, the “permanent government, the CIA, the State Department, the military,” has had a fairly consistent set of views all along said Mr. Freeman. “Which is: There are ways to use force and there are ways not to use force; there are ways to use covert action that weren’t tried, and there are ways to use diplomacy that weren’t tried. Basically, you have the professionals saying, ‘The amateurs have created a FUBAR-situation.’”
This country’s real strength should be its diplomacy and its thousands of non-government organizations (NGOs), according to Donald Easum, former assistant secretary of state for African Affairs. “The Peace Corps is symbolic in my mind of what these NGOs are also doing. When we have an image that is so damaged by the sorts of things we talked about today. That image affects very directly the work that all of these natural allies of ours–non-military allies, allies who have soft power–it affects what they can do. I think potentially that is however, the source of our greatest contribution to world peace.”