The General and the Pen Soldiers

Jim Zackey

In a sweeping indictment of the four-year effort in Iraq, Lt. Gen. Ricardo S. Sanchez, who retired in 2006 after being replaced in Iraq after the Abu Ghraib prisoner abuse scandal, called the Bush administration's handling of the war 'incompetent'. He blamed the Bush administration for a 'catastrophically flawed, unrealistically optimistic war plan'.

General Ricardo Sanchez's address to military editors and reporters is a clarion call for often compliant and at times co-opted journalists to wriggle out of their age of denial, dismissal and disapproval of sources that could have (and still can) otherwise provided alternate views of Iraq.

Encouraging and embracing alternate sources of media has become increasingly important at a time when many US media organs tiptoe around issues in fear of overstepping their boundaries.

'America must hold all national agencies accountable for developing and executing the political and economic initiatives that will bring about stability, security, political and economic hope for all Iraqis,' said General Sanchez, adding: 'The best we can do with this flawed approach is stave-off defeat. The administration, Congress and the entire interagency, especially the Department of State, must shoulder the responsibility for this catastrophic failure and the American people must hold them accountable.' Sanchez asked point blank: 'Who will demand accountability for the failure of our national political leaders involved in the management of this war?'

While it took a uniformed officer four years to speak his mind in public is not unexpected, what is far more worrisome is that the US mainstream media has not risen up to secure straight, clear-cut answers.

Media outlets ought to answer why it hasn't sufficiently probed the cakewalk crowd who promised a casual march to victory in Iraq. How many media activists pressed for accountability of the likes of Ken Adelmen who misled the American media by claiming 'measured by any cost-benefit analysis, such an operation would constitute the greatest victory in America's war on terrorism.' Had American taxpayers an easy access to alternate information sources it wouldn't have taken them four years to question the wisdom of the 'cakewalk' bunch.

The following examples illustrate why instead of encouraging broader, pluralistic coverage of say, Iraq and Afghanistan, some circles prefer a cover-up. Let's bring in how dearly some naively proposed plans are costing USA in terms of not just high financial stakes but regrettably cost of irreplaceable lives.

According to Joseph E. Stiglitz, a Columbia University professor and Nobel laureate, so many soldiers are being injured that the costs of caring for them over their lifetimes is likely to be $350 billion, or up to twice that, depending on how long the war lasts. The high cost is the result of huge advances in military medicine that have greatly reduced the chances that a soldier injured in Iraq will die. As a result, the ratio of injuries to deaths 16:1 by her estimate is higher than in any other war in US history. The White House budget director, Rob Portman has asked, in the new budget, basically for another $365 billion over the next few fiscal years. This comes on the $433 billion that's already been spent, a total of nearly $800 billion.

An Italian scholar of the Arab media, Donatella della Ratta rightly suggests that the West should seriously consider before blaming or blocking channels like Al Jazeera that are in fact educating tools to inform rather than a medium providing an embedded version from a warring side. If the likes of Al Jazeera English had wider access to American homes it would not have taken this long to see the contradictions between the lofty claims made at the Capitol and actual realities faced on ground.

At a conference, 'Creating Connections: New Partnerships for Understanding in the Middle East,' sponsored by the Vermont Peace Academy, Vermont Council on World Affairs and Norwich University, a participant said: 'It's an intellectual tragedy that the United States has cut itself out of Al Jazeera English's contribution to [informative] conversation. Everything that's happened to us in Iraq shows that's very dangerous. The lesson of Iraq is: Ignorance kills.'

Instead of making wrong choices and pursuing wrong approaches that are just goose chasing and witch-hunting exercises the US needs to befriend with the ones that capture and portray the facts professionally and far effectively. Now more than ever the US public and its opinions makers need tools that can help them separate the wheat from the chaff not occasionally but on an on-going, round the clock basis.


Sanchez speech:

Creating Connections Conference: