THE RACE TO THE WHITE HOUSE
Retired Officials Say Bush Must Go
The 26 ex-diplomats and military leaders say his foreign policy has harmed national security. Several served under Republicans.By Ronald Brownstein
Times Staff Writer
June 13, 2004
WASHINGTON — A group of 26 former senior diplomats and military officials, several appointed to key positions by Republican Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush, plans to issue a joint statement this week arguing that President George W. Bush has damaged America's national security and should be defeated in November.
The group, which calls itself Diplomats and Military Commanders for Change, will explicitly condemn Bush's foreign policy, according to several of those who signed the document.
"It is clear that the statement calls for the defeat of the administration," said William C. Harrop, the ambassador to Israel under President Bush's father and one of the group's principal organizers.
Those signing the document, which will be released in Washington on Wednesday, include 20 former U.S. ambassadors, appointed by presidents of both parties, to countries including Israel, the former Soviet Union and Saudi Arabia.
Others are senior State Department officials from the Carter, Reagan and Clinton administrations and former military leaders, including retired Marine Gen. Joseph P. Hoar, the former commander of U.S. forces in the Middle East under President Bush's father. Hoar is a prominent critic of the war in Iraq.
Some of those signing the document — such as Hoar and former Air Force Chief of Staff Merrill A. McPeak — have identified themselves as supporters of Sen. John F. Kerry, the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee. But most have not endorsed any candidate, members of the group said.
It is unusual for so many former high-level military officials and career diplomats to issue such an overtly political message during a presidential campaign.
A senior official at the Bush reelection campaign said he did not wish to comment on the statement until it was released.
But in the past, administration officials have rejected charges that Bush has isolated America in the world, pointing to countries contributing troops to the coalition in Iraq and the unanimous passage last week of the U.N. resolution authorizing the interim Iraqi government.
One senior Republican strategist familiar with White House thinking said he did not think the group was sufficiently well-known to create significant political problems for the president.
The strategist, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, also said the signatories were making an argument growing increasingly obsolete as Bush leans more on the international community for help in Iraq.
"Their timing is a little off, particularly in the aftermath of the most recent U.N. resolution," the strategist said. "It seems to me this is a collection of resentments that have built up, but it would have been much more powerful months ago than now when even the president's most disinterested critics would say we have taken a much more multilateral approach" in Iraq.
But those signing the document say the recent signs of cooperation do not reverse a basic trend toward increasing isolation for the U.S.
"We just felt things were so serious, that America's leadership role in the world has been attenuated to such a terrible degree by both the style and the substance of the administration's approach," said Harrop, who served as ambassador to four African countries under Carter and Reagan.
"A lot of people felt the work they had done over their lifetime in trying to build a situation in which the United States was respected and could lead the rest of the world was now undermined by this administration — by the arrogance, by the refusal to listen to others, the scorn for multilateral organizations," Harrop said.
Jack F. Matlock Jr., who was appointed by Reagan as ambassador to the Soviet Union and retained in the post by President Bush's father during the final years of the Cold War, expressed similar views.
"Ever since Franklin Roosevelt, the U.S. has built up alliances in order to amplify its own power," he said. "But now we have alienated many of our closest allies, we have alienated their populations. We've all been increasingly appalled at how the relationships that we worked so hard to build up have simply been shattered by the current administration in the method it has gone about things."
The GOP strategist noted that many of those involved in the document claimed their primary expertise in the Middle East and suggested a principal motivation for the statement might be frustration over Bush's effort to fundamentally reorient policy toward the region.
"For 60 years we believed in quote-unquote stability at the price of liberty, and what we got is neither liberty nor stability," the strategist said. "So we are taking a fundamentally different approach toward the Middle East. That is a huge doctrinal shift, and the people who have given their lives, careers to building the previous foreign policy consensus, see this as a direct intellectual assault on what they have devoted their lives to. And it is. We think what a lot of people came up with was a failure — or at least, in the present world in which we live, it is no longer sustainable."
Sponsors of the effort counter that several in the group have been involved in developing policy affecting almost all regions of the globe.
The document will echo a statement released in April by a group of high-level former British diplomats condemning Prime Minister Tony Blair for being too closely aligned to U.S. policy in Iraq and Israel. Those involved with the new group said their effort was already underway when the British statement was released.
The signatories said Kerry's campaign played no role in the formation of their group. Phyllis E. Oakley, the deputy State Department spokesman during Reagan's second term and an assistant secretary of state under Clinton, said she suspected "some of them [in the Kerry campaign] may have been aware of it," but that "the campaign had no role" in organizing the group.
Stephanie Cutter, Kerry's communications director, also said that the Kerry campaign had not been involved in devising the group's statement.
The document does not explicitly endorse Kerry, according to those familiar with it. But some individual signers plan to back the Democrat, and others acknowledge that by calling for Bush's removal, the group effectively is urging Americans to elect Kerry.
"The core of the message is that we are so deeply concerned about the current direction of American foreign policy … that we think it is essential for the future security of the United States that a new foreign policy team come in," said Oakley.
Much of the debate over the document in the days ahead may pivot on the extent to which it is seen as a partisan document.
A Bush administration ally said that the group failed to recognize how the Sept. 11 attacks required significant changes in American foreign policy. "There's no question those who were responsible for policies pre-9/11 are denying what seems as the obvious — that those policies were inadequate," said Cliff May, president of the conservative advocacy group Foundation for the Defense of Democracies.
"This seems like a statement from 9/10 people [who don't see] the importance of 9/11 and the way that should have changed our thinking."
Along with Hoar and McPeak, others who have signed it are identified with the Democratic Party.
Adm. William J. Crowe Jr., though named chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff under Reagan, supported Clinton in 1992. Crowe has endorsed Kerry. Retired Adm. Stansfield Turner served as Carter's director of central intelligence and has also endorsed Kerry. Matlock said he was a registered Democrat during most of his foreign service career, though he voted for Reagan in 1984 and the elder Bush twice and now is registered as an independent.
Several on the group's list were appointed to their most important posts under Reagan and the elder Bush. These include Matlock and Harrop, as well as Arthur A. Hartman, who served as Reagan's ambassador to the Soviet Union from 1981 through 1987; H. Allen Holmes, an assistant secretary of state under Reagan; and Charles Freeman, ambassador to Saudi Arabia under the elder Bush.
Many on the list have not been previously identified with any political cause or party. Several "are the kind who have never spoken out before," said James Daniel Phillips, former ambassador to Burundi and the Congo.
Oakley, Harrop and Matlock said the effort began this year. Matlock said it was sparked by conversations among "colleagues who had served in senior positions around the same time, most of them for the Reagan administration and for the first Bush administration."
Oakley said frustration over the Iraq war was "a large part" of the impetus for the statement, but the criticism of President Bush "goes much deeper."
The group's complaint about Bush's approach largely tracks Kerry's contention that the administration has weakened American security by straining traditional alliances and shifting resources from the war against Al Qaeda to the invasion of Iraq.
Oakley said the statement would argue that, "Unfortunately the tough stands [Bush] has taken have made us less secure. He has neglected the war on terrorism for the war in Iraq. And while we agree that we are in unprecedented times and we face challenges we didn't even know about before, these challenges require the cooperation of other countries. We cannot do it by ourselves."