Diplomats, Generals Condemn Bush Foreign Policy
Between The Lines
Between the Lines Q&A
A weekly column featuring progressive viewpoints
on national and international issues
under-reported in mainstream media
for release July 28, 2004
Former Diplomats and Generals Publicly Condemn Bush Foreign Policy
Interview with Robert Oakley, career U.S. diplomat, conducted by Scott Harris
In April, 52 former senior British diplomats signed a letter protesting Prime Minister Tony Blair and President George Bush's handling of both the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the occupation of Iraq. Now a group of 27 former U.S. diplomats and military commanders have endorsed a similar statement condemning White House policies in the Persian Gulf and the Middle East.
The group calling itself Diplomats and Military Commanders for Change asserts that U.S. security has been weakened by current administration policies by prosecuting an ill-planned and costly war in Iraq justified by the manipulation of uncertain intelligence. The signers also express concern about growing hostility toward the U.S. in the Arab and Muslim world due to Washington's unquestioning support for Israel and close identification with autocratic regimes across the Middle East.
Those signing the statement -- including Arthur Hartman, former ambassador to the Soviet Union; Admiral Stansfield Turner, former director of the CIA; and General William Crowe, one-time chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff -- have served every Republican and Democratic president since Harry S. Truman. Between The Lines' Scott Harris spoke with 34-year career diplomat Robert B. Oakley, who served as ambassador to Pakistan, Somalia and Zaire. Oakley, a special envoy for Somalia under Presidents George Bush Sr. and Bill Clinton, explains why he and other senior diplomats and former military officials have publicly condemned Bush administration policies and declared that "it's time for a change."
Robert Oakley: Generally, the statement says that the way in which the Bush administration has been conducting its foreign and national security policy has in effect weakened the United States, because as we've found the hard way, "going it alone" is not sufficient. Military force is not sufficient, even when backed by our economic might and by our sense of righteousness. We can start something, but it's very, very difficult to finish it in a way that's satisfactory to U.S. interests. And over time, a number of us began talking here and there and we said, "Look, we really ought to make a statement instead of talking, making a speech here and a speech there, or testifying before Congress here, or another hearing over there. Let's see if we can't put our heads and minds together." So about three months ago, we began to put this statement together and ultimately it came to fruition and we issued it.
It wasn't political, at least, it wasn't meant to be. People have accused us of being partisan; we'd like to say we're being professional because we feel that the United States has been weakened, quite frankly, because of the approach which has been taken.
Between The Lines: Well, just to deal with the charges of partisanship, those who are unhappy with your statement, the 27 signatories, accuse the majority of the signers as being Democrats, partisan, political Democrats. You've served Democrat and Republican presidents through decades …
Robert Oakley: All of us have been appointed by Republican administrations to positions of high responsibilities, ambassadors, or in some cases four-star generals, ambassadors, representatives to the United Nations. It's not political at all, and the views are not Democratic. Most of us have been considered I would say, probably Republican. But in fact, it never entered our minds while we were in professional service as to whether we were Democrats or Republicans. We were there as professionals and we still look upon ourselves as professionals.
A number of us have been solicited by the Kerry campaign. By and large, we've tried to have people signing this letter who were not Kerry advisers or activists. Maybe in a couple of cases, it slipped through the net, but our approach has been to find people who are not directly associated with the Kerry campaign. We didn't consult the Kerry campaign people before and we haven't talked to them since.
Between The Lines: In the statement, signed by yourself and 26 other diplomats and military commanders, you assert that our security has been weakened by Bush administration policies. Be specific, tell us how you think the Bush administration has endangered this country.
Robert Oakley: Well, by first undercutting our alliances and weakening them to the point where some of our allies stood up and said, "No, we oppose what you're doing in Iraq." Countries like France and Germany. We've come back to a degree of cooperation with France and Germany, but belatedly and after a lot of damage was done.
By putting a huge strain upon our military forces, because we had to play catch-up ball because we didn't devote enough military forces in the beginning, and the right type of military forces in the beginning, because we thought, some people said it would be a "cake walk." We've exposed our military forces to a great deal of danger. But, in addition to that, we've strained the system, the personnel system, the maintenance system, the supply system. The military commanders who are with us fear that this could have some effects similar to those which Vietnam had upon the U.S. Army, where it was fairly degraded and unable to take on tough tasks after Vietnam until it had been retooled. So, we're a little bit worried about that, too.
Now, fortunately, countries like Iran and North Korea, originally were on the "Axis of Evil" list and the implication was that they were going to be subject to pre-emptive military action to change the regime. But we've decided to shift to a more multi-lateral approach in trying to deal with those problems, which is good. Again, this constitutes a change in the original approach, but we're glad to see it.
Between The Lines: Maybe you can address the perception of the United States around the world. According to some public opinion polls, as you state in the document you signed, fear and hatred of our country is a big concern and an assist in recruiting for terrorist organizations. What can you tell us about that?
Robert Oakley: I think that's right. What appears to be almost total U.S. support for the Israeli regime in whatever it plans to do, despite some bold statements by the United States, we've never really put our muscle in behind the "road map" which is supposed to be a balanced, bilateral approach to dealing with problems with the support of the EU, the United Nations and the Russians. Instead Prime Minister Sharon is sort of moving things in his direction with what is seen with the support of the United States, both political support and military support. U.S. helicopter gun ships are seen to be assassinating Palestinian leaders. Images of this on Arab Television accompanied with images of U.S. helicopter gun ships making attacks in Iraq, you see these things, erroneously perhaps, but nevertheless very, very strong in the Arab consciousness that have become fused with one another. And this has caused a lot of people in the Muslim world, particularly in the Middle East to say, "OK we're willing to join terrorist movements for the future, as well as coming into Iraq now." And the amount of opposition in Iraq has increased because of this, rather than decrease. So we have a lot of work to do to rebuild our position in the Middle East as a whole, where our most trusted allies, like Egyptian President Mubarak have said they've never seen the United States so hated.
Read the statement by Diplomats and Military Commanders for Change online by visiting the group's website at http://www.diplomatsforchange.com or call their office at (202) 408-4998.
Related links on our website at:
Eroded U.S. Security, Former Diplomats Say"
"Former Military Commanders, Diplomats, Say Bush Must Go"
"CIA Insider Says U.S. Fighting the Wrong War"
"Washington Insiders Speak Out Against Bush's Policies"
Scott Haris is executive producer of Between The Lines, which can be heard on more than 35 radio stations. This interview excerpt was featured on the award-winning, syndicated weekly radio newsmagazine, Between The Lines ( http://www.btlonline.org) for the week ending July 2, 2004. This Between The Lines Q&A was compiled by Anna Manzo and Scott Harris.