Book World: 'Wiser in Battle'

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Lieutenant General Ricardo Sanchez
Author and Former Commander of Coalition Ground Forces in Iraq
Tuesday, May 13, 2008; 3:00 PM

Lieutenant General Ricardo Sanchez, author and former Commander of Coalition Ground Forces in Iraq, was online Tuesday, May 13 to discuss Wiser in Battle, his new memoir, which was reviewed in the Washington Post on May 13. The book covers his Army career, his experiences in Iraq and his views on the ongoing war.

Sanchez served as commander in Iraq from June 2003 to June 2004. At the time of his retirement in 2006, he was the highest-ranking Hispanic in the U.S. Army. In Wiser in Battle, he speaks candidly about Saddam Hussein's capture, the Abu Ghraib prison abuse scandal, and the tensions between the White House, the Pentagon, and commanders on the ground over war policy and strategy.

A transcript follows.

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Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez: Good Afternoon! I am LTG (Ret) Ric S Sanchez- Look forward to your questions. Wiser in Battle was written in an attempt to document what transpired in Iraq during the Occupation period from the perspective of the Ground commander.


Austin, Texas: Gen. Sanchez, Why are we still fighting in Iraq? What do we gain by another 4,000 dead and 40,000 wounded? Is stability in Iraq really worth the U.S. spending billions of dollars over there while our roads, and schools are deteriorating and China and India are surging past us?

Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez: The US has a moral and legal responsibility to ensure that Iraq is capable of providing its own internal/external security before we can withdraw completely. According to international law we incurred that burden when we occupied the country. Furthermore the country must be a functioning member of the region and the international community.


Seattle, WA: Why didn't you say anything when it might have made a difference? It seems to me that it is very easy to cast blame after the fact, but it requires a lot more guts to stand up and object at the time, especially if it means risking future advancement. Can you see why the American people might see books like yours as evidence of moral cowardice?

Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez: You are absolutely correct about the perception that exists that the general officers did not say anything while in uniform. America must understand that under the concept of civilian control we are bound by our oath to obey the Pres and furthermore we are prohibited by the Uniform Code of Military Justice from speaking out against the civilian leadership -- that is exactly the way it ought to be! That is one of the foundations of our democracy! Every general officer provides his best judgments within the existing decision making process and everyone of us involved engaged actively in that process. Because the public does not hear the screams it doesn't mean we were not engaged.


Atlanta, Ga.: It seems to me that in deciding to invade Iraq, Bush grossly underestimated the difficulties the military would encounter after toppling Saddam Hussein. Yet most of the pitfalls were not that surprising and could have been foreseen to a certain extent. Did he simply ignore the advice of military advisers, or were the military advisers just too intimidated to speak frankly, or what was the problem?

Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez: We lost sight of history or just plain ignored the tremendously successful post major combat actions of WWII. We were victims of our success over the course of the last 15 years or so! We had launched contingency operations into Panama, Kosovo, Bosnia, Haiti, Grenada, etc... and had been quite successful with minimal investment in time, lives and money. The key point is that America underestimated the commitment that would be required of our entire government not just the military -- in order to rebuild Iraq it required much more than military power. The entire capacity of our nation - economic, political and diplomatic had to be synchronized and applied in coordination with our military in order to achieve victory. We have failed over the last five years - we were not able to achieve unity of effort.


New York: In his review of your book in today's Washington Post, Max Boot suggests that are being disingenuous when you deny having any knowledge beforehand of Bremer's decision in May 2004 to request an additional two divisions of troops in Iraq, citing your admission elsewhere in the book that Bremer had discussed with you the issue of additional troops. However, Bremer has publicly acknowledged that although he generally discussed with you the subject of additional troops, he did not apprise you of his decision to send a memo to Rumsfeld requesting additional troops. He also criticizes you for not issuing an appeal to Rumsfeld and the White House yourself.

I have two questions: first, was it apparent to you by May 2004 that any request for additional troops was futile and would be met with hostility from the Pentagon and White House, and second, what did you think of Boot's review of your book?

Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez: The review by Max is not at all surprising and I accept it. What one must recognize is that the totality of decisions and actions during the course of a war is what produces success or failure. It is extremely difficult if not impossible to state unequivocally that a single person was responsible for this failure -- the totality of the decisions we make politically and militarily must be documented, assessed and learned from. That was my intent with the book -- and my failures are documented more than just in passing. I have never shied away from the errors made by CJTF7/VCorps or Ric Sanchez.

The two division question - I state that the Ambassador and I had a discussion about what I would do with 2 additional divisions during the toughest fighting in April 2004. At this point in time it is clear to the military chain of command that we have sufficient forces - We had about the same or maybe a greater number of forces on the ground because of the rotation that is ongoing than what the Surge achieved last year. Also we know very clearly that the nation has NO forces available to deploy at that point in time - they are either inbound or redeploying!


Jackson, Mississippi: Hello. News reports have indicated that more counselors will be sent to the combat zones in Iraq to help soldiers sooner rather than later when they return to the U.S. Do you think more can be done to help soldiers heal their emotional scars?

Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez: Absolutely -- every initiative will be welcome given the nature of this war. When we leave for the war zone we say goodbye to the person that we will never be again -- every soldier will return as a changed person. We have made great strides in understanding these invisible injuries but we have a long way to go in taking care of them. The VA is struggling and so is our Active medical system in providing quality timely care for these injuries.


Fairfax, Va.: Hi General; Greg Soter here, I worked for you while you were the J3/5 at SOUTHCOM. My question is: If our mission was to take over and change an entire country, why did Gen Franks pursue a strategy that was basically a "capture the flag" operation that was overly focused on rushing to and seizing Baghdad, after which it appeared that no one knew what to do next. Shouldn't we have used a more methodical strategy designed to take over the entire country and change it?

Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez: Greg - God Bless you and thanks for all of your sacrifices. The planning is hampered by a belief that the DOD can/should have responsibility for the entire war effort -- The rest of the Interagency, all of our departments (DOS, CIA, etc) are excluded from actively assisting and integrating their capacity. Inside of the DOD the planning is fractured when LTG Garner is given responsibility for the post major combat operations phase and CentCom is left with the mission to destroy Saddam's Army -- They never come together and in fact there is an overt effort to separate the two--A formula for failure. Once again we ignored the history of warfare and the responsibilities that we would incur under the laws of war.


Philadelphia, Pa.: What are your thoughts on the prison abuse scandal? How would you recommend that we can build the confidence of a large segment of the population throughout the Middle East that now views us negatively over how these prison photographs?

Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez: The prison abuse scandal was a grotesque, shameful event that became a strategic defeat for America. There is no question in my mind that the root causes are the elimination of the Geneva Conventions and the subsequent lack of implementation instructions from the Service Headquarters that may have mitigated the loss of the foundation of our interrogation training, policies and procedures. We leave the soldiers and commanders in the field to fend for themselves with a totally unconstrained interrogation approach environment that has no safeguards and oversight mechanisms. Rebuilding Americas image will have to begin with an acceptance that we unleashed abuse and torture with the publication of those policies. It will be very difficult to communicate the realities of what happens to us in Bagram and Abu Ghraib - the combination of MPs punishing detainees who were never interrogated and the abuse of detainees that occur in those pictures will forever hound us as a country.


Denver, Colo.: Sir- Thank you for your service; I served on your staff in Iraq, and was always struck by your willingness to meet troops, take pictures with them, and take a few moments after activities for this.

I do have a question about why Mr Rumsfeld would say what he did about the staffing and lack of knowledge- as one who BUILT staff models for you/Casey, how could he NOT know? What was the reasoning behind this, and yours for releasing it?


Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez: Wolf - The reason for the statements by the SECDEF are unknown to me but I can surmise that it was part of an effort to build firewalls around the decisions made by our political leadership. My reason for release these discussions was simple - future military leaders must understand that the toughest challenges for them will not lie on the battlefield but in the politics of war. I struggled with this decision but in the end it was about loyalty to America and about learning the lessons of this war.


Pentagon - Recently returned from deployment: Not being disrespectful and having only read reviews of your book, are you surprised that no one (though we can stretch and say Secretary Rumsfeld) has been fired? Not necessarily for incompetence, but for failure to complete the assigned mission. And, maybe yes for incompetence. I haven't heard of anyone, except some junior troops accused of pulling triggers in Iraq and prisoner abuse in Afghanistan. No leadership personnel seem to have been affected by "not completing the mission," and if anything, many have been promoted or reassigned to more senior positions.

Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez: I believe that the answer to your question lies in the way that America fights modern wars. In spite of the perception that is commonly advocated - the Military Commander on the ground has never been responsible for all aspects of this war! He has been responsible for only the application of military power as we seek to stabilize and advance security. But as any military leader knows that has experience in post major combat operations there is no military solution to this problem -- the answer lies in a synchronized "grand strategy" that leverages all of our elements of power.


Richmond, Va.: Will you be endorsing a presidential candidate?

Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez: At this point in time I have not had any discussions with any presidential candidate about possible endorsements.


SE Washington, D.C.: General, Thank you for your service to our country. Why was your criticism of the handling of the war more vocal when you became a civilian than when you were on active duty and actually had legitimate input? I believe you once stated something to the effect that it was not your position to question senior defense department decisions while on active duty... if so, please elaborate... Thanks and God Speed...

Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez: Basically - if America wishes to have its Generals opposing the decisions and judgments of our political leadership then we are moving down a very slippery slope. Civilian control of the military is a basic strength of our democracy and I do not believe that we should erode what has made our country great. This is not a new issue for military leaders -- throughout history military leaders have been faced with these challenges and unless illegal or immoral we are bound to obey.


NYC: Sir, I was listening to Fresh Air and heard your interview with Terry Gross. I realize as a professional and soldier you are trained to make decisions based on information and knowledge that will first help the men under your command and execute the strategy/mission you have been given. How does one work under the conditions you had to endure knowing that what you were handed was jello to nail to a tree? And how do those that follow you continue to function within that environment? NPR interview with Lt. Gen. Sanchez (Fresh Air, May 7)

Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez: I believe that history will show that it was the ingenuity of the American Soldiers and our Coalition partners that keep Iraq together during the first year. The leaders at all levels must do what is right on the ground and not be concerned with personal consequences -- many of our soldiers and leaders did just that on the ground and turned a very difficult strategic/operational environment into tactical successes. Sometimes doing what is right means taking risks.


Nashville, Tenn.: General Sanchez,

Given the transcript of General Franks' confirmation as CENTCOM commander below, do you feel he carried out the promise he made to the Senate Armed Service Committee?

Thanks for your reply.

SEN. WARNER: -- and then take your question period and conduct the hearing. Gen. Franks, Eisenhower once was asked, I think on the tenth anniversary of D-Day: General, where will the next war happen and what is likely to occur? He said: I have no idea, but it will probably come from a direction that none of us anticipate. Well, I do not presume to have a fraction of the wisdom that he did, but it seems to me your AOR is probably the area in which we face the greatest number of challenges, and you can be called upon to render quick decisions and quick advice to the President, the SECDEF, and the Chairman, and I hope that you are prepared to make those assessments and give them your best professional advice, and if that advice is that now is not the time for the U.S. to intervene that you will give them that advice.

GEN. FRANKS: I will give that advice, Mr. Chairman.

Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez: It is my belief that our senior military leadership, at different points in time during this war, provided judgments that were in line with what the Administration was advocating. In the end there is no way that I can unequivocally state that he fulfilled his responsibilities as required. But one must look at the context of the decisions to thoroughly understand the dynamics at the time - All the decision makers believed that the war was over and they all believed that we would be treated as liberators - this completely tainted our judgment.


Camden: The President repeatedly said he would listen to and follow the guidance of the commanders on the ground. Did he honor this, from your perspective?

He fired many who apparently had a different military point of view (including a CentCom commander). How does this fit the White House story?

Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez: The acceptance of the advise of military commanders was often disregarded or ignored. I describe multiple incidents where our reports and recommendations are ignored leading to a significant loss of opportunities on the ground - the building of Army and police capacity, the Battle of Fallujah, the Muqtada AlSadr mission etc... One must also understand the political considerations that lead to the decisions that are made to fully understand what is happening to us in America and in Iraq. But bottom line is that often military judgments are listened to when it is politically expedient.


Potomac, Md.: Why haven't the contractors involved in the torture of prisoners at Abu Ghraib been held responsible? Is the Army now at the same point as the State Department -- they cannot function without the private contractors?

Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez: There are a series of issues with accountability from the abuses that occur in Iraq - Three interrogation authorities were operating - The conventional forces which I command and have authority over, the Special Operating forces and the CIA -- We have fairly good insights into the actions, responsibilities and accountability of the conventional forces based on all of the investigations. Not on the others and the contractor issue is complicated by the lack of any jurisdiction when they are serving in a foreign country. To this date we have not fixed this problem.


Potomac, Md.: My frat had a semester-long discussion about what happened, and we came up with this. President Bush and Secretary Rumsfeld had a brilliant plan for Iraq, to "shock and awe" the Iraqis into submission. However, the Achilles Heel was the troops. As the Secretary said, "You don't go to war with the Army you want, you go to war with the Army you have". When you keep hearing about soldiers playing Nintendo and watching the Super Bowl, you have soldiers who can't do the job. What do we have to do to make the troops work harder at, you know, winning the war?

Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez: America would be amazed at the enormous sacrifices of our military and the tremendous work that they are actually doing. All one has to do is look at the multiple windows of opportunity that the military has provided for the political, economic and diplomatic elements to advance within Iraq and the region. Over and over again we have failed to take advantage -- the military can not win this war --Victory lies in our ability to impose a synchronized grand strategy.


Madison, Wis.: Gen. Sanchez: For the benefit of those who have not yet read your book, could you characterize your relationship with Amb. Bremer while you were in command in Iraq? What level of contact have you had with him since?

Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez: My relationship with Amb Bremer has been grossly mischaracterized -- We talked every single day and I had/have tremendous respect for the Amb!! He was given an impossible mission by the Nation and America failed to give him the resources he needed to succeed. He had great vision for the country but at the same time his leadership style depended upon absolute control at his level which became problematic. The basis for the perceptions that exist have our tremendously contentious discussions and debates that occur during the Abu Ghraib aftermath, during Fallujah, during the Muqtada Al-Sadr operations and in the structuring of the follow-on agreements for the military after transfer of sovereignty - Professional discussions and disagreements that are inevitable during wartime.


Army you have: Sec'y Rumsfeld has consistently refused to acknowledge that he MADE the Army he had, by his "streamlining" efforts. And this administration chose to go to war with the army they had. To call those troops an Achilles heel is shameful.

Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez: America has to be proud of our military -- our soldiers and in fact all of our servicemembers, are definitely not the Achilles heel. They are the reason that we have managed to keep Iraq together and they have given us some hope for progress.


Basking Ridge, N.J.: Re Abu Ghraib, an honorable general officer might have resigned at the time of public release so as to avoid the embarrassment rising to the President and the nation. Why didn't you? Why didn't others in the chain of command up to the President do so?

Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez: The resignation of a general officer or anyone in the civilian or military chain of command for the purpose of avoiding embarrassment to the Pres or the nation might have served to HIDE the fact that America was on the wrong path with our interrogation techniques! We will never know the full extent of accountability until the Nation is willing to have an Independent Commission look at this problem.


Malvern, Pa.: Gen. Sanchez,

If you could draw a "pie of blame" for our situation in Iraq and divide the pie into pieces, how would you divide the pie? Who would get the biggest piece(s)?

If you could turn back the clock on our Iraq situation to Jan. 1, 2003, and do one single thing differently, what would it be?

In retrospect, do you feel that Gen. Janice Karpinski was treated fairly in the Abu Ghraib scandal?

Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez: General Karpinski was treated no differently than any other general officer or senior leader even remotely linked to Abu Ghraib. As I understand it, her demotion was not as a result of any issues directly related to Abu Ghraib.

The one lesson that we must learn as a nation is that when we choose to go to war the entire power of our country must be mobilized -- our military alone can not win this type of war.


Arlington, Va.: General Sanchez, I have not yet read your book. We went into Iraq with a conventional "heavy" force. After easily dispatching Saddam's traditional forces the insurgency started. In 20-20 hindsight how should our invasion AND follow-on forces have been better structured to not only win the war but also to win the peace? Thanks.

Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez: The conventional forces were transitioned into motorized forces over a period of time after the occupation began in order to adjust to the evolving battlefield requirements. What was needed on the ground was political expertise, economic initiatives, strategic communications etc... In other words everything that is needed to stand up a country that has had all of its bureaucracy, its technocrats, its political system, its security forces (police and military), its teachers, its public servants eliminated from their jobs. Besides the nation did not have sufficient low density high demand special skill forces to sustain the demands that we were generating.


Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez: Thank you for the opportunity to answer your questions today. I am now signing off. God Bless RSS


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