Angered by President Bush's conduct of foreign policy and dismayed about America's diminished reputation abroad, more than two dozen former top diplomats and military leaders will release a statement this week calling for a change in U.S. national security policy.
Members of the group -- a mix of Republicans and Democrats -- have served in capitals from Moscow to Tel Aviv and Lima to Kinshasa. The list includes a former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, a former head of U.S. Central Command, a former CIA director and a decorated array of former ambassadors and assistant secretaries of state and defense.
"We all have this extremely strong feeling that this administration has failed in its responsibilities to the nation," H. Allen Holmes, former assistant secretary of defense for special operations, said yesterday. "We have never been so isolated in the world, and feared. It's incredible that the United States should be in that position."
As a group, they are the latest and most prominent collection of former national security figures to complain about the direction of Bush administration foreign policy. They came together at a moment of growing public doubt about Bush's handling of foreign affairs and the war in Iraq.
While their views are largely shared by Bush's Democratic rival, Sen. John F. Kerry (Mass.), the group avoided including people connected to the Kerry campaign. To gain the maximum impact, organizers said, they also tried not to enlist figures whose anti-administration views are well-advertised.
"Our ethos is that we're professionals. We serve the president, whatever party. It's very unlike the vast majority of people in our group to do this," Holmes said. "If you're working for Kerry, we don't really want you in the group. This is supposed to be independent."
Among the signatories are former ambassadors to the Soviet Union Jack Matlock and Arthur A. Hartman. Also voicing support are former CIA director Adm. Stansfield Turner, former Joint Chiefs chairman William Crowe Jr., former Air Force chief of staff Gen. Merrill "Tony" McPeak and former Central Command chief Gen. Joseph P. Hoar.
Others include Phyllis E. Oakley, former chief of the State Department's intelligence operation, as well as former ambassadors Avis Bohlen and Charles Freeman and onetime U.N. ambassador Donald F. McHenry.
The group calls itself Diplomats and Military Commanders for Change.
The one-page statement, which will be released formally Wednesday at a Washington news conference, criticizes the Bush administration for ineffectiveness in its approach to the world. It mentions Iraq and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict -- on which the White House has strongly backed hard-line Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon -- and cites evidence of increasing anti-American attitudes among Muslim young people.
The statement also mentions a range of other issues, including the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and U.S. approaches to HIV-AIDS, the environment and the distribution of wealth.
"We've lost a lot of our international partnerships. We've lost a lot of lives. We've lost a lot of money for something that wasn't justified," said Ronald Spiers, former ambassador to Pakistan and Turkey, referring to the Iraq war. "This concept of transplanting democracy is a 'fool's rush in where angels fear to tread' idea."
Spiers added, "The damage we've done to key and valuable alliances is going to take a long time to fix."
Bill Harrop, former U.S. ambassador to Israel and Kenya, said he and his co-signers became "extremely disillusioned with the administration." He perceives Bush administration "scorn for multilateral organizations, the United Nations and, to some extent, even NATO." He described a "sense of unilateralism, the haughty style of international affairs."
"I really am essentially a Republican. I voted for George Bush's father, and I voted for George Bush," Harrop said. "But what we got was not the George Bush we voted for.
"There is a feeling that the administration from the very outset took a righteous black-and-white view toward diplomacy," said Harrop, who referred to administration "dissembling" about Iraq's weapons of mass destruction and a "complete failure to prepare for the aftermath" of war.
"It's called the war against terrorism," Harrop asserted, "but in fact it has created terrorism in Iraq. It has made Iraq itself a very dangerous place."
Three State Department workers resigned from the government during the buildup to the Iraq war, saying they could no longer represent official U.S. policy in good conscience. The most senior figure was Mary A. Wright, a decorated and widely traveled diplomat then serving as the number two U.S. official in Mongolia.
"I have served my country for almost 30 years in some of the most isolated and dangerous parts of the world," Wright wrote Secretary of State Colin L. Powell. "I want to continue to serve America. However, I do not believe in the policies of the administration and cannot defend or implement them."
John Brady Kiesling, a political officer at the U.S. Embassy in Athens, wrote in his resignation to Powell that the pursuit of war in Iraq was "driving us to squander the international legitimacy that has been America's most potent weapon of both offense and defense since the days of Woodrow Wilson. . . . Our current course will bring instability and danger, not security."