ARLINGTON, Va. — A "failure of the national political leadership" is responsible for the “nightmare” of the Iraq war, retired Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez said Friday.
If some of America’s political leaders were in the military they would have been relieved or court-martialed long ago, Sanchez told a conference of military journalists.
"Neglect and incompetence" by the National Security Council has led to an intractable situation in Iraq, the former commander of coalition forces in Iraq said.
Sanchez said that the NSC, Congress, the State Department and the national political leadership are all responsible for the "crisis in leadership." He refused to identify specific individuals responsible for the failure, saying that he thought the media should be able to figure it out for themselves.
His comments appeared to be a broad indictment of White House policies and a lack of leadership in the Pentagon to oppose them. Such assessments — even by former Pentagon brass — are not new, but they have added resonance as debates over war strategy dominate the presidential campaign.
Sanchez said the war in Iraq is "a nightmare with no end in sight," adding America has no choice but to continue fighting or the country will sink into chaos, which will spread throughout the Middle East. America will be there "for the foreseeable future," he said.
‘A desperate attempt’
The so-called surge of troops in Iraq is "a desperate attempt by the administration," and the best the U.S. can do at this point is to "stave off defeat," Sanchez said.
Asked when he realized the war was on the skids, Sanchez said, "15 June 2003" — the day he took over as commander of coalition forces.
The officers and military leadership involved in the planning for the war in Iraq suffered from "an absolute lack of moral courage to stand up and do what was right in terms of planning," Sanchez said. "We allowed ourselves to believe we would be greeted as liberators," he said.
Video: Candidates seize on Sanchez's comments Sanchez said that the decision to disband the Iraqi army disenfranchised 300,000 to 400,000 Iraqis and put them out on the streets, fueling the insurgency.
Asked whether he had an obligation as commander to speak up if he saw problems in the strategy for the war he said, "Of course."
Sanchez was caught up in the Abu Ghraib prisoner abuse scandal, and although he was cleared of any involvement, the scandal cost him a fourth star and he was forced to retire.
Asked whether he is happy with the investigation and prosecutions in the case, Sanchez answered sarcastically, "Is America happy with destroying the careers and the reputations of everyone in the military chain of command involved in Abu Ghraib?"
Sanchez also railed on the media during his speech, saying that many people covering the war have political agendas and little concern about collateral damage when their stories are wrong. These members of the media are doing "a tremendous disservice to America," he said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
© 2013 NBCNews.com Reprints