updated 6/16/2004 5:23:07 PM ET 2004-06-16T21:23:07

A group of 26 retired U.S. diplomats and military officers said Wednesday that President Bush should be voted out of office in November for damaging U.S. national security interests and America’s standing in the international community.

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“Today we see that structure crumbling under an administration blinded by ideology and a callous indifference to the world around it,” said Phyllis Oakley, former assistant secretary of state for intelligence and research. “Never before have so many of us felt the need for a major change in the direction of our foreign policy.”

Retired Gen. Merrill A. “Tony” McPeak, former Air Force chief of staff, said the Bush administration anticipated a rosy reception after a military victory in Iraq but “we were totally unprepared for the post-combat occupation. So we see here unfolding before us a total disaster.”

Charles Freeman, former ambassador to Saudi Arabia during the first Gulf war, said the administration’s handling of wider relations with the Islamic world was particularly damaging to U.S. interests in the long run.

The group, which calls itself Diplomats and Military Commanders for Change, did not explicitly endorse Democrat John Kerry for president in its statement. But one of its members said Sunday “it goes more or less without saying.”

The Bush-Cheney campaign said at least 20 members of the group have been involved in partisan political activities in the past.

“It is not surprising that John Kerry has the support of a group of people who share his belief that the threat of terror is exaggerated,” Bush-Cheney spokesman Steve Schmidt said in a statement. “This is a group that shares John Kerry’s pre-September 11th world view and supports John Kerry’s failed ideas for treating terrorism as a matter mainly for law-enforcement and intelligence.”

State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said people who leave the Foreign Service can say what they want.

“This is a group of people who have taken a stand, made a statement. They are free to do so,” he said. “I think this administration has a record that it is happy to stand on,” he added.

Among the group are 20 ambassadors, appointed by presidents of both parties, other former State Department officials and military leaders whose careers span three decades.

Prominent members include retired Marine Gen. Joseph P. Hoar, commander of U.S. forces in the Middle East during the administration of Bush’s father; retired Adm. William J. Crowe Jr., ambassador to Britain under President Bill Clinton and chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff under President Ronald Reagan; and retired Adm. Stansfield Turner, former head of the Central Intelligence Agency.

Hoar is a prominent critic of the war in Iraq, and Crowe and Turner have endorsed Kerry.

Also included is Jack F. Matlock, who was appointed by Reagan as ambassador to the Soviet Union and retained the post under the first President Bush, and William C. Harrop, the first President Bush’s ambassador to Israel and four African countries.

Normally, former diplomats and military commanders avoid making political statements, especially in an election year. But last month 53 former diplomats accused the Bush administration of undermining U.S. credibility in the Middle East by its strong support for Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.

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