More than two-dozen former high-ranking U.S. diplomats and retired military officers say the Bush administration's prosecution of the war on terrorism has been a disaster for the United States and its image on the world stage. The group, calling itself, "Diplomats and Military Commanders for Change" held a news conference Wednesday.
The group includes 11 former assistant secretaries of state, two former assistant secretaries of defense, more than a dozen former U.S. ambassadors, a former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, a former commander in chief of the U.S. Central Command, and a former CIA director. The vast majority have served both Republican and Democratic presidents, some going as far back as the Nixon administration.
They are united in a belief that America's interests abroad have been poorly served by the Bush administration, which they accuse of rushing to war in Iraq without justification, diverting resources from the hunt for al-Qaida, alienating allies, and mismanaging the occupation of Iraq.
Phyllis Oakley, who held two assistant secretary of state positions during the Clinton administration, says President Bush has inflicted enormous damage to U.S. interests and prestige.
"Our security has been weakened. America's armed forces were not prepared for military occupation and nation-building,? she said. ?Muslim youth are turning to anti-American terrorism. Public opinion polls throughout the world report hostility toward us. Never in our history has the United States been so isolated among nations, so broadly feared and distrusted."
Former U.S. Ambassador to Greece and Zimbabwe Robert Keeley says the Bush administration has manipulated popular sentiment regarding the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States, using concern about national defense as a pretext for excess.
"What has happened is that that mantra has been used as an excuse to say that the president can do anything he wants now because he is fighting a war on terrorism; September 11 changed everything, so anything we [U.S. officials] do is O.K," Mr. Keeley said.
Diplomats and Military Commanders for Change is, as its name suggests, calling for a new direction in U.S. policy. In a statement, the group says the Bush Administration "is not able to rise to the responsibilities of world leadership in either style or substance" and that "it is time for a change". But the group does not specifically endorse Mr. Bush's presumed Democratic rival, Senator John Kerry.
General Merrill McPeak, who served as Air Force chief of staff under the first President Bush, says, until recently, he considered himself a loyal Republican.
"At the end of my active service, ten years ago, I signed up as a Republican,? he said. ?And in 2000 I was a veteran for Bush. This administration has gone away from me [departed from my beliefs], not vice-versa."
General McPeak says he now serves as an advisor to the Kerry campaign.
For its part, the Bush administration has been quick to dismiss Diplomats and Military Commanders for Change as a political group staking out its position. State Department Spokesman Richard Boucher says allegations that the administration ignores world opinion are untrue.
"We [the United States] went to the United Nations on Iraq. We went to the United Nations on [combating] terrorism and September 11,? Mr. Boucher said. ?We have had four unanimous UN resolutions since the end of the war."
Mr. Boucher added that the United States clearly recognizes the need for international cooperation in the war on terrorism, especially in diplomacy, law enforcement and intelligence sharing.
Some members of Diplomats and Military Commanders for Change concede the Bush administration has changed tactics in recent weeks. Robert Oakley served as special envoy to Somalia in the early 1990s:
"In the Security Council resolution on Iraq there was genuine give-and-take, genuine partnership [between America and other nations]. It was not a question of the United States forcing something through as we had before," Mr. Oakley said.
Mr. Oakley says he still holds out hope that the United States can forge a global consensus for dealing with Iraq, but that he fears it may be too late, at least for the current administration, to do so.