White House Doesn't Return Sanchez's Fire

Faced with sharp criticism from a former U.S. commander in Iraq, the White House has chosen not to return fire.

Responding to accusations from retired Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez, Kate Starr, spokeswoman for the National Security Council said, "We appreciate his service to the country."

Speaking Friday to the Military Reporters and Editors' Conference just a few miles from the Pentagon, Sanchez, who commanded American forces in Iraq for a year after the March 2003 invasion, lashed out at the administration's strategy and competence. He called the Bush plan for war "catastrophically flawed."

"There has been a glaring, unfortunate display of incompetent strategic leadership within our national leaders," Sanchez said.

The White House chose to answer Sanchez through the NSC spokeswoman, perhaps appropriate because some of Sanchez's harshest criticism was aimed at NSC officials, whom he called incompetent and negligent.

Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards said on Saturday, "Gen. Sanchez is telling [the American people] what they already know and what the Bush administration and George Bush refuse to recognize."

Some analysts have been critical of Sanchez's leadership skills. He was the ranking U.S. officer in Iraq when the abuse of prisoners at Abu Ghraib prison occurred.

On Friday, Sanchez complained that the news media unfairly accused him of being a liar and a torturer. His assessment of the news media was no higher than his regard for the Bush administration. He said some in the press corps have, without ever having met him, accused him of being "inexperienced" and, "dictatorial and somewhat dense."

Sanchez offered no solution to the problem of Iraq besides saying more skill and resources are needed.

"The president's recent statement to America that he will listen to military commanders is a matter of political expediency," he said.

The White House seemed to have that criticism in mind in its short statement from the NSC spokeswoman, who referred to the present U.S. commander in Iraq: "As Gen. [David] Petraeus and Ambassador [Ryan] Crocker have said, there's more work to be done."

But, she did not attack Sanchez. In fact, she never mentioned him by name.

Other retired officers also have been critical of administration decisions. Each time, the White House has decided there is little to be gained from attacking a man who has worn stars on his shoulders.

A senior administration official told ABC News, "There is no point in getting into a fight with him."

Still, the harshness of Sanchez's remarks set him apart.

"There has been a glaring, unfortunate display of incompetent strategic leadership within our national leaders," Sanchez said. "As a Japanese proverb says, 'Action without vision is a nightmare.' There is no question that America is living a nightmare with no end in sight."

Sanchez did not limit his criticism of official Washington to the White House alone.

"The administration, Congress and the entire interagency, especially the State Department, must shoulder the responsibility for this catastrophic failure," he said, "and the American people must hold them accountable."