Personal Responsibility

On the second page of his autobiography's preface, Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez describes his time in Iraq:

From June 14, 2003, to July 1, 2004, the period immediately following major combat during Operation Iraqi Freedom, I was the commander of coalition forces, responsible for all military activity in the Iraq theater of war. I was there when Saddam Hussein was captured. I was there when the prisoner abuse scandal at Abu Ghraib occurred. And I was there when low-level enemy resistance expanded into a massive insurgency that eventually led to full-scale civil war."

Wow, that's pretty passive language for a general.

Sanchez acknowledges in the first half of this paragraph that he was in command, but then does not seem to embrace responsibility for the things that happened under his watch. He could have written: "Units under my command abused prisoners at Abu Ghraib." Or: "I commanded coalition forces and watched as the insurgency grew to oppose us." He could have acknowledged his role in each of these major turning points. But he doesn't, saying instead that he was merely there.

This is revealing. And there seem to be two plausible explanations for his passive language. Either Sanchez is still conflicted and confused about the role he played as senior U.S. commander during these events, or he's consciously adopted what psychologists call an "external locus of control" for the events that occurred around.

Elsewhere in the book, such as when he's describing pre-deployment training for his troops, Sanchez accepts a great deal of responsibility. But here, when describing operations in Iraq more generally, he dodges the bullet.

By Phillip Carter |  May 10, 2008; 12:59 PM ET  | Category:  Wiser in Battle
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Sorry, to be the only one posting at the moment, but I totally agree with you. When does taking responsibility for those under his command come in? When does the General take responsibility for too slowly reacting to the reality of, "This is not the enemy we war gamed against"? He's not getting it. Or, did he ascend to command based partly on his ability to "not get it"?

Posted by: CivilianVu | May 10, 2008 5:02 PM

"But here, when describing operations in Iraq more generally, he dodges the bullet."

Hasn't everybody? Lord knows our civilian leadership has acted like a college kid waking up from a weekend binge shouting "Who put this naked ugly girl in my bed!!!"
Well Boomer, mistakes were made, we just can't tell by who. It's an enigma, wrapped in a riddle, shrouded by a mystery (or maybe it's just a whopping load of Torro Poo-Poo, who can say?).

Posted by: Dijetlo | May 11, 2008 3:14 PM

I wonder where the barrage of memoirs will leave us in a couple of years.

I mean that Americans, confronted by many entirely self-serving accounts produced -- at second hand, since most current memoirists appear to use ghostwriters -- by those who figured in the Iraq adventure, may end up simply tuning all of them out. They may also tune out less self-serving accounts of the period. After Vietnam, Southeast Asia went from being the focus of passion for millions of Americans to being a part of the world no one wanted to know about in the space of a couple of years. We're not there with Iraq yet, but this may be where we're going.

Posted by: Zathras | May 13, 2008 11:01 AM

How can he use words like "commander" and "responsible" and yet try to dodge any involvement in what happened on his watch. He needs to go back to guard duty training and learn just what part he plays in what happens at his post. He wouldn't accept those excuses from one of his soldiers!

Posted by: Jess Bowling | May 13, 2008 5:42 PM

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