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THE RACE TO THE WHITE HOUSE

Retired Officials Say Bush Must Go

The 26 ex-diplomats and military leaders say his foreign policy has harmed national security. Several served under Republicans.

June 13, 2004|Ronald Brownstein | Times Staff Writer

WASHINGTON — A group of 26 former senior diplomats and military officials, several appointed to key positions by Republican Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush, plans to issue a joint statement this week arguing that President George W. Bush has damaged America's national security and should be defeated in November.

The group, which calls itself Diplomats and Military Commanders for Change, will explicitly condemn Bush's foreign policy, according to several of those who signed the document.

"It is clear that the statement calls for the defeat of the administration," said William C. Harrop, the ambassador to Israel under President Bush's father and one of the group's principal organizers.

Those signing the document, which will be released in Washington on Wednesday, include 20 former U.S. ambassadors, appointed by presidents of both parties, to countries including Israel, the former Soviet Union and Saudi Arabia.

Others are senior State Department officials from the Carter, Reagan and Clinton administrations and former military leaders, including retired Marine Gen. Joseph P. Hoar, the former commander of U.S. forces in the Middle East under President Bush's father. Hoar is a prominent critic of the war in Iraq.

Some of those signing the document -- such as Hoar and former Air Force Chief of Staff Merrill A. McPeak -- have identified themselves as supporters of Sen. John F. Kerry, the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee. But most have not endorsed any candidate, members of the group said.

It is unusual for so many former high-level military officials and career diplomats to issue such an overtly political message during a presidential campaign.

A senior official at the Bush reelection campaign said he did not wish to comment on the statement until it was released.

But in the past, administration officials have rejected charges that Bush has isolated America in the world, pointing to countries contributing troops to the coalition in Iraq and the unanimous passage last week of the U.N. resolution authorizing the interim Iraqi government.

One senior Republican strategist familiar with White House thinking said he did not think the group was sufficiently well-known to create significant political problems for the president.

The strategist, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, also said the signatories were making an argument growing increasingly obsolete as Bush leans more on the international community for help in Iraq.

"Their timing is a little off, particularly in the aftermath of the most recent U.N. resolution," the strategist said. "It seems to me this is a collection of resentments that have built up, but it would have been much more powerful months ago than now when even the president's most disinterested critics would say we have taken a much more multilateral approach" in Iraq.

But those signing the document say the recent signs of cooperation do not reverse a basic trend toward increasing isolation for the U.S.

"We just felt things were so serious, that America's leadership role in the world has been attenuated to such a terrible degree by both the style and the substance of the administration's approach," said Harrop, who served as ambassador to four African countries under Carter and Reagan.

"A lot of people felt the work they had done over their lifetime in trying to build a situation in which the United States was respected and could lead the rest of the world was now undermined by this administration -- by the arrogance, by the refusal to listen to others, the scorn for multilateral organizations," Harrop said.

Jack F. Matlock Jr., who was appointed by Reagan as ambassador to the Soviet Union and retained in the post by President Bush's father during the final years of the Cold War, expressed similar views.

"Ever since Franklin Roosevelt, the U.S. has built up alliances in order to amplify its own power," he said. "But now we have alienated many of our closest allies, we have alienated their populations. We've all been increasingly appalled at how the relationships that we worked so hard to build up have simply been shattered by the current administration in the method it has gone about things."

The GOP strategist noted that many of those involved in the document claimed their primary expertise in the Middle East and suggested a principal motivation for the statement might be frustration over Bush's effort to fundamentally reorient policy toward the region.

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