Retired Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez, who commanded coalition troops for a year beginning June 2003, cast a wide net of blame for both political and military shortcomings in Iraq that helped open the way for the insurgency - such as disbanding the Saddam-era military and failing to cement ties with tribal leaders and quickly establish civilian government after Saddam was toppled.
He called current strategies - including the deployment of 30,000 additional forces earlier this year - a "desperate attempt" to make up for years of misguided policies in Iraq.
"There is no question that America is living a nightmare with no end in sight," Sanchez told a group of journalists covering military affairs.
Sanchez avoided singling out at any specific official. But he did criticize the State Department, the National Security Council, Congress and the senior military leadership during what appeared to be a broad indictment of White House policies and a lack of leadership to oppose them.
Such assessments - even by former Pentagon brass - are not new, but they have added resonance as debates over war strategy dominate the presidential campaign.
CBS Military analyst Jeff McCasuland believes Sanchez's comments were of heartfelt anger. "Sanchez has added his voice to, if you will, a chorus of other retired senior general officers who have criticized the conduct and strategy of this particular conflict. This is a very indicting speech by the former commander of U.S. ground forces in Iraq.
"This will be a tough one for the White House to handle."
Reporter Sig Christenson, who has covered military issues, attended the speech and told CBS News that General Sanchez does not believe the United States is capable of turning the situation in Iraq around. "He is sounding off in part because he is certain that, if something doesn't change, we're all going to find ourselves in Iraq five or ten years later without having made any real progress.
"He has led troops in battle in Iraq, while politicians here at home have pretty much followed their own agendas which had in his mind nothing at all to do with winning the war, and that for him is unacceptable," Christenson said.
"He calls it a dereliction of duty."
CBS News White House correspondent Mark Knoller, reporting from Crawford, Tex., said the administration did not want to get into a spat with the general over his blistering indictment of their handling of the war in Iraq, and responded politely.
In a statement, National Security Council spokeswoman Kate Starr said progress is being made in Iraq but conceded there's more work to be done and that's what the U.S. and its allies are focused on.
Sanchez retired from the Army last year, two years after he completing a tumultuous year as commander of all U.S. forces in Iraq. As he stepped down, he called his career a casualty of the Abu Ghraib prison scandal.
He was never charged with anything but he was not promoted in the aftermath of the prisoner abuse reports. He was criticized by some for not doing more to avoid mistreatment of Iraqi prisoners.
McCasuland acknowledged that Sanchez has enmity toward his superiors. "He is certainly bitter about how he was treated: The fact that he was not promoted to a four-star, the fact that a lot problems at Abu Ghraib were hung on his door, and that many people believe that he was treated as a scapegoat."
Sanchez told the gathering that he thought he had made mistakes and said he didn't always fully appreciate the secondary affects of actions the military took.
He did deny reports that he and then-Iraqi administrator L. Paul Bremer were not on speaking terms. He said they spoke every day.
The retired soldier stressed that it became clear during his command that the mission was severely handicapped because the State Department and other agencies were not adequately contributing to a mission that could not be won by military force alone.
When asked when he saw that the mission was going awry, he responded: "About the 15th of June 2003" - the day he took command.
"There is nothing going on today in Washington that would give us hope" that things are going to change, he said.
And not all of the general's targets were in government: McCasuland also notes that the general criticized the media, "for their failure, if you will, in the run-up to the invasion and the immediate aftermath, to hold the administration accountable for what was a failing strategy.
Sanchez went on to offer a pessimistic view on the current U.S. strategy against extremists will make lasting gains, but said a full-scale withdrawal also was not an option.
"The American military finds itself in an intractable situation ... America has no choice but to continue our efforts in Iraq," said Sanchez, who works as a consultant training U.S. generals.
"What [Sanchez] says has to happen is a more bipartisan approach that unifies and synergizes the various elements of national power - not only the military, but everybody: The State Department, reconstruction, recovery, [and] a diplomatic effort in the region," McCasuland said.
Excerpts From Ret. Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez's Speech:
"After more than four years of fighting, America continues its desperate struggle in Iraq without any concerted effort to devise a strategy that will achieve victory in that war-torn country or in the greater conflict against extremism. From a catastrophically flawed, unrealistically optimistic war plan to the administration's latest surge strategy, this administration has failed to employ and synchronize its political, economic and military power. The latest revised strategy is a desperate attempt by an administration that has not accepted the political and economic realities of this war, and they have definitely not been able to communicate effectively that reality to the American people."
"Continued manipulations and adjustments to our military strategy will not achieve victory. The best we can do with this flawed approach is stave off defeat. The administration, Congress and the entire interagency, and especially the State Department, must shoulder the responsibility for this catastrophic failure and the American people must hold them accountable."
"There has been a glaring, unfortunate, display of incompetent strategic leadership within our national leaders. 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."
"While the politicians espouse their rhetoric designed to preserve their reputations and their political power, our soldiers die. Our national leadership ignored the lessons of World War II as we entered into this war and to this day continue to believe that victory can be achieved through the application of military power alone."
"The basic ethics of a journalist, as laid out here, of seeking truth, fair and comprehensive accounting of events and issues, thoroughness and honesty, all are sometime victims of the massive agenda driven competition for economic or political supremacy. The death knell of your ethics has been enabled by some parent organizations who have chosen to align themselves with political agendas. What is clear to me is that you are perpetuating the corrosive partisan politics that is destroying our country and killing our service members who are at war, in some cases."