LAST WEEK, FOR the first time in the history of the war in Iraq, and possibly for the first time in the course of any war, former commanders on the ground came home so frustrated with what they perceived as the commander-in-chief's mismanagement of the conflict that they took to the paid airwaves to vent their frustrations.

In ads put together by an Iraq and Afghanistan veterans group, retired Major Gen. John Batiste said openly to the president, "You did not listen , Mr. President. You continue to pursue the failed strategy that is breaking our great Army and Marine Corps. I left in protest in order to speak out. Mr. President, you have placed our nation in peril. Our only hope is that Congress will act now to protect our fighting men and women."

In the course of this war, there have been those who fought in it who have come home to criticize - or even outright oppose - the war.

But the Batiste ad marks the first time that one of the president's own commanders criticized the president in such a public way. A fellow former commander in Iraq, retired Major Gen. Paul Eaton, launched a similar ad on Monday.

There is a reason that this is the first time this has happened in the course of this war, and why there is no clear example, at least in modern history, of anything like it. Those soldiers who go on to receive such high rank are loath to rock the boat. That two of the president's former commanders have decided that enough is enough speaks volumes.

Neither Eaton nor Batiste is particularly political, either, which makes it nearly impossible for proponents of the president's strategy in Iraq to impeach their credibility. Batiste describes himself as a "die-hard Republican," and has retired to run a small scrap-metal business in Rochester, N.Y. - not build any base for a run at public office. Eaton openly admits that he voted for the same man he now feels the need to speak out against - President Bush.

There are a number of those in Congress who are straddling the fence on the war - saying they do not think the president is executing it well, that there needs to be accountability - and benchmarks - to push the Iraqis to take control of their own affairs.

Yet, those same people continue to vote to give the president a blank check when it comes to the war. Unfortunately, one of those is our own Sen. Arlen Specter. Specter, quite admirably, has shown no fear in taking on the administration when it comes to the overtly political reign of Attorney General Alberto Gonzales.

But when it comes to a situation where the administration's ham-handedness has resulted in far too many American lives lost, Specter has not shown the same zeal.

Perhaps hearing from two Republican former commanders in Iraq will give the senator the cover he may think he needs. In any event, the words of Eaton and Batiste should echo through his mind as he casts his next vote on Iraq. If the president won't listen to his commanders on the ground, Sen. Specter, you must. *