One of the enduring blemishes on the Bush administration’s record is its shabby treatment of then-Army chief of staff Eric Shinseki. Shinseki’s sin was twofold: In the run-up to the Iraq war, he contradicted the received wisdom of President Bush’s top civilians at the Pentagon and he was proved right.
In February 2003, he told the Senate Armed Services Committee that it could take "something on the order of several hundred thousand soldiers" to secure and maintain the peace in Iraq.
Shinseki was publicly rebuked by then-Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and then-Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz. This was when the Bush administration believed we would be welcomed as liberators and therefore only a small, hard-hitting force would be needed and the running of Iraq could quickly be turned over to the White House’s handpicked political team.
Instead of getting the traditional second tour as Army chief, Shinseki was not reappointed, in effect forced to retire, which he did that summer. Neither Rumsfeld nor Wolfowitz attended his retirement ceremony.
It was probably just as well. As he was preparing to depart, Shinseki left behind the cautionary admonition, "Beware a 12-division strategy for a 12-division army."
A military victory in Iraq was never in question. But there were too few U.S. troops on hand to prevent the wholesale looting and stripping of Iraq’s government buildings and critical infrastructure, let alone enough to suppress the sectarian violence that soon spiraled out of control. Additional troops were finally sent — four years later.
Over the weekend, President-elect Obama nominated Shinseki, 66, a veteran of 38 years in the service who was badly wounded in Vietnam, to head the Department of Veterans Affairs, the government’s second-largest agency after Defense.
Assuming Senate confirmation, Shinseki is not inheriting a sinecure. The VA’s huge bureaucracy has strained to efficiently and effectively provide benefits and medical care to veterans and their families. It is satisfying to see a good man vindicated and, besides, he’ll likely be a very good VA secretary.