I would say that what's been mobilized to this point -- something on the order of several hundred thousand soldiers are probably, you know, a figure that would be required. We're talking about posthostilities control over a piece of geography that's fairly significant, with the kinds of ethnic tensions that could lead to other problems. And so it takes a significant ground-force presence.
-General Eric Shinseki to Sen. Carl Levin of the Senate Armed Services Committee, on the size of the force required to invade Iraq, 2003.
That got Shinseki fired. Then-Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld had long argued that the US needed to use a lighter force, with the emphasis on speed, and that anything else was fighting a 21st century war from a cold war mindset. Needless to say, Shinseki was right. Rumsfeld's strategy was shortsighted and simpleminded. When we invaded Iraq, our forces were too few to defend gains. We'd chase fighters off, declare victory, then roll of in a triumphant cloud of dust. Then the fighters would return and we'd be gone. This boneheaded "strategy" of Rumsfeld's had entirely predictable results. We'd chase off Iraqi guards from munitions stores, roll off in our big American cloud, and leave these ammo dumps completely unguarded, because we didn't have enough personnel to leave behind. Munitions captured by militias and terrorists are probably still being used as IEDs to this day. Donald Rumsfeld's brilliant plan for a light, fast fighting force was just as idiotic as it seemed to be.
But before all that happened, before Shinseki was proven right, the general was forced into retirement for not buying the neocon line. Rumsfeld said Shinseki's estimate in senate testimony "will prove to be high." Deputy SecDef Paul Wolfowitz said his numbers were "way off the mark."
It wasn't until 2006 that anyone admitted that Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz had bet on the wrong horse. "General Shinseki was right," Gen. John Abizaid, chief of U.S. Central Command, told that same committee three years later. Bush's "surge," while coming too late to correct the neocon vision for the military of the future, was basically an admission -- three years after the fact -- that Shinseki was right and the Rumsfeldian's side of the argument was as wrong as any ten year-old could've told them they were. As a result, Bush wound up claiming success for his surge, although the decrease in violence was due more to successful ethnic cleansing campaigns by militias and insurgents that might have been avoided. Violence had died down not because of an increased military presence, but because the killers had run out of people to kill. Rumsfeld's brilliant new strategy not only cost him his own job, but also countless lives. Entire neighborhoods went dark, the residents either dead or refugees.
All of which makes this a lot better news than you'd normally take it as being.
President-elect Barack introduced retired Army Gen. Eric K. Shinseki as his nominee to head the Department of Veterans Affairs, bringing to his Cabinet a career military officer best known for running afoul of the Bush administration by questioning the Pentagon's Iraq war strategy.
Shinseki, a four-star general and 38-year veteran who retired shortly after the fall of Baghdad in 2003, appeared with Obama in Chicago at a news conference today commemorating the 67th anniversary of the Japanese attacks on Pearl Harbor. Obama said Shinseki agreed to join the incoming administration because "both he and I share a reverence for those who serve."
"When I reflect on the sacrifices that have been made by our veterans and I think about how so many veterans around the country are struggling even more than those who have not served -- higher unemployment rates, higher homeless rates, higher substance-abuse rates, medical care that is inadequate -- it breaks my heart, and I think that General Shinseki is exactly the right person who is going to be able to make sure that we honor our troops when they come home," Obama told NBC News' Tom Brokaw in a interview taped for broadcast today on "Meet the Press."
"If Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz and [former undersecretary for defense Douglas J.] Feith had listened to Shinseki, there wouldn't be as many wounded veterans to take care of," middle east expert Juan Cole told WaPo. "I think this is a way of saying, 'Here was a career officer who had valuable insights who was shunted aside by arrogant civilians, and we're not going to make the same kind of mistakes.'" Cole expands on his comments in a post at his blog, Informed Comment, saying "Wolfowitz was wrong about everything" and "Rumsfeld either did not know or did not care about" the responsibilities -- including those under international law -- of an occupying force.
Gen. Shinseki won't have an easy job at the VA. That department has been allowed to fester under Bush. The president who's been positively eager to hide behind the military and accuse critics of "not supporting the troops" has been an astonishingly awful president for vets. There's been the Walter Reed hospital scandal, there have been cuts to veterans' benefits, 25% of all homeless are veterans, and veteran suicides are rising. This won't be a cushy job to reward someone who stood up to the neocons in defense of reality. This will be real work.
But it's also a return to sanity. Shinseki was punished by the civilians at Bush's Defense Department for daring to bring the real world to the table. As an example of the bass-ackward thinking of the neocons, Gen. Shinseki's treatment by them is pretty much perfect.
If you want proof that government is back in the business of dealing with reality and not the neocon fantasyworld where wishing makes it so, here you go. Gen. Eric Shinseki was appointed because of his track record, not because he buys the correct ideology.
The days of sycophantic government are nearly over.