Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns

The Use and Abuse of Gen. Eric Shinseki

Over the weekend, President-elect Barack Obama announced the appointment of former Army Chief of Staff, Gen. Eric Shinseki, as Secretary of Veterans Affairs. I think the appointment is a good one and I believe that Gen. Shinseki is a good and honorable man.

However, his appointment has provided an occasion for the media to trot out some old falsehoods about the Bush administration and the Iraq War. Among these is the claim that Gen. Shinseki’s testimony before the SASC, during which he called for a bigger ground force than the one that went in to Iraq, cost him his job. This is simply not true as I have written here.

The fact is that neither Don Rumsfeld nor the Army leadership predicted the emergence of an insurgency in Iraq. As I argue in the piece, Shinseki’s figures were based on an analysis that had nothing to do with what transpired in Iraq.

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I would like to mention a few things in connection with Mac’s account of the Shinseki case. Shinseki was explicitly and publicly criticized by Deputy Secretary of Defense Wolfowitz for saying that hundreds of thousands of troops would be needed in Iraq. The announcement of his successor a year before his retirement was an effort to publicly humiliate him and teach other officers the lesson that they should not offer opinions in public that differed from the civilian leadership. That sort of lesson may be good or bad but teaching it was the intention.

Shinseki’s view that hundreds of thousands of troops were necessary was not idiosyncratic or lacking analytic support. James Quinlivan at RAND published research in 1996 about force requirements in stability operations that supported Shinseki's statement. He published a summary of this research in the RAND Review in the summer of 2003 because there was concern about post-combat planning for Iraq. It is irrelevant whether the stability operations were to be primarily counterinsurgency or humanitarian relief. But if it was a failure for the Army not to prepare for counterinsurgency before the invasion of Iraq, what are we to call Rumsfeld’s refusal to allow even the word “insurgency” to be used in reference to Iraq as the insurgency raged on there?

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