Eric Shinseki: Punching Bag for the Bushies and Obama

I hired him, now I'm firing him.  Sinseki in 2008 when Obama announced his appointment as secretary for the VA

I hired him, now I’m firing him. Shinseki in 2008 when Obama announced his appointment as Secretary of the VA

b. traven

Last Friday, Eric Shinseki took the fall at Veterans Affairs.  His resignation was driven mainly by reports of substandard medical facilities. But substandard medical care for veterans is hardly new (or news): the VA has never been funded adequately by a penny-pinching government that prefers to ladle money to defense contractors for more weapons while withholding much needed medical care from wounded veterans.

This is not the first time Eric Shinseki has taken the fall for his bosses in Washington. For those of you who still believe there is a difference between Obama and the Bush administration, just look at the same punching bag they used up then discarded shamelessly.

General Eric Shinseki was ignominiously forced into retirement from his position as Army Chief of Staff when he wisely advised the Bush administration that hundreds of thousands of troops would be needed for the post war occupation of Iraq.  Neo con war hawks like Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz refused to hear the truth, instead pushing a much lower number of occupation forces, a number that had nothing to do with reality on the ground in Iraq but everything to do with Washington Beltway agendas.  Indeed, it was all part of the lie that the Iraq War was all about WMD and that it would be “cheap” and “easy” to prosecute.  It went right along with the other key lie that Iraq oil would pay for the cost of the war.

Shinseki was right while Bush and his thugs were wrong and that lie caused the subsequent deaths of many US troops and countless Iraqi civilians during the years of civil turmoil that followed. We paid the final price for not heeding Shinseki when the Iraqi Shiite government threw us out.

Bush was generally loyal to the thugs he hired in his administration but Obama, who hired Shinseki to run the VA, has now abandoned him, just like he abandoned Elizabeth Warren, another person of integrity.

Naturally, vindictive Republicans in Congress have never forgiven Shinseki for telling the truth about Iraq and now the spineless Democrats, after hiring Shinseki to run the VA, have tossed him under the bus to cover their own sins of omission in failing to fully fund the VA.

Shinseki’s two dismissals highlight the cost to honorable men and women when they attempt to serve the American people with integrity.  Just like Bush, Obama tossed aside a good man for the sake of political expediency.  And we call this a government of the people, by the people, for the people?

From Wikipedia:

“Shinseki publicly clashed with Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld during the planning of the war in Iraq over how many troops the United States would need to keep in Iraq for the postwar occupation of that country. As Army Chief of Staff, General Shinseki testified to the U.S. Senate Armed Services Committee that ‘something in the order of several hundred thousand soldiers’ would probably be required for postwar Iraq. This was an estimate far higher than the figure being proposed by Secretary Rumsfeld in his invasion plan, and it was rejected in strong language by both Rumsfeld and his Deputy Secretary of Defense, Paul Wolfowitz, who was another chief planner of the invasion and occupation. From then on, Shinseki’s influence on the Joint Chiefs of Staff reportedly waned. Critics of the Bush Administration alleged that Shinseki was forced into early retirement as Army Chief of Staff because of his comments on troop levels.”

6 thoughts on “Eric Shinseki: Punching Bag for the Bushies and Obama

  1. At DLI, I knew an officer who had worked for General Shinseki. He spoke very highly of Shinseki as a mentor and as a leader. Shinseki deserves respect for speaking the truth about Iraq, and he deserves respect for his “buck stops here” mindset when it came to the VA and its woeful treatment of many veterans. Sadly, losing Shinseki at the VA will probably make matters worse.

  2. I would like to make two points regarding former Army General Eric Shinseki.

    First, he failed to understand the difference between running a civilian bureaucracy compared to running a military one. In the latter type organization, subordinates have to obey the orders — or even the mere suggestions — of their “superiors.” In a civilian bureaucracy, subordinates often have conflicting loyalties and partisan political agendas — as they do in military bureaucracies as well — but they do not have to obey orders under threat of kangaroo-court military tribunals. Thus, civilian bureaucrats can more effectively undermine their nominal “boss” even more than recalcitrant military officers can. This constitutes a difference in degree of bureaucratic insubordination and not of kind, I realize, but one which VA Administrator Shinseki did not sufficiently understand or take action to neutralize. In short, he proved incompetent as a civilian bureaucratic administrator and thus failed the president who hired him to do a job for which he obviously did not have the requisite qualifications: namely, astute political acumen and savage bureaucratic infighting skills. Perhaps President Obama will do a better job nominating and supervising his next VA Administrator.

    Second, in The March of Folly, her classic history of misgovernment throughout the ages, Barbara Tuchman wrote of the attempted French reconquest of Vietnam after World War II:

    “When [talks with the Vietnamese resistance] failed, hostilities resumed and by the end of 1946 the first, or French Indochina war was fully under way. There was no illusion. If the French resumed the repressive measures and policy of force of the past, reported the American Consul in Saigon, ‘no settlement of [the] situation can be expected [in the] foreseeable future and [a] period of guerrilla warfare will follow.’ The French commander assigned to carry out the reconquest himself saw, or felt, the truth. After his first survey of the situation, General Leclerc said to his political advisor, ‘It would take 500,000 men to do it and even then it could not be done.’ In one sentence he laid out the future, and his estimate would still be valid when 500,000 American soldiers were actually in the field two decades later.”

    In the margin of my copy of the book, next to that underlined passage, I made the following note: “U.S. General Shinseki almost got half of this correct.”

    When I first learned of General Shinseki’s testimony before Congress, I immediately thought of French General Leclerc’s prescient warning in 1946. I found it strange and regrettable that General Shinseki did not cite Leclerc’s opinion and emphasize its dead-on accuracy, especially since General Shinseki had served two tours of duty in Vietnam and must surely have read Ms Tuchman’s famous book. If he hadn’t, I thought, then he had never read anything worth reading or learned anything of value from his experiences in Vietnam. To me, his expressed opinion before Congress failed our country for at least three reasons:

    (1) The phrase “post-war” implies that an initial “battle” constitutes the whole extent of a “war.” General George Armstrong Custer obviously “won” the “war” of charging down into the Little Big Horn valley and “taking the low ground,” just as the French had at Dien Bien Phu and the Americans had at Khe Sanh. Unfortunately for those “winning the war” of the initial Charge of the Light Brigade, the “natives” won the next battle, or even eventually the war that they did not confuse with a merely tactical initial engagement. As a young Taiwanese relative through marriage said to me at the time: “It’s easy to rush into a trap. It’s not so easy to get out of one.” General Shinseki utterly failed to distinguish the concepts of “battle” and “war” for the benefit of Congress and the American people.

    (2) The weasel word “several” — as in “several hundred thousand” — offers no estimate at all. “Several” could mean two hundred thousand, three hundred thousand, four hundred thousand, five hundred thousand, or even greater numbers, which the United States simply did not have available for deployment. General Shinseki must have known this and ought to have forthrightly stated the facts. “Several” could mean whatever anyone wants it to mean.

    (3) Western colonialism died midway through the twentieth century and so the United States could not possibly secure the invasion and occupation of Iraq against the will of that country’s inhabitants, no matter how many battles the U.S. military won. As North Vietnamese Foreign Minister Pham Van Dong said to a visiting American who told him that the U.S. had won every battle: “That may be true. But it is also irrelevant.” The great destruction and death which the U.S. military can inflict upon third-world countries — in and of itself — has no significance whatever in terms of larger strategic national goals. General Eric Shinseki also failed to make this truth clear in his testimony.

    Finally, then, when asked how many U.S. troops will it take to successfully “occupy” “post-war” Iraq, I had expected General Shinseki to offer something like the following assessment:

    “Why do you refer to the military occupation of Iraq as ‘post’ — meaning, after — war? Guerrilla warfare against foreign occupations has many stages, as Mao Tse Dong famously explained. (1) When the Enemy attacks, we retreat. (2) When the enemy retreats, we attack. (3) When the enemy rests, we harass him. The entire world knows how this works by now. Certainly the Iraqis do. The age of Western colonialism has long since passed into history. Therefore, no number of American troops — not even the half-a-million that we had at one time deployed to Vietnam — could possibly do the strategically and historically impossible. Yes, the U.S. can win the initial “battle of the invasion,” and perhaps every subsequent “battle of the occupation” — adding up to years and years of battles. But since merely winning an endless series of meaningless tactical battles doesn’t translate into winning the strategic war, a wise nation would not rush into a trap, take the low ground, and then try to hold it against implacable opposition.”

    But General Shinseki said no such thing. In his failure to refute the faulty premise of the question put to him, he helped the United States stray from history and strategic national interests into nothing but petty skirmishing about logistics. Nothing against the man personally, but he did not strike me then, nor does he strike me now, as a particularly insightful, articulate, or competent person. I mean, if one tour of Vietnam did not convince him to get the hell out of the U.S. military and find a useful way to earn a living, then I fail to see why anyone should attempt to defend his intelligence or insight. Given his unimpressive record when it really counted, I certainly won’t try to do so.

  3. Mike.. a very insightful analysis of Shinseki with which I agree ‘almost’* fully. My article was not intended as an endorsement of Shinseki but rather as a review of Obama’s failure as a leader. As a business man I realized that Shinseki failed by just accepting his subordinates reports as the ‘truth’. An experienced business man always checks on rosy reports. That was, as you rightly observed in your analysis, due to the heavier penalty paid by liars when caught in the military.
    I believe Shinseki was selected as a rebuke to Bush’s failed previous appointment and that Obama didn’t have the guts nor the acumen to move outside the military tradition that Bush had used. I believe that Shinseki is an ‘honorable’ person who stood out amongst a group of otherwise hyper ambitious possible candidates and his tiff with the Bushies looked ‘good’ politically at the time. In my opinion it is about the only appointment Obama has made where the candidate at least showed some individual integrity rather than his usual
    choices who are just crass opportunists with self serving agendas.

    * fr. M. Murry above (” I mean, if one tour of Vietnam did not convince him to get the hell out of the U.S. military and find a useful way to earn a living, then I fail to see why anyone should attempt to defend his intelligence or insight.”)

    Some people have chosen being a Chef as their lifelong pursuit. that doesn’t appeal to me. Our editor of TCP chose the military and although you or I wouldn’t chose that as a career that in no way diminishes his integrity or intelligence. I was CEO of a marketing consulting firm and once one of my clients,who inherited a hardware chain from his father, had the temerity to imply that my work wasn’t as important as his. “Those who live in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones”.

    • Thank you for your response and the opportunity it affords me to expand upon what I wrote above. I’ll begin with an honest and forthright quote from U.S. Navy Rear Admiral Gene R. LaRocque regarding the nature and purpose of the United States Navy:

      “We’re a blunt instrument. We sink ships and kill people.”

      Some people consider that sort of thing a useful career. I don’t. I have more respect for chefs. As for business and political consultants who try to sell people things they neither need nor want nor can afford — like Dr. Frank Luntz — well …

      Let me make clear from the outset that I do not in any way mean to absolve President Obama of his own responsibility in this unhappy affair. He failed to supervise Eric Shinseki every bit as much as Erik Shinseki failed to supervise those persons who worked in the VA under his so-called “management.” The same goes for President Obama’s sloppy — if not total lack of — management in regard to his Health and Human Services Secretary, Kathleen Sebelius, who botched the roll-out of President Obama’s signature “health care” plan: i.e., legislation written by and for the benefit of U.S. insurance corporations. But I digress …

      I agree with you that President Obama most likely appointed General Shinseki because of that military officer’s perceived reputation as a “critic” of the Bush Administration’s rush to invade and occupy Iraq. In truth, however, as Chief of Staff of the U.S. Army, General Shinseki represented a branch of the military service simply aching to go to war against a “pushover” like Saddam Hussein. I should only have to mention the names of General Tommy Franks and General David Petraeus to illustrate my point. General Shinseki did not question the insane neocon/Pentagon strategy of invading Iraq, he just wanted more — U.S. generals always want more — troops and materiel for his fellow generals to mismanage. In short, President Obama tried to make political hay off a merely perceived reputation when he did not at all understand either the man or what that man actually believed about needless, pointless war. Unfortunately for American veterans needing and deserving care, the politically motivated appointment of General Eric Shinseki only made a chronically bad situation worse.

      Finally, I think you have a somewhat inaccurate understanding of U.S. military rank as this concerns the officer corps. A lieutenant colonel in the army, marines, or air force, for example, equates to a commander in the U.S. Navy: namely, O-5. A normally competent officer can rise from O-1 to O-5 in the course of twenty-year career by just following orders and doing his or her job without ever affecting military policy any more than does the average enlisted man. But those officers who remain in the military for thirty years or more, eventually rising to the level of general or admiral, do so because they wish to command the destinies of armies, navies, nations and empires. They want to destroy foreign property, maim and kill foreign citizens, poison their crops, devastate their civilian infrastructure, and generate millions of homeless, stateless refugees. The U.S. military — most especially the U.S. Air Force — has for over half a century done all those things and more to foreign populations who never attacked the United States. U.S. Generals and admirals have wanted war. U.S. Generals and admirals have demanded their chance “to play a role” in planning and executing war. They have gotten what they wanted for their careers. The unfortunate of the world have gotten the rancid fruits of those careers. Damn their careers.

      I do not believe that anything I’ve written above applies to the editor of this website, a career academic in both military and civilian life and not a “high-ranking” officer by any stretch of the imagination. But just because I genuinely respect him for his humane views expressed as a college professor does not mean that I have any use at all for career military officers who only long to do their worst, and all too often get their chance. General Eric Shinseki may not have intended to harm American military veterans at the VA, but his failure to resign in protest of the impending wars in Iraq and Afghanistan ultimately helped assure that many more American veterans would need the care that he failed to give them. So he failed his fellow veterans when they needed him most — and more than just once. So I could care less about his military career. He would have proven more useful as a sushi chef in Little Tokyo, several of whom I know personally and respect very much.

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