According to Politico:
Retired Army Gen. Eric Shinseki will be named as Barack Obama’s Secretary of Veterans’ Affairs Sunday afternoon in Chicago, according to a Democratic official. The surprise pick represents the addition of yet another heavyweight to the Obama cabinet, as well as a subtle slap at President Bush’s original national security team. Shinseki served as Chief of Staff of the Army and retired a four-star general in 2003.
Like other uniformed Pentagon personnel, he clashed with Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz personally and professionally, especially on the Iraq war. Shortly before the end of his term as Chief of Staff in 2003, Shinseki told a congressional committee that post-war Iraq would require hundreds of thousands of U.S. troops. Both Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz scoffed at the estimate. When Shinseki retired, no senior civilians from the Pentagon showed at his ceremony.
Since his retirement, Shinseki has been lauded for being “on the mark” and speaking truth to power; President-Elect Obama reportedly told Tom Brokaw “Shinseki was absolutely right” on the Iraq War in a Meet the Press interview taped today. His resistance to the dictums of Rumsfeld’s Defense Department and by extension the Bush Administration may afford General (R) Shinseki a cabinet level position this January, but before anyone lauds Generasl Shinseki for his remarkable prescience, it would be worthwhile to scrutinize his record as Army Chief of Staff, beyond that one day of testimony at the Capitol.
As the Chief of Staff of the Army, Shinseki was responsible for “Army matters and assisted in the secretary’s external affairs functions including: presenting and enforcing Army policies, plans, programs.” His office was therefore largely responsible for overseeing the manning, equipping, and training of the Army.
During his tenure as Chief of Staff of the Army, General Shinseki fought tooth and nail to save the Army’s Comanche helicopter and Crusader self propelled artillery piece. These two weapon systems, made largely obsolete by other technologies and the nature of modern combat itself, were subsequently canceled (although not before taxpayers paid tens of billions of dollars for fruitless development and testing). Meanwhile, the Army found itself in harrowing combat in Iraq and Afghanistan with body armor in short supply for many of the units deploying there, and with shortages in critical equipment like radios. Many questioned where the Army’s priorities were at the time.
And while General Shinseki possessed vast experience in stability operations and counterinsurgency, he certainly did not make training and education for these types of missions a priority for the Army during his Chief of Staff tenure. Amazingly, the Army had no counterinsurgency doctrine to guide training, planning, or operations until 2004, when it released a draft counterinsurgency field manual (the final manual was not actually released until 2006!). Students in the Army command and general staff college (where mid grade officers go prior to being assigned as operations officers and planners throughout the Army) at the time of Shinseki’s tenure received absolutely no counterinsurgency training whatsoever as part of the 10 month core curriculum.
So, while General Shinseki’s testimony about troop requirements before the Armed Services Committee may have been validated in hindsight, many of the other critical decisions he made and priorities set during his tenure as the Army Chief of Staff were not so accurate, and required major course corrections by his successors.
General(R) Shinseki will no doubt do an exemplary job as the Secretary of Veteran’s Affairs; he is a patriot, a wounded combat veteran who spent his entire adult life in the service of his country, and will likely fight hard to take care of Soldiers and their families. But his record as Chief of Staff of the Army is much more complicated than the typical whitewashed narrative suggests.
1. Some of this material is derivative of a post written earlier by this author and published here.
2. There is an interesting storyline on General Shinseki’s decision to change the headgear of the Army and the resulting imbroglio that was not detailed in this post. Read about it here, or ask any member of the Army with more than a decade of service about the “black beret thing” if you have a little time to spare.
Update: Here is a pretty good pic illustrating the state of Army headgear today:
Black, green, tan, maroon, and none of them keep the left ear warm during the winter!