Shinseki

Shinseki [In a few minutes, Obama will introduce Retired Army Gen. Eric Shinseki as his choice to head the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. Hilzoy’s item from last night was perfect, so I’m bumping it to the top. -SB]

From the Washington Post:

“Retired Army Gen. Eric K. Shinseki will be introduced tomorrow as President-elect Barack Obama’s nominee to head the Department of Veterans Affairs, a Democratic official familiar with the announcement said today.

Obama confirmed that Shinseki was his choice In an exclusive interview with NBC News, taped for broadcast on “Meet the Press.” Obama called Shinseki “exactly the right person who is going to be able to make sure that we honor our troops when they come home.”

Shinseki, a 38-year veteran, is best known for his four years as Army chief of staff, and in particular his response to congressional questioning in February 2003 about troop levels necessary to protect a presumed military victory in Iraq. (…)

Notably Shinseki led the Army at the same time that Obama’s nominee as national security adviser, then-Marine commandant Gen. James L. Jones. Both questioned Wolfowitz’s presumptions, before the war in Iraq commenced, about how the fighting would go, and they argued that Pentagon planning was being too optimistic and should prepare thoroughly for worst-case scenarios.”

Some links: Gen. Shinseki’s Wikipedia entry; a piece on the kind of changes in Army doctrine and capacities that Shinseki was interested in; an interview with him from 2000 about the future of war; a piece from 2001 about changes he tried to make in Army personnel policies; an interview with James Fallows about his conflicts with Rumsfeld; an article by Fallows on preparations for the invasion of Iraq in which those conflicts figure; three pieces (1, 2, 3) about him on the occasion of his retirement; his retirement speech; and two articles (1, 2) on his subsequent vindication.

Spencer Ackerman:

“To say this is an inspired choice underscores its magnitude. Shinseki’s personal courage and virtue are close to unparalleled in the current generation of general officers. He knows the sacrifices of war personally, as he left part of his right foot in Vietnam. The new generation of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans — already underserved by the country that sent them to war — can know that he has their backs. After all, before the war began, he all but ended his career (Rumsfeld had announced his successor months before after they feuded over the Crusader artillery system) by telling Congress that the indefinite occupation of Iraq would require hundreds of thousands of troops to keep the peace, far beyond the antiseptic and now-discredited estimates of the Bush administration. At his retirement ceremony, Shinseki gave a prescient and impassioned speech imploring the Pentagon to “beware a 12-division strategy for a 10-division Army.”

Last year, an exemplary soldier named Paul Yingling wrote a scathing essay indicting the generals who acquiesced to the Bush administration’s inadequate plans for the occupation. It was titled “A Failure in Generalship.” Yingling accused the current generation of generals of cowardice, egotism, careerism and dereliction of duty, putting self-interested deference to the administration before integrity, intellectual honesty and service to both the frontline soldier, sailor, airman and marine and the country itself. Ric Shinseki was the man who stood against this unfortunate trend, and he paid for his integrity with his career. To see him vindicated is to witness a proud moment in American history.”

I agree. I think it’s a wonderful choice, and I can’t beat Spencer’s explanation of why. So I’ll just add three more points. First, it’s yet another example of Obama getting a very diverse cabinet without ever seeming to pick someone just for the sake of diversity. Second, Obama served on the Veterans’ Affairs Committee, so while there might be some areas where he does not know, in detail, who is good and who is not, this is surely not one of them. Third, Obama is clearly courting the military, not by giving into their every whim, or by ceding to them on matters of policy, but by appointing people whom they trust, and who are very, very good.

I think this is very important — as I’ve said before, with all Obama wants to accomplish, he needs strained relations with the military like he needs a hole in the head. But Obama’s choices to date also raise the serious possibility that he could end (or at least mitigate) the Republican tilt of the senior officer corps. They have already experienced life under George W. Bush, and by all accounts, they did not care for it. But their distrust of Democrats might easily have prevented them from seriously considering drawing the obvious conclusion from Bush and Rumsfeld’s trashing of the armed forces. If Obama can get past that hurdle, he could, just possibly, cause a very significant change.

I don’t expect that the senior officer corps would go Democratic the way they are now Republican, nor, frankly, would I really want them to. I think that it’s bad for the senior officer corps to be overwhelmingly aligned with either party. I would just like the two parties to be on a level playing field, as far as the officer corps goes. Obama might actually achieve that. And that would be a very big deal.

(And it’s not as far-fetched as one might think. I’ve always thought that the military and Democrats have some obvious, if unrecognized, bits of common ground. The military believes in individual responsibility, and expects each of its members to do his or her best, but they also believe that if a member of your unit has a problem, you should of course help him or her to overcome it; that just saying “ha ha, deal with it yourself” is neither a good way to end up with a well-functioning unit nor a decent way to act. And they believe in trying to put their people in the best possible position to succeed, and to do the best job that they can possibly do. Above all, they do not leave their people behind.

The way they think about members of the military is the way we think about members of society.)

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