Shinseki at the VA — wrong man, wrong reason

Gen. Eric Shinseki, whose reign as Secretary of Veterans Affairs has been such a disaster, became a hero to the left for having advocated that more troops be sent into Iraq at the time of the invasion. There’s irony — or rather cynicism — here. Leftists didn’t really want more troops pouring into Iraq, they just wanted a hammer to beat President Bush with. Shinseki became that hammer.

The left worked the hammer for all it was worth and more. Dick Durbin alleged that Shinseki was sacked for his dissent over troop levels. In reality, Shinseki was scheduled to retire before he made his pronouncements on troop levels.

A protege of liberal Senator Daniel Inouye and Chief of Staff under President Clinton, Shinseki clashed at the outset of the Bush administration with Defense Donald Rumsfeld over the latter’s modernization plans. He probably would have left even without that clash, which predated the Iraq invasion. With the change in administration, the writing was on the wall.

Clashing with the Bush administration over anything was enough to recommend Shinseki to the Obama administration. Unfortunately, as the nation has seen to the detriment of its wounded warriors, it hardly qualifies one to be Secretary of Veterans Affairs.

Obama was looking for an anti-Bush icon with General’s stripes when he should have been looking for a competent administrator. Typical.

The Democrats used Shinseki as a prop at their 2012 National Convention, I wrote about it here.

Hoping to make major political inroads with veterans (it didn’t happen), the Dems trotted out the General as a convention speaker. He duly touted the Obama administration’s efforts on behalf of vets. It all rings quite hollow now.

But does Shinseki at least deserve credit for advocating that more troops be used in the invasion of Iraq? I don’t think so.

For one thing, he also advocated that more troops invade Afghanistan. In fact, as Jed Babbin reported, Shinseki “wanted at least six months to assemble and move what amounted to the entire Army for the invasion.” When the Afghan campaign began on October 5, 2001 — less than a month after 9/11 — the Army, except for the Rangers and other Army special ops, watched from home.

Given the dazzling success of the Afghan invasion, it is clear that more troops were not needed for that operation. Whether more troops should have been present in the years after Shinseki retired is another question.

Shinseki appears to be one of those generals who always wants more troops. There’s nothing heroic, or even unusual, about that. Shinseki was willing to say so. But that’s easy to do when you’re on the way out.

As for Iraq troop levels, it seems clear that we did not need more troops to topple Saddam. Would more boots on the ground after the toppling have prevented the insurgency and sectarian violence that eventually broke out? Perhaps.

But the real problem seems to have been the way our troops were used — the unwillingness to come down hard enough on various militias early on, the preference for patrolling neighborhoods rather than embedding in them, and so forth.

There was, eventually, a troop surge that corresponded with a change in tactics. Did Shinseki advocate the surge? I don’t recall him doing so. I do recall that Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton vociferously opposed the surge.

Shinseki, then, was never really the heroic figure the Democrats portrayed him as. He will leave the VA as a much diminished one.

NOTE: The original version of this post stated the Shinseki’s retirement coincided with that of his protector, Sen. Inouye. In fact, Inouye did not retire. But according to Jed Babbin’s piece, he was expected to retire around the time Shinseki did.

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