6:19 PM ET, December 6, 2008, 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 the nomination 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.
Shinseki told the Senate Armed Services Committee that “something on the order of several hundred thousand soldiers” could be necessary, an assessment that was at odds with the announced determination of Pentagon leaders.
Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld reacted by telling reporters that Shinseki’s estimate “will prove to be high,” and Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul D. Wolfowitz called the assessment “way off the mark.”
Three years later, Gen. John P. Abizaid, commander of U.S. Central Command and the chief architect of U.S. military strategy in Iraq, told the same Senate committee, “General Shinseki was right.” And in January 2007, President Bush ordered tens of thousands of U.S. troops back into Iraq to stabilize and secure the country.
Obama concurred with Abizaid’s view in the “Meet the Press” interview, saying of Shinseki, “He was right.”
Shinseki retired in the summer of 2003, shortly after the fall of Baghdad. Neither Rumsfeld nor Wolfowitz attended his farewell ceremony.
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.
The politics around the planned nomination are intriguing. Shinseki has maintained a near-total silence since leaving the Pentagon. However, earlier this year, a letter he wrote to Rumsfeld in June 2003 leaked. In it, Shinseki criticized Rumsfeld for not letting the Joint Chiefs of Staff “express their best military judgment as often as they should.” He also said that the way Rumsfeld and other top civilian officials ran meetings was “unhelpful.”
Also, there long has been speculation inside the Army that Shinseki, who was severely wounded in Vietnam, is interested in running for the Senate when Sen. Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii), an 84-year-old World War II veteran, decides to retire.
Shinseki, a 66-year-old native of Kauai, told the Associated Press in 2005, “I intend to move back to Hawaii. It’s just a question of when.”
Since retiring from the Army, he has joined the boards of Honeywell International and Ducommun, both companies focused on military contracting. He also is on the board of the Hawaiian companies Grove Farm Corp. and First Hawaiian Bank.