In a Washington Post op-ed today, Lawrence Di Rita, former special assistant to Donald Rumsfeld, decries the “myth” surrounding Gen. Eric Shinseki’s February 2003 statement that “several hundred thousand troops” would be needed secure Iraq. Di Rita claims that Shinseki in fact supported the Rumsfeld plan because he did not speak up against it in meetings. The former Rumsfeld aide calls Shinseki’s opposition “one of the most enduring myths of the Bush presidency” and “a legend”:
Here are some facts: First, Shinseki, as a member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, supported the war plan. . … There was ample opportunity for the chiefs to express concerns and propose alternatives. There is no record of Shinseki having objected.
In reality, Shinseki and Rumsfeld had a fundamental disagreement on strategy. In his testimony, Shinseki stated that “hundreds of thousands” of troops would be needed for “post-hostilities control” over land “that’s fairly significant [in size] with the kinds of ethnic tensions that could lead to other problems.” The Pentagon, in contrast, assumed that there would be minimal internal resistance, thus, there would be no need for so many troops. In July 2003, for example, Paul Wolfowitz admitted that Pentagon officials “turned out to underestimate the problem.”
Di Rita also fails to mention that the Pentagon quickly “castrated” Shinseki by ridiculing him publicly. While Di Rita claimed that “Sinseki was not forced from office, as ThinkProgress has documented, Rumsfeld announced Shinseki’s successor 18 months prior to Shinseki’s retirement — a signal that dissent would not be tolerated:
Feb. 27, 2003: Wolfowitz “opened a two-front war of words on Capitol Hill, calling the recent estimate by Gen. Eric K. Shinseki of the Army that several hundred thousand troops would be needed in postwar Iraq, ‘wildly off the mark.’”
March 19, 2003: A senior Pentagon official dismissed Shinseki’s comments as “bullshit from a Clintonite enamored of using the army for peacekeeping and nation-building and not winning wars.”
March 29, 2003: “For the past two years Gen Shinseki has been in total eclipse.” Shinseki “had already been turned into a lame duck (’castrated’, according to the same Pentagon source) by the apparently unprecedented Rumsfeld decision to announce his successor 18 months in advance.”
Unfortunately, the media have also picked up on the false meme that Shinseki’s silence was indicative of support. “Shinseki never objected to the war plans, and he didn’t press for any changes,” CNN’s Jamie McIntyre wrote in a Dec. 8 piece titled, “Myth of Shinseki Lingers.” Similarly, President Bush remarked yesterday, “I don’t remember him coming to talk to me specifically with the other generals on the joint chiefs.”
Spencer Ackerman recalls how ret. Gen. Paul van Riper described the reaction to Rumsfeld’s smearing of Shinseki:
I know of nothing, other than the failure to plan adequately for the war in Iraq, that upset the retired community nearly as much as Mr. Rumsfeld’s treatment of the chief of staff of the Army, Gen. Shinseki. Just irate. I’ve been in meetings and breakfasts and lunch where this is a subject of conversation and just a very, very bitter feeling that he would treat someone like that.