Today, President-elect Barack Obama announced that Gen. Eric Shinseki will become his Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary. The nomination of the first Asian-American to the post — Shinseki, a Japanese-American, grew up in Hawaii — carries extra poignancy, coming on the 67th anniversary of the Pearl Harbor attacks. Watch it:
Shinseki is most famous for publicly contradicting Bush administration officials’ overly optimistic predictions about the war in Iraq. In 2003, then serving as the Army’s chief of staff, he told Congress that it would take several hundred thousand U.S. troops to secure Iraq.
The Bush administration’s failure to heed Shinseki’s warnings have led to a decimation of the U.S. military — underequipped forces, an over-reliance on the National Guard and Reserves, a dangerous stop-loss policy, and an increasing number troops coming home with mental and physical problems. As Michigan University history professor Juan Cole told the Washington Post:
If Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz and [former undersecretary for defense Douglas J.] Feith had listened to Shinseki, there wouldn’t be as many wounded veterans to take care of. I think this is a way of saying, “Here was a career officer who had valuable insights who was shunted aside by arrogant civilians, and we’re not going to make the same kind of mistakes.”
Shinseki served two combat tours in Vietnam, receiving two Purple Hearts and four Bronze Stars. Shinseki has frequently worked with wounded veterans and visited Walter Reed Army Medical Center, referring to it as a “members-only section” since he too is an amputee. Some veterans organizations, such as IAVA, have already come out with high praise for Obama’s choice, saying that Shinseki is a man the military community holds in “high regard” but also note that he faces enormous challenges.
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