Obama Taps Shinseki for Veterans Affairs; Ironies Abound

Barack Obama will put forward retired Gen. Eric Shinseki as Secretary of Veterans Affairs in his cabinet..

WaPo quoted me:

‘Juan Cole, a University of Michigan history professor who writes about the Iraq war and Islam, called Shinseki’s appointment ironic.

“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,” Cole said. “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.’ ” ‘

Let us just use the professor’s wayback machine and look at the testimony in February 2003 and the reaction from then Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz.

Here is what Shinseki told the Senate Armed Forces Committee on 25 February 2003, about the force level required in Iraq after the Baath government was overthrown:

‘ I would say that what’s been mobilized to this point — something on the order of several hundred thousand soldiers are probably, you know, a figure that would be required. We’re talking about post-hostilities control over a piece of geography that’s fairly significant, with the kinds of ethnic tensions that could lead to other problems. And so it takes a significant ground- force presence to maintain a safe and secure environment, to ensure that people are fed, that water is distributed, all the normal responsibilities that go along with administering a situation like this.”

Note that Shinseki was aware of how big Iraq is (168,753 square miles or about the size of California); he was aware that there would be “ethnic tensions” after the fall of the Baath; and he cared about preventing looting (“safe and secure environment”) and about people having food and potable water. Some of the military duties he mentioned are required of occupying militaries by international law. Rumsfeld either did not know or did not care about any of these considerations.

Tim Russert later suggested that Shinseki was talking about 200,000 troops, the number in theater in February when he spoke. But I do know English, and “several hundred thousand” does not mean “two hundred thousand.”

Shinseki was retired in summer of 2003. Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz pointedly did not attend his retirement ceremony.

He wrote an 8 page letter to Rumsfeld that has never been published, explaining to him that the military is made up of people, not high concept buzz words.

Rumsfeld was clearly furious with Shinseki’s testimony, because he and the administration were low-balling the American people about the cost of the Iraq War. It would just be $50 billion. They would just send in a relatively small expeditionary force, take out Saddam and get out not so long thereafter. The war would pay for itself. The Army would be miraculously transformed into the Navy Seals. Small. Agile. No need to take, hold and administer territory.

Then Shinseki comes out, for all the world like the honest car salesman who spoils everything by putting taxes and transportation fees and the cost of extras back into the price estimate on an automobile after the other salesmen have enticed the customer with a stripped down, unrealistic price (this practice is called low-balling).

Here is Rumsfeld’s first response:

‘Q: Secretary Rumsfeld, yesterday you attempted to provide some –

Rumsfeld: (Inaudible) — I take it.

Q: — near-perfect clarity for the nuance in General Shinseki’s comments about the need for a — size of a post-Iraq force. Nevertheless, critics of the Pentagon are seizing on Shinseki’s comment, his opinion, as evidence that the Pentagon may be underplaying or under-representing what the post-war commitment will be. And General Shinseki — some of his aides are telling us that he sort of stands by his opinion that he offered that — have you –

Rumsfeld: I’ve not talked to him.

(To General Myers) Have you?

Myers: I have not talked to General Shinseki either.

Q: Well –

Rumsfeld: First of all, people are entitled to their own opinions.

Q: Well, do you find that unhelpful, and do you plan to discuss it at all with him?

Rumsfeld: I don’t know. I’m sure I’ll see him. I see him every week for one reason or another. And I’m sure it will come up. But you mean did I pick up the phone yesterday and ask him to come and see me or call –

Q: To discuss whether or not this is helpful to your case.

Rumsfeld: The — well, if he’s right, it’s helpful. My personal view is that it will prove to be high. The problem we have is that anyone who tries to go to a single point answer has to have made a series of judgments about a set of six to eight variables, and he has to in their mind decided, well, this is how that variable is going to be decided, and therefore, I can come to a single point answer.

I’m not deft enough to take six or eight working variables — ‘

Rumsfeld always masked his ideological commitments by pretending an issue was too complex to talk about clearly. It wasn’t 7 or 8 working variables, whatever that even means. Shinseki was analogizing from the actual experience of NATO forces in the Balkans. For x number of an occupied population you need y numbers of troops if order wasn’t to immediately break down.

On February 28, Rumsfeld had become more assertive, according to AFX.com:

‘”However, I will say this … what is … reasonably certain is the idea that it would take several hundred thousand US forces is far from the mark.”
Rumsfeld said the US has “no idea how long the war will last. We don’t know to what extent there may or may not be weapons of mass destruction used. We don’t have any idea whether or not there would be ethnic strife.”
“We don’t know exactly how long it would take to find weapons of mass destruction and destroy them,” he said.
“The reality is that we already have a number of countries that have offered to participate with their forces in stabilization activities in the event force has to be used.
“It’s not logical to me,” he said, that it would take as many forces in the aftermath of a war “as it would to win the war … any idea that it’s several hundred thousand for any sustained period is simply not the case.” ‘

A) If you don’t know all the things Rumsfeld said he didn’t know, you don’t go to war. And B) it is entirely logical that an occupation of 27 million people would take more troops than merely defeating a demoralized and poorly trained and equipped Iraqi army.

In fact, we now know that Rumsfeld wanted to go into Iraq, lop off the head of the regime, install Ahmad Chalabi as soft dictator, and get all US troops save one division out by the following October. Rumsfeld was right that a long occupation was undesirable. But his plan could only have worked if he had kept the Iraqi army in existence and gone with someone more acceptable to them than Chalabi. The plan was self-contradictory, impractical and deeply flawed.

Wolfowitz attacked Shinseki two days after the general’s testimony, on February 27:

‘ “There has been a good deal of comment—some of it quite outlandish—about what our postwar requirements might be in Iraq. Some of the higher end predictions we have been hearing recently, such as the notion that it will take several hundred thousand U.S. troops to provide stability in post-Saddam Iraq, are wildly off the mark. It is hard to conceive that it would take more forces to provide stability in post-Saddam Iraq than it would take to conduct the war itself and to secure the surrender of Saddam’s security forces and his army—hard to imagine.”

* House Budget Committee testimony on Iraq (February 27, 2003)’

Wolfowitz clearly was trashing Shinseki because he wanted a small force to go into Iraq, put in Chalabi the Corrupt, and get right back out.

Wolfowitz gave an interview with Ghida Fakhry of Lebanese Television on March, 2003, in which he said (State Department NEWS TRANSCRIPT Department of Defense Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz March 26, 2003 (Interview with Ghita Fawkry [sic], Lebanese Broadcasting Corporation):

‘ Wolfowitz: War is a terrible thing. We’ve tried every other means to achieve objectives without a war because we understand what the price of a war can be and what it is. But the truth is the horrors of peace in Iraq under this dictator are actually far worse than war. We’ve taken great care to avoid hitting civilians. That doesn’t mean we succeed every time, but we’ve taken great care in that respect. . .

I hear sometimes nonsense about how this is a war for oil. If the United States had wanted access to Iraq’s oil all we had to do 12 years ago was to abandon any policy toward Saddam Hussein and just do commercial business with him. I hear sometimes that this is a war for Israel. This is not a war for Israel at all. It is an opportunity, I believe, to put the lie to those people who say there aren’t any democracies in the Arab world because Arabs are incapable of democracy. . .

Iraq is a country that is rich in natural resources. Even more important it’s a country that’s rich in human talent. Unfortunately too much of that talent has been driven out of the country by Saddam Hussein.

But I don’t think the Iraqi people are going to need the United States or the United Nations or any foreign force for very long once they’re given the chance to create their own institutions.’

Wolfowitz was wrong about everything. It is nearly 6 years later and there are still 150,000 or so US troops in Iraq, and 4000 British. He thought that the Iraqi National Congress, with the leader of which–Ahmad Chalabi– he had done some sort of corrupt political deal, would just waltz in and take over from the Baath Party. But the INC had no grass roots in Iraq.

By the way, the reason that the United States could not do commercial business with Saddam Hussein in the 1990s was that the American Israel Public Affairs Committee had successfully lobbied Congress to put tight sanctions on that country, and efforts by oil excecutives such as Dick Cheney to argue Congress out of such unilateral sanctions so that US petroleum companies could develop new fields in the Middle East were a miserable failure. Wolfowitz knew this when he made that dishonest argument to Ms. Fakhry. Wolfowitz’s paternalistic idea that an American military occupation could demonstrate what Arabs were capable of is bizarre. What Wolfowitz did was convince a whole generation of Arabs that they should at any cost avoid doing anything that would reproduce a situation in their countries like that in American Iraq.

And then there is the sad, sad situation of some 36,000 US troops who were wounded in Iraq badly enough to go to hospital, along with thousands more who have brain trauma not recognized at the time. Wolfowitz’s boilerplate about how horrible war is will do them no good. The cost to the US public of two divisions of wounded will probably come to $2 trillion over the decades. Gen. Shinseki, disregarded at a crucial moment by civilian ideologues, will now have the opportunity to look after the Vets.

Obama Taps Shinseki for Veterans Affairs; Ironies Abound

Barack Obama will put forward retired Gen. Eric Shinseki as Secretary of Veterans Affairs in his cabinet..

WaPo quoted me:

‘Juan Cole, a University of Michigan history professor who writes about the Iraq war and Islam, called Shinseki’s appointment ironic.

“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,” Cole said. “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.’ ” ‘

Let us just use the professor’s wayback machine and look at the testimony in February 2003 and the reaction from then Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz.

Here is what Shinseki told the Senate Armed Forces Committee on 25 February 2003, about the force level required in Iraq after the Baath government was overthrown:

‘ I would say that what’s been mobilized to this point — something on the order of several hundred thousand soldiers are probably, you know, a figure that would be required. We’re talking about post-hostilities control over a piece of geography that’s fairly significant, with the kinds of ethnic tensions that could lead to other problems. And so it takes a significant ground- force presence to maintain a safe and secure environment, to ensure that people are fed, that water is distributed, all the normal responsibilities that go along with administering a situation like this.”

Note that Shinseki was aware of how big Iraq is (168,753 square miles or about the size of California); he was aware that there would be “ethnic tensions” after the fall of the Baath; and he cared about preventing looting (“safe and secure environment”) and about people having food and potable water. Some of the military duties he mentioned are required of occupying militaries by international law. Rumsfeld either did not know or did not care about any of these considerations.

Tim Russert later suggested that Shinseki was talking about 200,000 troops, the number in theater in February when he spoke. But I do know English, and “several hundred thousand” does not mean “two hundred thousand.”

Shinseki was retired in summer of 2003. Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz pointedly did not attend his retirement ceremony.

He wrote an 8 page letter to Rumsfeld that has never been published, explaining to him that the military is made up of people, not high concept buzz words.

Rumsfeld was clearly furious with Shinseki’s testimony, because he and the administration were low-balling the American people about the cost of the Iraq War. It would just be $50 billion. They would just send in a relatively small expeditionary force, take out Saddam and get out not so long thereafter. The war would pay for itself. The Army would be miraculously transformed into the Navy Seals. Small. Agile. No need to take, hold and administer territory.

Then Shinseki comes out, for all the world like the honest car salesman who spoils everything by putting taxes and transportation fees and the cost of extras back into the price estimate on an automobile after the other salesmen have enticed the customer with a stripped down, unrealistic price (this practice is called low-balling).

Here is Rumsfeld’s first response:

‘Q: Secretary Rumsfeld, yesterday you attempted to provide some –

Rumsfeld: (Inaudible) — I take it.

Q: — near-perfect clarity for the nuance in General Shinseki’s comments about the need for a — size of a post-Iraq force. Nevertheless, critics of the Pentagon are seizing on Shinseki’s comment, his opinion, as evidence that the Pentagon may be underplaying or under-representing what the post-war commitment will be. And General Shinseki — some of his aides are telling us that he sort of stands by his opinion that he offered that — have you –

Rumsfeld: I’ve not talked to him.

(To General Myers) Have you?

Myers: I have not talked to General Shinseki either.

Q: Well –

Rumsfeld: First of all, people are entitled to their own opinions.

Q: Well, do you find that unhelpful, and do you plan to discuss it at all with him?

Rumsfeld: I don’t know. I’m sure I’ll see him. I see him every week for one reason or another. And I’m sure it will come up. But you mean did I pick up the phone yesterday and ask him to come and see me or call –

Q: To discuss whether or not this is helpful to your case.

Rumsfeld: The — well, if he’s right, it’s helpful. My personal view is that it will prove to be high. The problem we have is that anyone who tries to go to a single point answer has to have made a series of judgments about a set of six to eight variables, and he has to in their mind decided, well, this is how that variable is going to be decided, and therefore, I can come to a single point answer.

I’m not deft enough to take six or eight working variables — ‘

Rumsfeld always masked his ideological commitments by pretending an issue was too complex to talk about clearly. It wasn’t 7 or 8 working variables, whatever that even means. Shinseki was analogizing from the actual experience of NATO forces in the Balkans. For x number of an occupied population you need y numbers of troops if order wasn’t to immediately break down.

On February 28, Rumsfeld had become more assertive, according to AFX.com:

‘”However, I will say this … what is … reasonably certain is the idea that it would take several hundred thousand US forces is far from the mark.”
Rumsfeld said the US has “no idea how long the war will last. We don’t know to what extent there may or may not be weapons of mass destruction used. We don’t have any idea whether or not there would be ethnic strife.”
“We don’t know exactly how long it would take to find weapons of mass destruction and destroy them,” he said.
“The reality is that we already have a number of countries that have offered to participate with their forces in stabilization activities in the event force has to be used.
“It’s not logical to me,” he said, that it would take as many forces in the aftermath of a war “as it would to win the war … any idea that it’s several hundred thousand for any sustained period is simply not the case.” ‘

A) If you don’t know all the things Rumsfeld said he didn’t know, you don’t go to war. And B) it is entirely logical that an occupation of 27 million people would take more troops than merely defeating a demoralized and poorly trained and equipped Iraqi army.

In fact, we now know that Rumsfeld wanted to go into Iraq, lop off the head of the regime, install Ahmad Chalabi as soft dictator, and get all US troops save one division out by the following October. Rumsfeld was right that a long occupation was undesirable. But his plan could only have worked if he had kept the Iraqi army in existence and gone with someone more acceptable to them than Chalabi. The plan was self-contradictory, impractical and deeply flawed.

Wolfowitz attacked Shinseki two days after the general’s testimony, on February 27:

‘ “There has been a good deal of comment—some of it quite outlandish—about what our postwar requirements might be in Iraq. Some of the higher end predictions we have been hearing recently, such as the notion that it will take several hundred thousand U.S. troops to provide stability in post-Saddam Iraq, are wildly off the mark. It is hard to conceive that it would take more forces to provide stability in post-Saddam Iraq than it would take to conduct the war itself and to secure the surrender of Saddam’s security forces and his army—hard to imagine.”

* House Budget Committee testimony on Iraq (February 27, 2003)’

Wolfowitz clearly was trashing Shinseki because he wanted a small force to go into Iraq, put in Chalabi the Corrupt, and get right back out.

Wolfowitz gave an interview with Ghida Fakhry of Lebanese Television on March, 2003, in which he said (State Department NEWS TRANSCRIPT Department of Defense Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz March 26, 2003 (Interview with Ghita Fawkry [sic], Lebanese Broadcasting Corporation):

‘ Wolfowitz: War is a terrible thing. We’ve tried every other means to achieve objectives without a war because we understand what the price of a war can be and what it is. But the truth is the horrors of peace in Iraq under this dictator are actually far worse than war. We’ve taken great care to avoid hitting civilians. That doesn’t mean we succeed every time, but we’ve taken great care in that respect. . .

I hear sometimes nonsense about how this is a war for oil. If the United States had wanted access to Iraq’s oil all we had to do 12 years ago was to abandon any policy toward Saddam Hussein and just do commercial business with him. I hear sometimes that this is a war for Israel. This is not a war for Israel at all. It is an opportunity, I believe, to put the lie to those people who say there aren’t any democracies in the Arab world because Arabs are incapable of democracy. . .

Iraq is a country that is rich in natural resources. Even more important it’s a country that’s rich in human talent. Unfortunately too much of that talent has been driven out of the country by Saddam Hussein.

But I don’t think the Iraqi people are going to need the United States or the United Nations or any foreign force for very long once they’re given the chance to create their own institutions.’

Wolfowitz was wrong about everything. It is nearly 6 years later and there are still 150,000 or so US troops in Iraq, and 4000 British. He thought that the Iraqi National Congress, with the leader of which–Ahmad Chalabi– he had done some sort of corrupt political deal, would just waltz in and take over from the Baath Party. But the INC had no grass roots in Iraq.

By the way, the reason that the United States could not do commercial business with Saddam Hussein in the 1990s was that the American Israel Public Affairs Committee had successfully lobbied Congress to put tight sanctions on that country, and efforts by oil excecutives such as Dick Cheney to argue Congress out of such unilateral sanctions so that US petroleum companies could develop new fields in the Middle East were a miserable failure. Wolfowitz knew this when he made that dishonest argument to Ms. Fakhry. Wolfowitz’s paternalistic idea that an American military occupation could demonstrate what Arabs were capable of is bizarre. What Wolfowitz did was convince a whole generation of Arabs that they should at any cost avoid doing anything that would reproduce a situation in their countries like that in American Iraq.

And then there is the sad, sad situation of some 36,000 US troops who were wounded in Iraq badly enough to go to hospital, along with thousands more who have brain trauma not recognized at the time. Wolfowitz’s boilerplate about how horrible war is will do them no good. The cost to the US public of two divisions of wounded will probably come to $2 trillion over the decades. Gen. Shinseki, disregarded at a crucial moment by civilian ideologues, will now have the opportunity to look after the Vets.