Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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October 9, 2004
By: Kevin Drum

KERRY AND SHINSEKI....A few commenters took me to task in this post for referring to John Kerry's "misleading statement about General Shinseki," and after a bit of checking around I think they've got a point. Kerry did exaggerate, but it turns out I was mistaken about some of the details of this affair too. Here's the whole story plus some bonus snark if you read to the end!

First, here's what Kerry said:

General Shinseki, the Army chief of staff, told him [i.e., George Bush] he was going to need several hundred thousand [troops in Iraq]. And guess what? They retired General Shinseki for telling him that.

What really happened is that in April 2002, 14 months before the end of Shinseki's term as Army Chief of Staff, Donald Rumsfeld leaked the name of Shinseki's successor to the Washington Post effectively making Shinseki a lame duck. But while Rumsfeld was probably hoping Shinseki would take the hint and choose to retire early, he didn't force him out and in fact Shinseki ended up serving out his full term. What's more, Rumsfeld did this nearly a year before Shinseki's congressional testimony about needing "several hundred thousand" troops in Iraq. Rumsfeld disliked Shinseki, but it was mainly because of disagreements over weapons systems and Rumsfeld's view of "transformation," not troop strength for the Iraq war.

Or so I thought. But I wasn't aware that Shinseki had been privately challenging Rumsfeld's troop estimates for the war as far back as late 2001. Rumsfeld may have had other disputes with Shinseki as well, but the troop strength issue really was one of the reasons that Rumsfeld announced Shinseki's replacement so far ahead of time.

However, Kerry still shouldn't have said Shinseki was "retired." He wasn't. (He was "castrated," as one Pentagon official put it, but I imagine Kerry probably ought to avoid using that word too.)

So that's that. And now, here's the bonus snark I promised. While I was googling around, I found this article by NRO's Jed Babbin from March 2003:

On February 25, Shinseki testified before the Senate Armed Services Committee. Senator Levin asked him to "give us some idea as to the magnitude of the Army's force requirement for an occupation of Iraq...." Any general officer especially one as political as Shinseki would have corrected the question before answering it, because the very premise of an extended "occupation" is antithetical to President Bush's policy of liberation....Instead of correcting Levin, Shinseki answered that "something on the order of several hundred thousand soldiers" would be required.

Yep, the very idea of an extended "occupation" was just delusional. After all, President Bush said we were going to liberate Iraq, not occupy it so why would anyone want to plan for anything else?

I wonder if Babbin has apologized yet to Shinseki?

POSTSCRIPT: I should note that I'm entirely agnostic on the general question of whether Rumsfeld's vision of military transformation was and is a good one. I'm also agnostic about whether Rumsfeld was justified in thinking Shinseki was a barrier to implementing his vision.

However, one of their core disagreements was Shinseki's view that peacekeeping was one of the military's fundamental jobs. Rumsfeld, by contrast, was disdainful of Clinton-era peacekeeping missions, and that's one of the reasons he was so obsessed with building a small, light Army. After all, who needs lots of troops if your plan is to overwhelm your enemies in weeks with superior firepower and tactics and then get out fast to get ready for the next war?

Needless to say, history has proven Rumsfeld very, very wrong on that score. If anything, peacekeeping and nation building are more important in the war on terror than they have been in the past. Rumsfeld still doesn't seem to get that.

Kevin Drum 8:10 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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