The wire services are reporting that former Army Chief of Staff, retired General Eric Shinseki will be nominated to be Secretary of Veterans Affairs in the new Obama administration.
I’m not a big fan of Shinseki for a number of reasons. The signature events of his tenure as Army Chief of Staff was carrying out a direct attack on the Ranger Regiment by mandating that the entire Army adopt the black beret (and in the process crafting a contract specification that prohibited the only US manufacturer of berets from competing and awarding the contract to a ChiCom company) and a disloyaly effort to roll the new Secretary of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld, on the procurement of the Crusader artillery system. The dominant meme, naturally, focuses on his Iraq War testimony in February 2003.
Before moving farther I think we need to take a few moments to review the bidding.
Though the AP wire report highlights the now famous Shinseki testimoy to Congress regarding the need for “several hundred thousand troops” (Obama is quoted as saying he “was right”) one must note that “several hundred thousand troops” have not been deployed to Iraq and the situation is at hand. What the AP, and the press in general, fails to note is that Shinseki was essentially fired, i.e. his successor was announced while he still had 14 months left in his tenure as CSA, for being a disloyal **** and actively lobbying to preserve a weapons system the OSD did not want. In the process, he brought down Tom White who was shaping up to be one of the most successful and influential Army Secretaries in the past several decades. In short, Shinseki was “fired” nearly a year before his testimony, and his testimony has more to do with the need to stick a finger in Rumsfeld’s eye than with any professional assessment.
Having said that, I am cheered by the selection of General Shinseki as the Secretary of Veterans Affairs rather than a politcal hack like Max Cleland who has made a career of riding his admittedly serious injuries.
He is a disabled veteran, having lost half of a foot to a landmine in Vietnam. He has experienced the military casualty system.
Unlike Cleland, he has experience in running large organizations. The VA is a beast. The best one can hope for is that it will be nudged in the correct direction because “turning” it anywhere just can’t happen.
There is no evidence that Shinseki is very far left on the political spectrum. He is tightly wired into the Japanese-American power structure that has dominated Hawaiian politics since 1954 and has been rumored to be a successor to either Daniel Inouye or Daniel Akaka in the US Senate when they retire.
Those, of course, are the empirical reasons why we can be well satisfied with General Shinseki’s nomination. But there are other, more selfish reasons, that leave us chuckling.
Shinseki is bulletproof. Mr. Obama had better be happy in his choice because there is no firing the man. Shinseki has also demonstrated that he doesn’t let good judgment get in his way once he embarks on a course of action (see Beret, Black) and he’s not adverse to going behind his boss’s back to get his way (see Crusader). And if he is smacked about he’s perfectly willing to seek public revenge. These traits in the context of an economic environment that offers no new money for veterans programs and veterans organizations who have made a sport of brutalizing VA secretaries promises to provide many opportunities for amusement in the dark days ahead.