How Donald Rumsfeld Complicated Eric Shinseki’s Last Administration Exit

The George W. Bush defense team did not give the Vietnam veteran the respect he deserved.

National Journal
Tom DeFrank
Add to Briefcase
Tom DeFrank
May 31, 2014, 4:28 a.m.

Yes, Eric Shin­seki had to go, and he prob­ably knew it him­self once the hor­ror stor­ies sur­faced. As the re­tired four-star gen­er­al learned at West Point, the com­mand­er is ul­ti­mately re­spons­ible. While the Vet­er­ans Ad­min­is­tra­tion has been a ma­na­geri­al bleed­ing sore for years, the chaos and per­haps crimin­al­ity at sub­or­din­ate ech­el­ons of the VA on Shin­seki’s watch made his sur­viv­al im­possible.

But let’s not for­get that Ric Shin­seki is not just a highly dec­or­ated com­mand­er and wounded war­ri­or, los­ing part of his foot in Vi­et­nam and claw­ing his way back onto act­ive duty against the wishes of Army brass. He’s a truth-tell­er of the first rank — and that dis­play of char­ac­ter so en­raged the George W. Bush de­fense team that he en­countered some of the shab­bi­est treat­ment an of­ficer and a gen­tle­man has ever en­countered dur­ing my 46 years serving in and hanging around the Pentagon.

It didn’t help his case with the Bush­ies that Bill Clin­ton had ap­poin­ted him Army chief of staff. Moreover, De­fense Sec­ret­ary Don­ald Rums­feld, who didn’t en­joy be­ing chal­lenged, quickly took a dis­like to Shin­seki after sev­er­al policy and strategy dis­agree­ments.

Rummy was so in­tent on pun­ish­ing Shin­seki out, in fact, that he dir­ec­ted one of his flack-shop aco­lytes to leak word of his re­place­ment to The New York Times — 15 months be­fore Shin­seki’s four-year term was up.

This had the in­stant ef­fect of ren­der­ing Shin­seki a lame duck with­in the E-ring, the Pentagon’s power cor­ridor. It was cheesy, petty, shame­ful, and totally un­war­ran­ted be­ha­vi­or. The Rums­feld crowd loved them­selves for it.

When Shin­seki re­tired in June of 2003, Rums­feld and Deputy De­fense Sec­ret­ary Paul Wolfow­itz were not­able by their ab­sence at his Fort My­er send-off — an­oth­er gra­tu­it­ous, small-bore move.

Even then, they were still fum­ing over Shin­seki’s testi­mony be­fore the Sen­ate Armed Ser­vices Com­mit­tee four months earli­er. Asked how many troops would be needed to keep the peace in a post­war Ir­aq, Shin­seki pre­dicted “sev­er­al hun­dred thou­sand.”

Rums­feld went bal­list­ic; that was far more than the low-ball fig­ure he’d been us­ing on Cap­it­ol Hill. Wolfow­itz blas­ted Shin­seki pub­licly, call­ing his es­tim­ate “wildly off the mark.” The sub-rosa snip­ing es­cal­ated from there; sud­denly it wasn’t hard at all for re­port­ers to find someone in the Rums­feld or­bit eager to dump all over the Army chief.  

Of course, his­tory has shown that Shin­seki’s prin­cipled testi­mony about Ir­aq was on the mark, and the Rums­feld/Cheney/Wolfow­itz war hawks were wrong.

Still, Obama was right to in­sist on Shin­seki’s resig­na­tion from the VA. But he was also right to sa­lute Shin­seki as “a very good man; I don’t just mean he’s an ac­com­plished man “¦ [and] an out­stand­ing sol­dier.  He’s a good per­son who’s done ex­em­plary work on our be­half.”

In the polit­ic­al game, there’s of­ten a dif­fer­ence between need­ing to go and de­serving to go. Not for the first time in a stor­ied ca­reer, Ric Shin­seki de­served bet­ter.

What We're Following See More »
ESCORT SERVICES USED TO WOO RECRUITS
NCAA Strips Louisville of Basketball Championship
0 minute ago
THE LATEST

The N.C.A.A. "upheld penalties against Louisville’s men’s basketball program related to a sex scandal involving players, recruits and prostitutes, and ordered the university to forfeit dozens of victories, including its 2013 national championship." Andre McGee, a former Louisville player serving on the basketball staff in 2013, solicited an escort service that he used to entertain recruits in an on-campus dormitory. Louisville officials called the decision "wrong." It is the first time the N.C.A.A. has stripped a program of the national championship.

Source:
HALF OF 2016 LEVELS
Hiring of Deportation Officers Drops Under Trump
2 hours ago
THE DETAILS

"The Trump administration is failing to hire law enforcement personnel to enforce immigration laws despite a significant push to do so, according to new Homeland Security Department documents. The hiring of new deportation officers at Immigration and Customs Enforcement dropped in half to just 371 total in 2017, according to information provided to potential vendors for a contract to help ICE boost hiring."

Source:
HEARING THIS AFTERNOON
Mueller Indicts Attorney for Making False Statements About Gates
4 hours ago
THE LATEST
THE QUESTION
What’s the Value of Suspicious Transactions by Paul Manafort that Mueller Is Investigating?
4 hours ago
THE ANSWER

About $40 million, "a much larger sum than was cited in his October indictment on money laundering charges."

Source:
SHOW OF FORCE TO MOSCOW
Two U.S. Navy Destroyers Operating in Black Sea
4 hours ago
THE DETAILS

"Under cover of darkness, U.S. Navy guided-missile destroyer USS Ross (DDG-71) slipped through the Bosporus Strait and into the Black Sea on Friday. The next day USS Carney (DDG-64) joined Ross. The ships are operating are part of an unspecified regional “proactive” presence mission in the sea bordered by Russia, according to the Navy."

Source:
×
×

Welcome to National Journal!

You are currently accessing National Journal from IP access. Please login to access this feature. If you have any questions, please contact your Dedicated Advisor.

Login