Sunday, December 07, 2008


Like a field goal that perfectly splits the uprights. Like 3-point shot that swishes through the net without touching the rim. Like sinking a 30 foot putt, making an eagle on a par 5 or even scoring a hole-in-one. So it is with Obama's master stroke of naming Eric Shinseki as Secretary of Veterans Affairs.

Few could make the point better than James Fallows of The Atlantic:

Obama is elevating the man who was right, when Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz, Cheney, et al were so catastrophically wrong -- that is something that neither Obama nor anyone around him need say out loud, ever. The nomination is like a hyper-precision missile, or what is known in politics as a "dog whistle." The people for whom this is a complete slap in the face don't need to be told that. They know -- and know that others know it too. So do the people for whom it is vindication. And all without Obama descending for one second from his bring-us-together higher plane.

Shinseki was Army Chief of Staff who told Congress in 2003 that it would take several hundred thousand troops to maintain peace in a post-war Iraq. His opinion ran counter to the Bush administration's desire to stay lean and mean in carrying out the war. The dispute with Rumsfeld led to the naming of Shinseki's replacement a full year before his term was up. Such an unprecedented move by a vindictive Secretary of Defense effectively cut Shinseki's feet out from under him ending any real effectiveness.

The Washington Post released an excerpt from a 12 page letter the General sent to Rumsfeld at the time of his resignation: People are central to everything we do in the Army. Institutions don't transform, people do. Platforms and organizations don't defend the nation, people do. . . . Without people in the equation, readiness and transformation are little more than academic exercises.

Also, in that same Washington Post article we read:

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.'"

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