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Context of 'December 7, 2008: Retired Army General Named as Veterans Affairs Chief; Widely Seen as Repudiation of Bush Policies towards Military'

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President Bush hosts a dinner meeting with a group of Republican governors at the White House. As deputy press secretary Scott McClellan will later recall, because the meeting is private—no press is allowed—Bush is “conspicuously candid with his former colleagues, now trusted friends and political allies.… Bush’s forthrightness about his thinking and approach on Iraq [is] revealing.” Bush boasts of the recent capture of Ramzi bin al-Shibh (see September 11, 2002) and says of Osama bin Laden, “[W]e don’t know where he is, but he has been diminished.” He then turns to Iraq: “It is important to know that Iraq is an extension of the war on terror,” he says. “In the international debate, we are starting to shift the burden of guilt to the guilty. The international community is risk averse. But I assure you I am going to stay plenty tough.” He repeats his belief that if the international community brings enough pressure to bear, the Iraqi people will take matters into their own hands: “I believe regime change can occur if we have strong, robust inspections. Saddam Hussein is a guy who is likely to have his head show up on a platter” if enough outside pressure is brought to bear. Of Hussein, Bush says: “He is a hateful, ugly, repugnant man who needs to go. He is also paranoid. This is a guy who killed his own security guards recently. I would like to see him gone peacefully. But if I unleash the military, I promise you it will be swift and decisive.” He then tells the governors how to handle questions from possible critics: “Don’t fall into the argument that there is no one to replace Saddam Hussein.… And our planning will make sure there is no oil disruption; we are looking at options to enhance oil flow.” To sum up, Bush says: “Military force is my last option, but it may be the only choice.… I’m gonna make a prediction. Write this down. Afghanistan and Iraq will lead that part of the world to democracy. They are going to be the catalyst to change the Middle East and the world.” In the questioning period, Bush tells the governors that while he intends to invade Iraq sooner rather than later, he is aware that the political timing of the decision is important, with the midterm elections approaching. He reiterates: “[I]f we have to go [into Iraq], we will be tough and swift and it will be violent so troops can move very quickly.… If we go, we will use the full force and the might of the US military (see February 25, 2003).… I believe in the power of freedom.” After the meeting, Governor John Rowland (R-CT), the chairman of the Republican Governors Association, calls the meeting a “heart to heart” on Iraq. But, McClellan will later reflect, “it was also a frank strategy powwow between the leader of a campaign and some important members of his team—a collection of local politicians who could play a crucial role in helping to generate popular support for the decision to invade.” [McClellan, 2008, pp. 139-141]

Entity Tags: George W. Bush, Bush administration (43), Scott McClellan, Saddam Hussein, Republican Governors Association, John Rowland

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion

Jay Garner.Jay Garner. [Source: US Army]The Office of Reconstruction and Humanitarian Assistance (ORHA) is created by the Pentagon to direct the post-war administration of Iraq, and signed into existence by President Bush. Its head, retired Army General Jay Garner, ostensibly reports to Undersecretary of Defense Douglas Feith (see Fall 2002), but Garner will later say that once he is in Iraq proper, General Tommy Franks of the US Central Command (CENTCOM) “will be my boss.” ORHA is later renamed the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA). David Kay, a senior fellow at the Potomac Institute for Policy Studies and a former UN weapons inspector, had initially been selected to head the office, but he declined the invitation. Associates of Kay tell the New York Times that Kay felt the new agency seemed relatively uninterested in the task of promoting democracy. [New York Times, 2/23/2003; New York Times, 4/2/2003; Roberts, 2008, pp. 126, 134] Garner is considered an excellent selection, having led the relief effort for the Kurds of northern Iraq after the 1991 Gulf War. But he faces an uphill battle, as ORHA’s functionality is plagued from the outset by a severe lack of time, uncertain funding, and incessant interdepartmental strife, particularly between the State and Defense Departments. Most ORHA workers will not have reported for duty by the time the invasion begins. And attempts to recruit experts from other agencies will be blocked by Feith and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, who impose strict ideological and bureaucratic restrictions on Garner’s selections for his staff. [Roberts, 2008, pp. 126, 134]

Entity Tags: US Department of Defense, Office of Reconstruction and Humanitarian Assistance, US Department of State, George W. Bush, Jay Garner, Thomas Franks, David Kay

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion, Iraq under US Occupation

General Shinseki testifying before the Senate, February 2003.General Shinseki testifying before the Senate, February 2003. [Source: Representational Pictures]General Eric Shinseki, the Army chief of staff, tells the Senate Armed Services Committee that “something on the order of several hundred thousand soldiers” will be needed to secure post-invasion Iraq. “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.” [Associated Press, 3/25/2003; New York Times, 1/12/2007] For his estimate, Shinseki will be publicly derided by Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and his deputy Paul Wolfowitz (see February 27, 2003). [Vanity Fair, 2/2009]

Entity Tags: Paul Wolfowitz, Eric Shinseki, Donald Rumsfeld

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion

Appearing before the House Budget Committee, Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz publicly contradicts General Eric Shinseki, the Army chief of staff, for saying that it will take “several hundred thousand soldiers” to successfully occupy Iraq (see February 25, 2003).
Greeted as Liberators - Wolfowitz says: “We can’t be sure that the Iraqi people will welcome us as liberators, although based on what Iraqi-Americans told me in Detroit a week ago, many of them—most of them with families in Iraq—I am reasonably certain that they will greet us as liberators, and that will help us to keep requirements down. In short, we don’t know what the requirement will be, but we can say with reasonable confidence that the notion of hundreds of thousands of American troops is way off the mark.” Wolfowitz says there’s no “record in Iraq of ethnic militias fighting one another.” [CNN, 2/28/2003; Isikoff and Corn, 2006, pp. 194] He restates the opinions of the top civilians at the Pentagon that it will take somewhere around 100,000 troops to secure postwar Iraq. Wolfowitz’s statement is echoed by Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, who says, “The idea that it would take several hundred thousand US forces I think is far off the mark.” Neither Rumsfeld nor Wolfowitz mention Shinseki by name, but the connection is clear. A spokesman for Shinseki, Colonel Joe Curtin, says that Shinseki stands by his judgment. “He was asked a question and he responded with his best military judgment,” says Curtin. [New York Times, 2/28/2003] Shinseki will retire shortly after the contretemps with Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz (see June 13, 2003).
Iraqi Reconstruction Chief's Opinion - Reflecting on Shinseki’s public humilation, Iraqi reconstruction chief Jay Garner (see January 2003) will say, “When Shinseki said, Hey, it’s going to take 300,000 or 400,000 soldiers, they crucified him. They called me up the day after that, Wolfowitz and Rumsfeld. They called me the next day and they said, Did you see what Shinseki said? And I said yes. And they said, Well, that can’t be possible. And I said, Well, let me give you the only piece of empirical data I have. In 1991 [during the Gulf War], I owned 5 percent of the real estate in Iraq, and I had 22,000 trigger pullers. And on any day I never had enough. So you can take 5 percent—you can take 22,000 and multiply that by 20. Hey, here’s probably the ballpark, and I didn’t have Baghdad. And they said, Thank you very much. So I got up and left.” Garner’s estimate would require some 440,000 troops in Iraq. [Vanity Fair, 2/2009]

Entity Tags: Donald Rumsfeld, Paul Wolfowitz, Jay Garner, Eric Shinseki

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion

A few months after being publicly, and humiliatingly, contradicted by his top civilian Pentagon bosses Donald Rumsfeld and Paul Wolfowitz (see February 27, 2003), Army Chief of Staff Eric Shinseki retires. Neither Rumsfeld nor Wolfowitz attend Shinseki’s retirement ceremony, a choice which many see as another public snubbing of the retiring general. Shinseki spends 20 minutes listing the people who had helped the Army during his tenure as Army chief of staff; Rumsfeld’s name is conspicuously absent from the listing. And in a veiled jab at his former boss, Shinseki says that “arrogance of power” is the worst substitute for true leadership. In another unusual move, Rumsfeld had already named Shinseki’s replacement, General Peter Schoomaker, nearly a year before Shinseki’s retirement. [Honolulu Advertiser, 6/13/2003; US News and World Report, 6/15/2003]

Entity Tags: Paul Wolfowitz, Eric Shinseki, Peter J. Schoomaker, US Department of the Army, Donald Rumsfeld

Timeline Tags: US Military, Events Leading to Iraq Invasion

David Grange.David Grange. [Source: CNN]CNN airs commentary from three of its “independent military analysts,” some of whom will later be cited as participants in the Pentagon’s Iraq propaganda operation (see April 20, 2008 and Early 2002 and Beyond). The analysts are retired Army Brigadier General James “Spider” Marks (whom CNN will later fire for conflicts of interest—see July 2007), retired Air Force Major General Donald Shepperd, and retired US Army Brigadier General David Grange. The topic is Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and whether he should resign. After Marks confirms that Rumsfeld repeatedly refused requests from field commanders to send more troops into Iraq during critical battlefield moments (see April 16, 2006), CNN anchor Wolf Blitzer raises the issue of other retired generals calling for Rumsfeld’s resignation.
Grange - Grange dismisses the resignation demands as coming from “a small number of general officers…” Grange says he does not have a close relationship with Rumsfeld, but admits that he participates in “occasional” briefings with Rumsfeld and Pentagon officials. Grange says “it would be inappropriate [for Rumsfeld] to step down right now,” and adds that it really isn’t the generals’ business to make any such recommendations.
Shepperd - Blitzer plays the commentary of retired Army Major General Paul Eaton, who blames Rumsfeld for not putting “enough boots on the ground to prosecute” the Iraq war and has also called for Rumsfeld’s resignation, then asks Shepperd for his commentary. Shepperd, one of the most reliable of the Pentagon’s “independent analysts” (see June 24-25, 2005), says while Rumsfeld made some “misjudgments,” he should not resign. Like Grange, he questions the “propriety” of the retired generals’ speaking out on the subject. “It steps over, in my opinion, the line of the role of military general officers, active or retired, calling for the resignation of a duly appointed representative of the government by a duly elected government. That’s the problem I have with all of this. And it’s hard to have a rational discussion because you quickly get into, is the war going well or not, do we or do we not have enough troops, when the question is one of propriety about these statements.”
Marks - Marks adds his voice to the chorus, saying that “it’s not the place of retired general officers or anyone to make that statement.…[T]he country’s at war. You need to rally around those doing their best to prosecute it.” Though Marks stands with both Grange and Shepperd in defending Rumsfeld from calls for his resignation, he does note that he retired from the Army in part because of Rumsfeld’s cavalier treatment of two of his close friends, retired General Eric Shinseki (see February 25, 2003 and February 27, 2003) and General David McKiernan. [CNN, 4/16/2006]

Entity Tags: Wolf Blitzer, David Grange, David D. McKiernan, CNN, Donald Rumsfeld, Donald Shepperd, Eric Shinseki, James Marks, Paul Eaton, US Department of Defense

Timeline Tags: US Military, Iraq under US Occupation, Domestic Propaganda

Outgoing Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld (see November 6-December 18, 2006) holds one of his final meetings with a group of retired military officers who serve as “independent analysts” for various television news broadcasts. The analysts are integral parts of a widespread Pentagon propaganda operation designed to promote the Iraq war (see April 20, 2008 and Early 2002 and Beyond).
Vitriolic Comments - Rumsfeld, who is accompanied by the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Peter Pace, is unrestrained in his contempt for a number of Iraqis and Americans involved in the occupation. According to Rumsfeld, Iraq’s interim Prime Minister, Ibrahim al-Jaafari, is an ineffectual “windsock.” Anti-American Shi’ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr is “a 30-year-old thug” who wants “to create a Hezbollah” in Iraq; al-Sadr, in Rumsfeld’s estimation, is “not a real cleric and not well respected. [Grand Ayatollah] Sistani has, of course, all the respect… and he doesn’t like him.… He opposes what he does, but he at the present time has (a) survived (b) does not have perfect control over the Sadr elements.” He lauds former US ambassador to Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad, a fellow neoconservative who now serves as the US ambassador to Iraq, but in the next breath lambasts Khalilzad’s successor in Afghanistan, Ronald Neuman. “The guy who replaced him is just terrible—Neuman,” Rumsfeld says. “I mean he’s a career foreign service officer. He ought to be running a museum somewhere. That’s also off the record. No, he ought to be assistant to the guy… I wouldn’t hire the guy to push a wheelbarrow.”
Rewriting History - When Rumsfeld is asked about former Army Chief of Staff General Eric Shinseki’s statement that he believed it would take several hundred thousand US troops to keep the peace in post-invasion Iraq (see February 25, 2003), Rumsfeld attempts to rewrite history, suggesting that he was ready to send more troops, but the commanders on the ground did not want them. He is asked: “What’s become conventional wisdom, simply Shinseki was right. If we simply had 400,000 troops or 200 or 300? What’s your thought as you looked at it?” Rumsfeld replies: “First of all, I don’t think Shinseki ever said that. I think he was pressed in a congressional hearing hard and hard and hard and over again, well, how many? And his answer was roughly the same as it would take to do the job—to defeat the regime. It would be about the right amount for post-major combat operation stabilization. And they said, ‘Well, how much is that?’ And I think he may have said then, ‘Well maybe 200,000 or 300,000.’” Both Pace and an analyst tell Rumsfeld that Shinseki’s words were “several hundred thousand,” and Rumsfeld continues, “Now it turned out he was right. The commanders—you guys ended up wanting roughly the same as you had for the major combat operation, and that’s what we have. There is no damned guidebook that says what the number ought to be. We were queued up to go up to what, 400-plus thousand.… They were in the queue. We would have gone right on if they’d wanted them, but they didn’t, so life goes on.” [Chicago Tribune, 5/7/2008] In reality, Rumsfeld and his deputy Paul Wolfowitz publicly derided Shinseki’s estimation, and hounded him into early retirement for his remarks (see February 27, 2003). And one of the commanders in the field that Rumsfeld cites, General James “Spider” Marks, has already noted that Rumsfeld personally denied multiple requests from the field for more troops (see April 16, 2006).

Entity Tags: Sayyid Ali Husaini al-Sistani, Ibrahim al-Jaafari, Hezbollah, Eric Shinseki, Donald Rumsfeld, James Marks, Ronald Neuman, Moqtada al-Sadr, Zalmay M. Khalilzad, Peter Pace, Paul Wolfowitz

Timeline Tags: US Military, Iraq under US Occupation, Domestic Propaganda

Phil Donahue.Phil Donahue. [Source: Museum of Broadcast History]Former MSNBC talk show host Phil Donahue, whose show was cancelled less than a month before the Iraq invasion because network executives feared he was “too liberal” for its viewers (see February 25, 2003), reflects on his show’s cancellation in an interview with PBS’s Bill Moyers. “[I] just felt, you know, what would be wrong with having one show a night, you know, say, ‘Hold it. Wait a minute. Can we afford this? Do we have enough troops? And what about General Shinseki (see February 25, 2003)? And where are all—you know, what is Guantanamo?’ I mean, ‘What’s wrong with this?’ I thought people who didn’t like my message would watch me. Because no one else was doing it. That’s why, I couldn’t get over the unanimity of opinion on cable. The drum was beating. Everybody wanted to bomb somebody. And I’m thinking, ‘Wait a minute.’ So here I go, I mean fool that I am, I rushed in.” Donahue recalls the strict ground rules that he worked under: “You could have the supporters of the president alone. And they would say why this war is important. You couldn’t have a dissenter alone. Our producers were instructed to feature two conservatives for every liberal.” Moyers says, “You’re kidding.” Donahue replies: “No, this is absolutely true… I was counted as two liberals.… I had to have two… there’s just a terrible fear. And I think that’s the right word.” Moyers recalls the words of Erik Sorenson, then the president of MSNBC, who said, “Any misstep and you can get into trouble with these guys and have the patriotism police hunt you down.” Donahue agrees: “He’s the management guy. So his phone would ring. Nobody’s going to call Donahue and tell him to shut up and support the war. Nobody’s that foolish. It’s a lot more subtle than that.” [PBS, 4/25/2007]

Entity Tags: Eric Shinseki, Bill Moyers, MSNBC, Erik Sorenson, Phil Donahue

Timeline Tags: US Military, Events Leading to Iraq Invasion, Domestic Propaganda

General Eric Shinseki looks on as President-elect Obama announces his choice to head the Department of Veterans Affairs.General Eric Shinseki looks on as President-elect Obama announces his choice to head the Department of Veterans Affairs. [Source: Los Angeles Times]President-elect Barack Obama selects retired General Eric Shinseki to be the new head of the Department of Veterans Affairs. Shinseki, a decorated Vietnam veteran, was the Army Chief of Staff when, months before the launch of the Iraq invasion, the US would need to send far more troops into Iraq than were allocated (see February 25, 2003). He also warned of the possibility of ethnic rivalries erupting into violent confrontations, and of the difficulties faced by a US-led reconstruction. Shinseki was ridiculed by then-Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and his then-deputy, Paul Wolfowitz (see February 27, 2003). Obama now says of Shinseki, “He was right.” Obama adds, “We owe it to all our veterans to honor them as we honored our Greatest Generation,” referring to World War II-era veterans. “Not just with words, but with deeds.” The announcement is made on the 67th anniversary of the bombing of Pearl Harbor; Shinseki is of Japanese ancestry. Shinseki says, “Even as we stand here today, there are veterans who have worried about keeping their health care or even their homes, paying their bills or finding a good job when they leave the service.” He promises to run a “21st century VA.” [Chicago Sun-Times, 12/8/2008; Democratic National Committee, 12/8/2008]
'Straight Shooter,' 'Stinging Rebuke' of Bush Policies - Responses to Shinseki’s impending appointment focus on Shinseki’s competence and the implied repudiation of Bush-era policies towards the military. Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT) calls Shinseki “a straight shooter and truth talker,” and says that his is the kind of leadership the VA needs after what he calls years of neglect of the agency by the Bush administration. [Barre-Montpelier Times Argus, 12/7/2008] The Boston Globe echoes Leahy’s characterization, calling Shinseki a “truth teller,” and writes: “The choice is a stinging rebuke not just of Rumsfeld and President Bush for failing to take Shinseki’s advice on the Iraq war, but also of the administration’s weak effort to solve the medical, educational, emotional, and employment problems that veterans are having in returning to civilian life. Just as the Bush administration thought it could oust Saddam Hussein and create a peaceful, democratic Iraq with a bare-bones force, it has tried to skimp on veterans services.” [Boston Globe, 12/9/2008] And the Washington Post’s E. J. Dionne adds, “In naming Shinseki to lead the Department of Veterans Affairs, Obama implicitly set a high standard for himself by declaring that truth-tellers and dissenters would be welcome in his administration.” [Washington Post, 12/9/2008] The chairman of the House Veterans Affairs Committee, Bob Filner (D-CA), says that Shinseki faces a daunting task: “The stakes are high at the Department of Veterans Affairs. Our veterans need to know that their service to our country is respected and honored. A new basis of stable funding must be developed. The claims backlog must be attacked in a new and dynamic way. And the mental health of our veterans—from every conflict and each generation—must remain a high priority.” John Rowan of the Vietnam Veterans of America (VVA) believes Shinseki is up for the challenge: “We have no doubt that General Shinseki has the integrity and personal fortitude to usher in the real changes needed to make the VA a true steward of our nation’s veterans and their families. His selection certainly lives up to Mr. Obama’s promise to bring change and hope to Washington. VA bureaucrats, for whom ‘change’ is a dirty word, will learn that there really is a new game in town. Veterans of all political persuasions should take heart and applaud this choice.” [Washington Times, 12/8/2008]
'Lionized by Wounded Warriors' - Thomas DeFrank of the New York Daily News writes: “By restoring to grace a retired four-star general whose career was vaporized by… Rumsfeld for daring to tell the truth, Obama has delivered a powerful symbolic statement that his government will indeed be different from the last. Shinseki’s treatment at the hands of Rumsfeld and his deputy Paul Wolfowitz is a classic of petty, meanspirited retribution.… By rehabilitating him… Obama has signaled he’s not interested in surrounding himself with toadies and yes-men. A president-elect determined to withdraw from Iraq has also helped himself with veterans. [Shinseki] is lionized by wounded warriors for his grit in persuading Army brass to let him stay on active duty after losing part of a foot in Vietnam.” [New York Daily News, 12/7/2008] And the New York Times writes, “It is heartening to know that [Shinseki] has been chosen to lead the agency charged with caring for America’s veterans, who deserve far better treatment than the country has given them.” [New York Times, 12/9/2008]
Anonymous Criticism - One of the few sour notes is sounded by the conservative Washington Times, which quotes an anonymous “high-ranking retired officer” as saying: “How much time has he spent visiting the PTSD [post-traumatic stress disorder] wards, the multiple-amputee wards, the burn wards? The major question I have is: Just what has he done for the past five years to show any concern for our veterans? I do not see any evidence of Shinseki being an agent for change.” [Washington Times, 12/8/2008]

Entity Tags: Boston Globe, Vietnam Veterans of America, Washington Times, Barack Obama, Robert Earl (“Bob”) Filner, US Department of the Army, Thomas DeFrank, US Department of Veterans Affairs, Patrick J. Leahy, Donald Rumsfeld, Paul Wolfowitz, Eric Shinseki, E. J. Dionne, John Rowan, New York Times, George W. Bush

Timeline Tags: US Military

Tammy Duckworth narrates the ‘Salute to Fallen Asian Pacific Islander Heroes’ tribute at the Defense Department. Duckworth was born in Thailand and lived in Hawaii.Tammy Duckworth narrates the ‘Salute to Fallen Asian Pacific Islander Heroes’ tribute at the Defense Department. Duckworth was born in Thailand and lived in Hawaii. [Source: US Department of Defense]President Obama names Tammy Duckworth to be assistant secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs. Duckworth, a former Democratic candidate for Congress, heads the Illinois Department of Veterans Affairs. She will work under recently named VA Secretary Eric Shinseki (see December 7, 2008). “Effective communications with veterans and VA’s stakeholders is key to improving our services and ensuring veterans receive the benefits they deserve,” Shinseki says. “Tammy Duckworth brings significant talent, leadership and personal experience to this important work.” As assistant secretary, Duckworth will direct VA’s public affairs, internal communications, and intergovernmental relations, as well as oversee programs for homeless veterans. Duckworth, who lost both legs while flying a combat mission in Iraq, has previously testified on the need for dramatic change at the VA. [U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, 2/3/2009] Duckworth’s appointment will be held up for 11 weeks because of a hold placed on her by Senator Richard Burr (R-NC). She is sworn in as assistant secretary on April 24; Burr, who never explains the reason for his hold, will vote to approve her nomination. [MSNBC, 4/24/2009]

Entity Tags: Tammy Duckworth, US Department of Veterans Affairs, Eric Shinseki, Barack Obama, Illinois Department of Veterans Affairs, Richard Burr

Timeline Tags: US Military

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