Monday, December 8, 2008

Preparing for the Presidency

I haven't publicly commented on the president-elect's selections for his incoming administration.

Mostly because I was waiting to see how it shook out

I think it says a great deal about Obama's strength of character and confidence that he would choose those who are equally strong willed and who may not necessarily agree with him politically.  In other words, Obama seems to be choosing those who will continually challenge himself, themselves, and each other. This is a good thing, this is how real solutions are found, this is how national problems are actually solved, this is how the best course of action in a crisis is found - and if nothing else, it will be a refreshing change from the last eight years of ass-kissing toadies, yes men with their rubber stamps, and the sycophantic enablers who have surrounded the Bush administration.

I'm a bit ambivalent about Obama's selection of Senator Clinton for Secretary of State, but I'm fairly impressed with the rest of his cabinet selections so far.

And then, well, there's retired Army General Eric Shinseki, nominated by Obama last week to the cabinet post of Secretary of Veterans Affairs.


Don't get me wrong, I think Eric Shinseki is an excellent choice to head the DVA - and I don't say that lightly, as I'm dependent on the Department of Veterans Affairs for a number of things.

But I do find this nomination amusing, for a number of reasons - not the least of which is the upraised middle finger it flips straight at George W. Bush.

Shinseki's a got a hell of an education, he's a decorated combat veteran who was severely wounded by a landmine in Vietnam during his second tour (and from which he incurred permanent injuries very similar to the kinds of long term issues a hell of a lot of veterans are dealing with right now), he's served all over the world, and he was the driving force behind much of the Army force re-structuring (the things that have worked, and worked well in the current conflict - like the Styker concept).

He also knows what he's talking about, and wasn't shy about saying so - and the Bush administration crucified him for it, just like they did a certain other General who refused to tell them what they wanted to hear. If fact, how the Bush Administration dealt with General Shinseki, is a pretty good example of how they've dealt with just about everybody in uniform who has displayed honor, courage, duty, service above self, commitment, sacrifice, and all those other things that George W. Bush and his neocon supporters hold in such contempt. 

See, back before this conflict began, back in the planning stages, Shinseki said when asked directly for his opinion by Senator Levin before the Senate Armed Services Committee, that in his professional opinion it would take anywhere from one hundred and twenty thousand to "several" hundred thousand troops to hold Iraq after the cessation of major hostilities and that those troops would be needed to maintain and enforce order while the bureaucrats built a stable and functioning government. Shinseki also said they'd be there for a while, nation building isn't something you just pull out of your ass overnight (I'm paraphrasing, obviously).  Understand something very important here, Senator Levin was asking General Shinseki, who was under oath, to give his honest, professional opinion.  Shinseki was required by law, military regulation, and his sworn oath both before the Senate and as a uniformed officer, to answer the question as asked - not give the Bush Administration's canned public relations answer - this being the whole point of the hearing in the first place. Shinseki did so.

You know what happened, of course, Shinseki was pilloried, by Bush, by Cheney, and especially by that twisted arrogant little jackal, Rumsfeld.  None of these men (and I use that term strictly in the biological sense and nothing more) were experts in warfare, in occupation, in nation building, Shinseki was.  None of these men, and Rumsfeld in particular, understand the concept of giving an honest answer to a direct question - to them adherence to the party line is more important than accurate intelligence, accurate planning, professional judgement, and experience. They think you can wage war like you wage a political campaign. They think that you can wage real war the same way republicans having been waging their 'war on drugs' since Nancy Reagan was commander in chief.  Or their 'war on AIDS' or their 'war on poverty.' 

War, combat, military history, the mistakes made in Vietnam and elsewhere - those were the very things that General Eric Shinseki had spent his entire life, career, and education learning, both academically and through directly experience.  General Shinseki was a general for exactly that reason - that's how you get to be a general in the first place.  Not one, not one, of the men who derided Shinseki had anywhere near the General's expertise. Not one.  And yet, those same cowardly men ridiculed a decorated combat veteran and one of the most experienced military leaders in our nation, and they did so publicly.  Rumsfeld went so far as to tell the nation that it would take less than twenty thousand troops to hold Iraq after the war. Twenty thousand.  Maybe even as few as ten.

Shinseki retired not long after the war started. A number of people have suggested that Shinseki was forced to retire as a result of his disagreement with the Bush administration - this is incorrect. Shinseki's retirement was planned by Shinseki himself long before the question of occupation force levels came up.  However, Shinseki was the Army's Chief of Staff - the Senior Officer of the nation's oldest armed service, and not one single senior member of the Bush Administration, including Shinseki's direct boss, Donald Rumsfeld, attended the retirement ceremony. This snub was a cowardly act intended to convey most clearly to those of us in the military that disagree with the party line of the Bush administration and your career will end in disgrace.

Here it is now, years later and thousands of lives later, and guess what?  Turns out General Eric Shinseki was right all along.  Turns out the man knew his profession. Turns out that Bush, Cheney, Rove, Rumsfeld, and that bloodsucking son of bitch Wolfowitz were criminally wrong.

Did any of them apologize? To Shinseki, to the rest of us, to the nation? No, of course not. Bush did have this to say though:

"I think I was unprepared for war," Bush told ABC News' Charlie Gibson in an interview airing on "World News."

Jesus H. Christ, you think, George? Unprepared, there's the understatement of the entire century.

Here's the thing though, there were men who were prepared, who had spent their entire lives preparing, who trained to be prepared, who spent decades gaining the experience to be prepared, men who were wounded in battle and spent the rest of their lives maimed from gaining the experience necessary to be prepared - men like General Eric Shinseki. 

And these were the very men that Bush and his band of leech-like sycophants kicked to the curb. Men like Colin Powell. Men like Eric Shinseki.  And this more than anything is the defining characteristic of the Bush administration - an absolute and utter inability to see that dissension is not disloyalty, that alternate viewpoints must not be suppressed but rather encouraged, and that only men of small ability and weak intellect are threatened by those who are truly capable.


Eric Shinseki is an excellent choice for Secretary of Veterans Affairs, and maybe even Secretary of Defense when Gates chooses to move on.

This new President may not be prepared for war - or any of the other crises that may come up in the next four years - but he is surrounding himself with people who are.

And that, my friends, is one hell of a welcome change.


  1. Come on Jim, Nancy wasn't Commander in Chief... that would have been her astrologer

  2. heh heh - we used to joke about Reaganisms coming out of the Moon in the House of Uranus. Eh, it seemed funnier when we were looking across the border into East Germany...

    One of the things I saw before throwing in my vote was that Mr. Obama seemed to be a flexible-minded sort of person (not the hard party-line, aforementioned toadie type) who would probably be open to serious discussion and debate - especially among those he chose to advise and assist him. Mrs. Clinton did look like she had an ohshit moment, though, when she accepted.

    I'm going to go read up more on General Shinseki...

  3. These cabinet picks are actually making me very happy (bad liberal me!)

    Before the election I think I repeatedly said that I hoped he would pick experienced cabinet members and then listen to them. The fact that he is picking men and women who may disagree with him is extremely important.

    As you said, discussion is a good thing.

    I think the experience issue (which you didn't address) is important was well; he needs people who are not going to be afraid to tell him he's being stupid. I would fear that young and inexperienced cabinet members would be likely to grin and nod more than say, "You're wrong."

  4. I wouldn't be at all surprised to hear a cabinet member during 2009 say, "I'm not always in agreement with the President, but he always gives me a fair hearing before making his decisions."

    That sort of disloyalty would be unthinkable in the current administration.

  5. I'm going to play devil's advocate here. With a few exceptions, I haven't been horribly impressed with the incoming nominees because IMHO they are standard-issue Democratic front-runners. They certainly are strong enough to know their own minds, but they are also keepers of the party-business-as-usual continuity.

    I was truly hoping for some creative thinking, some bipartisan selections and some completely non-political, genius-in-their-own field selections that didn't smack so much of political favor-trading. I will defer to your judgment on Shineseki - he sounds like a very solid, honorable man.

    Because really, why couldn't we have Paul Krugman (or Warren Buffett?) advising him on finance? And Colin Powell for education? And why the fuck do we have a governor or a senator in the relatively useless office of Homeland security - why not someone with true experience in the security and anti-terrorism field, who might be able to make a useful and sane difference in the way our nation handles that function?

    Instead, it's cronies, senators, governors, longtime senior administrators in Washington. They may bring experience to the table, but they also bring a tremendous inertia. I had hoped for better.

  6. "When you get on post, after reporting in for duty, fund out who your sergeant is and what they like to drink. Buy them a case of it. Present it to them when checking in and then ask them just WTF your job is."

    Best piece of command advice I ever got.


Comments on this blog are moderated. Each will be reviewed before being allowed to post. This may take a while. I don't allow personal attacks, trolling, or obnoxious stupidity. If you post anonymously and hide behind an IP blocker, I'm a lot more likely to consider you a troll. Be sure to read the commenting rules before you start typing. Really.