Tuesday, December 09, 2008

The Shinseki Appointment

I have avoided commenting on Obama’s cabinet appointments to this point, other than to express my dismay at his choice for Secretary of State, but some recent commentary on his selection of Eric Shinseki for VA Secretary compels me to weigh in.

As background, for any who may not recall, as Chief of Staff of the Army General Shinseki testified before Congress that he believed that “several hundred thousand” troops would be required to control Iraq in the aftermath of invasion. He was publicly mocked and humiliated by Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz for this statement, and retired shortly afterward. He was not, as many commentators including Keith Olbermann have stated, fired by Rumsfeld. His retirement, however, was well ahead of schedule and was clearly coerced. None of the civilian military leadership attended his retirement ceremony, a serious insult.

Both Olbermann and Rachel Maddow have commented that George Bush tacitly admitted that Shinseki was right when he initiated the “Surge,” which demonstrates the degree to which both of them enjoy engaging in idiotic hyperbole. The 30,000 troops that were sent in that escalation are miles from the “several hundred thousand” that Shinseki said would be needed, and do not even remotely represent a validation of this fine general or any degree of repudiation of the humiliating treatment which he was afforded.

Chief of Staff of the Army is a huge administrative job and, as such, may
be one of the very best backgrounds for Secretary of the Veterans Administration. Eric Shinseki is not a self serving political general, but a career general in the best sense of the term; dedicated to his service rather than to himself. That is born out by his silence since his retirement, and it is precisely what the job requires today. Rachel Maddow asked if his low profile persona was sufficient to the task of pressing for the resources needed by the VA, and I would suggest that it is precisely what is needed.

Finally, I do wish that the media would make an effort to distinguish between the administrative problems of the VA bureaucracy and the superb quality of the VA Medical Service today.

After Vietnam the VA medical facilities attained a reputation as hellholes of the worst sort, and quite deservedly so. Under the direction of Kenneth W. Kizer, beginning in 1994, the VA Medical Service has made one of the greatest turnarounds in modern history, and it is now one of the finest medical systems in the entire world. You will hear many veterans complain of difficulty getting into the system, but you will hear no complaints from veterans presently being served by the VA Health Service in any of its facilities.

The first thing needs to be dealt with, and Eric Shinseki is an excellent choice to deal with the administrative problems facing the VA. This nation has done things that need to be corrected, but we need for the media to acknowledge the things that we have done right as well.

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