President-elect Barack Obama has selected General Eric K. Shinseki (ret.) (photo left), a former U.S. Army Chief of Staff, as the next Secretary of Veterans Affairs. This may be a fine selection, but the nomination is not attracting press attention because of General Shinseki's fitness to lead the Veterans' Administration. Rather it is one more opportunity for the press to batter President George W. Bush and his Administration over Iraq. Typical is this paragraph from an AP article announcing the appointment, which was parroted on NPR, among other media outlets:
"Shinseki was nudged out as Army chief of staff in 2003 after testifying to Congress that the U.S. needed more troops in Iraq than Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld believed at the time. Shinseki was later proved correct. "
No, he was not proved correct, and indeed his statement regarding troop strength in Iraq in 2003 was demonstrably incorrect, as proven by subsequent history. In his testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee, responding to a question from Senator Carl Levin regarding how many troops would be required to effectively handle the occupation of Iraq, General Shinseki answered:
I would say that what's been mobilized to this point -- something on the order of several hundred thousand soldiers are probably, you know, a figure that would be required. We're talking about posthostilities 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.
Now "several" according to the dictionary means "more than two or three." Consequently, the most straightforward interpretation of General Shinseki's answer is that he believed more than 300,000 troops would be needed to carry off a successful operation of Iraq.
It was this estimate that then-Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld called "far off the mark," and he was right. Although more troops were required in Iraq than Rumsfeld's original estimate, the so-called surge involved only about 20,000 additional troops, and brought the total U.S. troop strength in Iraq to about 150,000soldiers. Even more troops arguably might have been useful, but the bottom line is that the U.S. and its allies managed to successfully carry out the occupation of Iraq with 150,000 troops. 150,000 is not "several hundred thousand." It is not even "a couple of hundred thousand."
This sort of media-driven revisionist history about Iraq goes well beyond any supposed vindication of General Shinseki. On November 27, the Iraqi parliament overwhelmingly approved a security pact calling for the end of U.S. occupation by 2012. Pundits described the pact as vindicating Barack Obama's call, during his Presidential campaign, for a withdrawal of U.S. troops on a 16-month timetable. Such a claim ignores two salient points: (1) Three years is 36 months not 16 months; and (2) were it not for the surge, which Mr. Obama opposed, the U.S. would not be in a position now to conduct a staged withdrawal without Iraq plunging into chaos. Indeed, throughout the recent Presidential campaign, the press tried to portray plans by the Bush Administration for gradual withdrawal of U.S. troops as a vindication of the position of Candidate Obama, as if the Bush Administration originally had planned to keep U.S. troops in Iraq forever, and had not always said that U.S. troop levels would be reduced when conditions on the ground permitted reductions.
Any objective study of what has transpired in Iraq would have to conclude that the overall course of events in Iraq has conformed far more closely to the predictions of the Bush Administration than to those of its critics. However, such objectivity is beyond the desire, if not the capability, of the American mainstream media, and will have to await the judgment of history.