by Matt Saldaña
On Sunday, Barack Obama officially announced his selection of Eric K. Shinseki, a retired four-star general, to head the Department of Veterans Affairs. In addition to serving in the U.S. Army for 38 years--and earning two purple hearts in the Vietnam War--the Duke Chronicle reports that Shinseki graduated from Duke University in 1976, with a B.A. in English literature.
In 2003, Shinseki faced criticism from George W. Bush and then-Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld for testifying before Congress, shortly before the U.S. invasion of Iraq, that "several hundred thousand" troops would be necessary in order to confront the region's ethnic tensions.
The New York Times notes that, although Shinseki's comments made him something of a persona non grata, they turned out to be quite prescient:
The testimony angered Donald H. Rumsfeld, the defense secretary at the time, whose war plans called for far fewer troops. Mr. Rumsfeld’s deputy, Paul D. Wolfowitz, publicly rebuked General Shinseki’s comments as “wildly off the mark,” in part because Iraqis would welcome the Americans as liberators.
With the subsequent years in which Americans battled ethnic insurgents, and after President Bush agreed in January 2007 to a “surge” strategy of more troops, General Shinseki was effectively vindicated, and military officials, as well as activists and politicians, publicly saluted him. By then, however, General Shinseki had been marginalized on the Joint Chiefs of Staff and quietly retired from the Army.
If confirmed by the Senate, Shinseki will oversee 240,000 employees in the second-largest federal agency, behind the Defense Department.