Back on Veterans Day I posted an article about how Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders have been heroes for generations in the U.S. military, and ended the article with a note about retired Four-Star Gen. Eric Shinseki, former Army Chief of Staff and the highest-ranked AAPI in the military.
Today, NBC released an excerpt of an interview with Barack Obama to air on tomorrow’s “Meet the Press” program, during which the President-elect tells Tom Brokaw that he’s naming Shinseki as Secretary of Veterans Affairs.
The timing of the announcement isn’t coincidental.
Tomorrow is Sunday, December 7, the 67th anniversary of the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor. Shinseki is Japanese American, and he was born in Hawai’i on November, 28, 1942. He and Barack Obama both have childhood roots in Hawai’i. Shinseki is a Vietnam veteran, who lost part of a foot from stepping on a land mine. He was named Army Chief of Staff in 1999 and retired in 2003… many thought, under duress from the Bush administration for his views which contradicted the official one on the war against Iraq.
On February 25, 2003, a few months before the end of his appointment and the start of his retirement, Shinseki testified to the Senate Armed Services Committee that he thought an occupying force of several hundred thousand men would be needed to stabilize postwar Iraq. His analysis was bluntly dismissed by the Bush administration. Here’s part of a transcript of the proceedings:
Sen. Carl Levin (D-MI): General Shinseki, could you give us some idea as to the magnitude of the Army’s force requirement for an occupation of Iraq following a successful completion of the war?
Gen. Shinseki: In specific numbers, I would have to rely on combatant commanders’ exact requirements. But I think —
Levin: How about a range?
Shinseki: 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 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.
Then-Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz publicly disagreed with his estimate, rebuking Shinseki and saying he was “wildly off the mark.”
On “Meet the Press,” Obama obviously thinks Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz were the ones who were “off the mark.”
President-Elect Obama: Tomorrow, you had mentioned earlier, is when we commemorate Pearl Harbor, and so I’m going to be making announcement tomorrow about the head of our Veterans Administration, General Eric Shinseki, who was a commander and has fought in Vietnam, Bosnia, is somebody who has achieved the highest level of military service. He has agreed that he is willing to be part of this administration because both he and I share a reverence for those who serve. I grew up in Hawaii, as he did. My grandfather is in the Punch Bowl National Cemetery. When I reflect on the sacrifices that have been made by our veterans and, I think about how so many veterans around the country are struggling even more than those who have not served — higher unemployment rates, higher homeless rates, higher substance abuse rates, medical care that is inadequate — it breaks my heart, and I think that General Shinseki is exactly the right person who is going to be able to make sure that we honor our troops when they come home.
Tom Brokaw: He’s the man who lost his job in the Bush Administration because he said we will need more troops in Iraq than Secretary of Defense Don Rumsfeld thought we would need at that time.
President-Elect Obama: He was right.
Here’s the video:
It’s great to see Obama appoint an Asian American to cabinet level. Bush, after all, kept Norm Mineta on during his first term as Secretary of Transportation, after he served as Bill Clinton’s Secretary of Commerce.
There are other high-level and qualified AAPIs who might still be considered for other major Obama administration positions. Maybe with Shinseki taking the Veterans Affairs top spot, Tammy Duckworth, who’s the state of Illinois’ Veterans Administration chief and had been touted as a candidate for the Obama cabinet post, will be considered instead for Obama’s replacement in the Senate.
We’ll have to wait and see — she’s terrific, and has a bright future in Democratic politics.