It’s an article of faith among the left — promoted during John Kerry’s failed presidential campaign — that General Eric Shinseki, formerly Army Chief of Staff and now VA Secretary, was fired for testifying to Congress that several hundred thousand troops would be needed to stabilize Iraq. If only President Bush had listened to General Shinseki, they cluck, Iraq might never have become such a mess.
Of course, the story is false. General Shinseki retired when his term as Chief of Staff ended on schedule. Also, Shinseki was wrong; the Surge stabilized Iraq with 160 thousand troops, far less than any reasonable interpretation of “several hundred thousand.”
Nevertheless, Shinseki had a point. Defeating the insurgency in Iraq ultimately required an increase in troop levels. The Surge was primarily a change in tactics, but it required additional troops to carry it out. Although he was wrong about the magnitude, he was right that we needed more than we had.
With this in mind, consider three facts:
- Today we are trying to replicate the Surge in Afghanistan.
- General David McKiernan, the US commander in Afghanistan, says he needs 30 thousand additional troops. President Obama agreed to send 17 thousand, a little more than half of what General McKiernan requested.
- General McKiernan was fired on Monday. (For real, unlike General Shinseki.)
Defense Secretary Gates says that McKiernan was not fired over his troop requests. Whether that’s true is anyone’s guess. (Personally, I’m inclined to believe it, because I’m inclined to believe Gates is an honorable man.) But the parallel between this true story and the Shinseki myth is striking.
Whatever the reason McKiernan was fired, the fact remains that the commander on the ground says we need more troops than the President is willing to send. This story is feeling awfully familiar.
UPDATE (12/5): Corrected the number of US troops at the peak of the surge to 160 thousand, which does not affect the argument in any material way.