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A General's Farewell | The Nation

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Katrina vanden Heuvel

Katrina vanden Heuvel

Politics, current affairs and riffs and reflections on the news.

A General's Farewell

Remember General Eric Shinseki, the Army Chief of Staff, who warned that occupying Iraq might require hundreds of thousands of soldiers for an extended period? He was immediately reprimanded by Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz for being "wildly off the mark."

It's now two months since Baghdad fell, no WMD's have been found and US forces are bogged down in Iraq. American generals, happy to boast about the rapid defeat of Saddam's regime, now admit the war is far from over. The other night, General Barry McCaffrey predicted that US troops would be in Iraq for five years and warned that three divisions of the National Guard might be needed to reinforce Army divisions already deployed. And Lieutenant General David McKiernan, commander of US ground forces in Iraq, recently said his troops would be needed for a long time to come, that Baghdad and a large swathe of northern and western Iraq is only a "semi-permissive" environment, and that "subversive forces" are still active.

Since Bush strutted onto the USS Lincoln to declare "Mission Accomplished," more than forty Americans have been killed with many more wounded, (sixty-six have been killed since the fall of Baghdad on April 9.) No wonder General Shinseki--the highest-ranking Asian-American in US military history--retired the other day with a blast at the arrogance of the Pentagon's civilian leaders:

"You must love those you lead before you can be an effective leader," he said. "You can certainly command without that sense of commitment, but you cannot lead without it. And without leadership, command is a hollow experience, a vacuum often filled with mistrust and arrogance."

Read between the lines. The Army chief of staff is telling us that men like Donald Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz are arrogant commanders, who not only exaggerated the threat Iraq posed but gravely underestimated the problems of postwar occupation. Americans would do well to heed General Shinseki's final warning.

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