Shinseki is famous for his remarks to the U.S. Senate Armed Services committee before the war in Iraq in which he said "something in the order of several hundred thousand soldiers" would probably be required for post-war Iraq. Then Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz publicly disagreed with his estimate.
When the insurgency took hold in post-war Iraq, Shinseki's comments and their public rejection by the civilian leadership were often cited by those who felt the Bush administration deployed too few troops to Iraq. On November 15, 2006, in testimony before Congress, CENTCOM Commander Gen. John Abizaid said that General Shinseki's estimate had proved correct.
Shinseki served in a variety of command and staff assignments in the Continental United States and overseas, including two combat tours with the 9th and 25th Infantry Divisions in the Republic of Vietnam as an artillery forward observer and as commander of Troop A, 3rd Squadron, 5th Cavalry Regiment. During one of those tours, he stepped on a land mine, which blew off the front of one of his feet.
He has served in Hawaii at Schofield Barracks with Headquarters, United States Army Hawaii, and Fort Shafter with Headquarters, United States Army Pacific. He has taught at the U.S. Military Academy’s Department of English. During duty with the 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment at Fort Bliss, Texas, he served as the regimental adjutant and as the executive officer of its 1st Squadron.
Shinseki’s ten-plus years of service in Europe included assignments as Commander, 3rd Squadron, 7th Cavalry, 3rd Infantry Division (Schweinfurt); Commander, 2nd Brigade, 3rd Infantry Division (Kitzingen); Assistant Chief of Staff, G3, 3rd Infantry Division (Operations, Plans and Training) (Würzburg); and Assistant Division Commander for Maneuver, 3rd Infantry Division (Schweinfurt). The 3rd ID was organized at that time as a heavy mechanized division. He also served as Assistant Chief of Staff, G3 (Operations, Plans and Training), VII Corps (Stuttgart). Shinseki served as Deputy Chief of Staff for Support, Allied Land Forces Southern Europe (Verona), an element of the Allied Command Europe.
From March 1994 to July 1995, Shinseki commanded the 1st Cavalry Division at Fort Hood, Texas. In July 1996, he was promoted to lieutenant general and became Deputy Chief of Staff for Operations and Plans, United States Army. In June 1997, Shinseki was appointed to the rank of general before assuming duties as Commanding General, United States Army Europe; Commander, Allied Land Forces Central Europe; and Commander, NATO Stabilization Force in Bosnia-Herzegovina. Shinseki became the Army's 28th vice chief of staff on 24 November 1998, then became its 34th chief of staff on 22 June 1999. He retired on 11 June 2003, at the end of his four-year term.
In 2001, Shinseki reportedly staved off suggestions by Rumsfeld and his aides that the Army be reduced in size. According to one source, at their first meeting Shinseki told Rumsfeld that his orders would not be implemented. The Quadrennial Defense Review issued in 2001 maintained the existing size of the Army. Another fight ensued in 2002, when Rumsfeld cancelled the XM2001 Crusader, an artillery system supported by Shinseki and members of Congress.
On at least one occasion, Rumsfeld praised Shinseki::
General Keane [and] General Shinseki, they're outstanding Army officers. There's just no question about it. And they say what they believe, and they tell the truth. And they're honorable people and talented people.
Defense strategist Thomas P. M. Barnett, in a 2005 piece for Esquire magazine, captured the thoughts of Rumsfeld's aides in the Office of the Secretary of Defense. Aides felt Shinseki became "too fixated on improving the Army's efficiency in combat without questioning the relevance of the capabilities he was developing, as in, Great force, wrong war." Rumsfeld and his aides believed systems like Crusader, while superb for a Cold War-era fight, were not relevant to 21st-century threats that required speed and precision.
In April 2002, 14 months before Shinseki was due to retire, The Washington Post reported, quoting "Pentagon officials", that his replacement had already been selected. "In another unusual move, Rumsfeld has tapped Army Gen. Jack Keane, the No. 2 officer in the Army, to succeed the current chief of that service, Gen. Eric Shinseki, whose term runs out next year. Selecting a successor for the current chief so far in advance is highly unusual. This reported departure from precedent somewhat undercut Shinseki's authority within the Army. However, it has never been established where this report came from, or whether it had any basis in fact; in the event, Shinseki's successor was not Keane, but Peter Schoomaker.
The personality clash between Shinseki and Rumsfeld was well known. Shinseki had a reputation as a quiet, reserved officer, while Rumsfeld had a history of his tough questioning and "wire-brushing" senior officers. (Barnett describes wire-brushing as "chewing them out, typically in a public way that's demeaning to their stature. It's pinning their ears back, throwing out question after question you know they can't answer correctly and then attacking every single syllable they toss up from their defensive crouch.") Shinseki and other army officers resented Rumsfeld's rough treatment of officers, while Rumsfeld and his aides felt the military had to be challenged vigorously in order for the civilians to exercise effective control of the department and steer it in the right direction.
Commenting on the personality clash on MSNBC's Hardball with Chris Matthews , General Tommy Franks (ret.) said, "I think, Chris, you will find personalities that get along and you find personalities that do not get along...It was sort of like oil and water...there certainly was friction there". Franks also said that the media had blown Shinseki's comments and his treatment out of proportion. He said Shinseki's concerns about the war plan focused on the logistics support for the invasion and occupation of Iraq.
As [General] Newbold outlined the plan … it was clear that Rumsfeld was growing increasingly irritated. For Rumsfeld, the plan required too many troops and supplies and took far too long to execute. It was, Rumsfeld declared, the "product of old thinking and the embodiment of everything that was wrong with the military."
[T]he Plan . . . reflected long-standing military principles about the force levels that were needed to defeat Iraq, control a population of more than 24 million, and secure a nation the size of California with porous borders. Rumsfeld's numbers, in contrast, seemed to be pulled out of thin air. He had dismissed one of the military's long-standing plans, and suggested his own force level without any of the generals raising a cautionary flag.
While Shinseki was not at the OPLAN 1003-98 review mentioned above, he no doubt hewed to the traditional military view concerning force levels necessary for an Iraq invasion. It is, however, unclear how strongly Shinseki communicated to the DOD head views which diverged from those which Rumsfeld had forcefully communicated to the military command structure. While Shinseki's reticence to publicly speak on the questions of possible conflicts between himself and the Bush administration is well-known, he is on record as stating that it is "probably fair" to say that he should have banged on the table and pushed harder to stop Rumsfeld from going into Iraq with too few troops.
On February 25, 2003, four months before the end of his term as Chief of Staff of the Army, Shinseki told the Senate Armed Services Committee that he thought an occupying force of several hundred thousand men would be needed to stabilize postwar Iraq. He was pressed to provide a range by Senator Carl Levin (D-MI). Below is an excerpt from the exchange:
SEN. LEVIN: 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 --
SEN. LEVIN: How about a range?
GEN. 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.
In a public rebuke to Shinseki, Rumsfeld and his deputy, Paul Wolfowitz, called Shinseki's estimate "far off the mark" and "wildly off the mark". Wolfowitz said it would be "hard to believe" more troops would be required for post-war Iraq than to remove Saddam Hussein from power. Specifically, Wolfowitz said to the House Budget Committee on February 27, 2003:
DEP. SEC. WOLFOWITZ: There has been a good deal of comment - some of it quite outlandish - about what our postwar requirements might be in Iraq. Some of the higher end predictions we have been hearing recently, such as the notion that it will take several hundred thousand U.S. troops to provide stability in post-Saddam Iraq, are wildly off the mark. It is hard to conceive that it would take more forces to provide stability in post-Saddam Iraq than it would take to conduct the war itself and to secure the surrender of Saddam's security forces and his army - hard to imagine.
On November 15, 2006, Gen. John P. Abizaid, chief of the U.S. Central Command, in testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee, acknowledged that in his view, and with hindsight, Shinseki had been correct in his view that a larger post-war force was needed. Abizaid noted that this force could have included Iraqi or international forces in addition to American force:
SEN. Lindsay GRAHAM (Republican, S. C.): Was General Shinseki correct when you look backward that we needed more troops to secure the country, General Abizaid?
GEN. ABIZAID: General Shinseki was right that a greater international force contribution, U.S. force contribution, and Iraqi force contribution should have been available immediately after major combat operations.
Contrary to Democratic candidate John Kerry's claim, in the 2004 U.S. Presidential Debate - September 30#Question 7 of the 2004 presidential election, Shinseki was not "retired" for his testimony before Congress. His official term as Chief of the Army ended four months later and he retired as scheduled. However, the tension between the civilians in the Office of the Secretary of Defense and Shinseki were apparent. No senior civilians attended Shinseki's retirement ceremony. Some Army officers, such as Major General Batiste (ret.) who called for Rumsfeld's resignation, saw this as an intentional slight and sign of disrespect directed toward Shinseki by the civilian leadership.
Secretary Rumsfeld, on the other hand, suggests that Shinseki did not invite any civilians to his retirement ceremony, although that claim cannot be verified since Shinseki has not commented on the issue.
Douglas Feith, the former United States Under Secretary of Defense was interviewed by the CBS news magazine 60 Minutes in a segment that was aired on April 6, 2008. During his interview Feith conceded that he and his colleagues didn’t realize that sending a smaller, mobile force to topple Saddam would make it difficult to establish order after he fell. "The looting that arose in the immediate aftermath of the overthrow of Saddam … was a problem that the coalition forces had to deal with. I think we paid a very large price for the fact that, you know, our forces did not get that problem under control." In his memoirs, Feith writes, "The small force strategy for major combat operations, while it saved American lives, limited the number of forces we had to deal with the looting.”
Shinseki has declined to make public comments on the Iraq war, Rumsfeld, or troop levels since his retirement. But at his retirement, Shinseki said of the administration's policy on troop strength, "Beware the 12-division strategy for a 10-division Army. Our soldiers and families bear the risk and the hardship of carrying a mission load that exceeds what force capabilities we can sustain, so we must alleviate risk and hardship by our willingness to resource the mission requirements.
The professional military consensus of many military officers is that the United States did not send enough troops to Iraq to secure the country after the invasion. The apparent success that even the relatively modest troop surge has had in abating violence in Iraq seems to validate the accuracy of Shinseki's opinion on the number of troops that should have been deployed. In an interview with leading field-grade officers at the US Army's elite Combined Arms Center, admiration of Shinseki's professional judgement and willingness to speak out was evident:
No, Major Montague shot back, it was more complicated: the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the top commanders were part of the decision to send in a small invasion force and not enough troops for the occupation. Only Gen. Eric K. Shinseki, the Army chief of staff who was sidelined after he told Congress that it would take several hundred thousand troops in Iraq, spoke up in public.However it's also clear to these officers that publicly stating contrary opinions comes with a high cost:
“You didn’t hear any of them at the time, other than General Shinseki, screaming, saying that this was untenable,” Major Montague said.
Yet, Major Hardaway said, General Shinseki had shown there was a great cost, at least under Mr. Rumsfeld. “Evidence shows that when you do that in uniform, bad things can happen,” he said. “So, it’s sort of a dichotomy of, should I do the right thing, even if I get punished?”