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Obama Picks Bush Critic to Head Veterans Affairs


U.S. President-elect Barack Obama has chosen a retired Army general who criticized the Bush administration's conduct of the war in Iraq to be the next secretary of Veterans Affairs. General Eric Shinseki is the first Asian-American named to the Obama cabinet.

General Shinseki was the Army chief of staff at the start of the Iraq war.

At a Congressional hearing in early 2003, he challenged the administration's invasion strategy, saying it would take hundreds of thousands of troops to secure Iraq.

His statements on Capitol Hill were at odds with the thinking of then-Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, and within months, Shinseki was pushed to retire.

The president-elect says Shinseki was right in his assessment of the invasion, and is now the right person to head the Veterans Affairs department.

"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," Mr. Obama said.

Mr. Obama confirmed the nomination during a nationally broadcast interview. He told NBC's Meet the Press that Shinseki will lead government efforts to help those who have served and sacrificed for their country.

"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," Mr. Obama said.

The Department of Veterans Affairs is one of the largest agencies of the federal government. It has come under criticism in recent years for its response to the needs of returning troops from Afghanistan and Iraq.

Veteran's groups were quick to praise the Shinseki appointment, as were leading members of Congress.

Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin cheered the decision.

"I happen to be the senator who asked him the question that produced the answer that got him shown the door," Levin said. "I thought it was tragic, it was wrong for the Bush administration to mistreat him the way they did. He gave an honest answer. He spoke truth to power. Obama - I believe the president-elect will welcome and shows now by appointing Shinseki that he will welcome people who disagree with him to express those views to him."

Levin appeared on the Fox News Sunday television program along with Senator Richard Shelby - a senior Republican on the panel that oversees defense spending.

Shelby made clear the Shinseki nomination is likely to win easy Congressional approval.

"He is a great soldier. He is a great leader," Shelby said. "We should have listened to him when he testified before Defense Appropriations as he did Armed Services. We did not and look where we are today."

During his military career, Shinseki commanded troops in Vietnam and Bosnia. If confirmed, he will become the first Japanese-American to head the Department of Veteran's Affairs.


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