Barry McCaffrey, a retired four-star Army general, has long been an ally of Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki. In fact, just yesterday, McCaffrey characterized Shinseki, himself a retired four-star general, "as the ideal person to fix the problems at the V.A." McCaffrey then called for Shinseki to resign anyway
, saying he's no longer "viable" because the political pressure has "gone out of control."
It was a fair assessment. By this morning, the number of policymakers from both sides of the aisle calling for Shinseki's ouster had begun to snowball, and late this morning, the cabinet secretary had seen enough
It's finally the end for Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki. President Obama announced Friday morning that he accepted Shinseki's resignation during a private meeting at the White House. [...] More than 100 lawmakers had called for Shinseki to step down, including veterans in both the House and Senate. Rep. Tammy Duckworth, D-Illinois, a disabled Iraq war veteran and former VA official, became the most recent addition to the list on Friday.
The departure came this morning after a face-to-face meeting with President Obama. The White House issued a statement in which the president said Shinseki had offered his resignation, and "with regret," Obama accepted it.
The president added that Shinseki agreed that the department "needs new leadership
" to address its problems, and the retired general "does not want to be a distraction."
Sloan Gibson, the Deputy Secretary of Veterans Affairs who was confirmed just a few months ago to his post, will assume Shinseki's responsibilities as an interim head of the agency. It is not yet clear who the president will nominate as Shinseki's official successor, though under the circumstances, the White House will very likely have to act quickly.
Plenty of cabinet secretaries have resigned under unfortunate circumstances, but I can't think of any who've departed while enjoying the kind of stature that Shinseki has enjoyed. Even as members of Congress called for his head, most of their statements emphasized how much they respect and admire the decorated hero with a history of doing the right thing
A four-star general who spent nearly four decades in the Army, Mr. Shinseki had captured the attention of Mr. Obama and other Democrats in 2003, when he publicly disputed claims by top officials for President George W. Bush that the United States could invade Iraq with a relatively small force. During testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee, Mr. Shinseki told lawmakers that an invasion of that country could require "something on the order of several hundred thousand soldiers." That assessment angered Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, who had said the invasion could proceed with a much smaller force. In 2008, Mr. Obama said of Mr. Shinseki's assessment: "He was right." Those who know Mr. Shinseki praise him as a man of honor and convictions. Michael O'Hanlon, a scholar at the Brookings Institution, said he had "an old-fashioned concept of gentlemanly behavior." W. Scott Gould, who was Mr. Shinseki's deputy at Veterans Affairs for four years, calls him "a deeply principled leader."
In the end, however, the admiration couldn't save Shinseki's job. The damage was too severe and the demand for a change was too strong.