DEFENDING AMERICA
David H. Hackworth
Aug. 13,1996

MUSICAL CHAIRS IN HOT SPOTS

Last month, Adm. Leighton W. "Snuffy" Smith turned over command of his Bosnian-based IFOR force to Adm. T. Joseph Lopez.

Many military observers, including this writer, think it's nuts to swap Lopez for Smith, one of America's great leaders, when the IFOR mission has five more months to run.

Smith knows the turf: the good guys, the bad guys and where the bodies are buried. It's flat dumb changing a coach right in the middle of a season, especially on a field as potentially lethal as Bosnia - a field that will become even more critical during the countdown between now and the end of the IFOR mission in December 1996.

Bosnia is Clinton's big international booby trap, and he doesn't want it to explode before the November elections. Smith - a soldier's soldier who refused to risk lives simply to go-along-to-get-along - was shuffled out because he wouldn't play Washington's political game.

Now the top brass will once again play "Fall-out One" when Gen. William Crouch, the current four-star who heads up U.S. Army forces in Europe, replaces Lopez on 1 October. Not only will Crouch take over at a bad time, but Smith's old IFOR staff now continuing on with Lopez - which has wrestled with the Bosnian problem for years, both in preparation for the mission and in executing it in Bosnia - will also be replaced, along with the ground force commander, British Gen. Michael Walker and his experienced Sarajevo-based IFOR staff.

A NATO officer says, "It's unbelievable! Three CINCs (commanders in chief) in six weeks! It's military stupidity at its highest form!" The reason for the change, according to an IFOR officer, is, "Joulwan (Gen. George, the NATO commander) wants his own Army guy in command and lacks confidence in Lopez.,,

The irony of Crouch and his staff replacing the seasoned and tested IFOR staff is that last December Crouch and his people were responsible for the deployment to Bosnia, a serious contender for one of the greatest snafus in U.S. Army history. Our troops were ill-prepared, disorganized and hopelessly dispersed, bits and pieces of units scattered over three countries, billets washed out, unable to cross the flooded Sava River, freezing, eating lousy rations and not showering for weeks on end.

Putting Crouch and his Germany-based staff in charge of IFOR reinforces the age-old military axiom: "Screw up and move up."

The powers that be are getting rid of the experienced guys and swapping them for the politically correct crowd, the old Pentagon musical-chairs-in-hot-spots ploy I remember too well from Vietnam. There, it caused a loss of institutional memory that played a key part in our losing our first war.

Before Smith split Sarajevo he made these points:

· "Right now we don't have peace just an absence of war."
· Lopez is "in for one hell of a ride" in the "hottest job in the world."
· The Bosnian politicians are blowing the nine-month lull in fighting with the same kind of nationalistic and ethnic rhetoric that kicked off the war in 1992.
· "The entire Serb population is basically getting a bad rap because they are being painted with that black tar brush saying they're al] guilty. They're not. There are good people in this country."
· Even though Smith never had a NATO order to arrest the indicted war criminals, there were whispers from Washington he do so - in spite of Smith's wisely held fear of Bosnian Serb uprisings.

In a deserved parting shot at Clinton's leadership and his national security dorks, Smith said, "In terms of advice on complex issues, the further away people are from the problems the more apt they are to have solutions for them. Those who shout loudest for this or that action are the ones who bear absolutely no responsibility for the consequences of those actions."

The U.S. Senate must conduct hearings and ask Snuffy Smith what's really happening in Bosnia. He needs to be asked: Is the mission on track? What are the risks? What are the dangers? What is the price? Who are the dorks on high muddying the waters?

Smith's a truth-teller, and he'll damn well tell it to the American people.