David H. Hackworth
June 13, 1995


United States Air Force F-16 pilot Scott O'Grady has become the latest American warrior to be used by the White House as window dressing for a failed foreign policy. Clinton has lionized O'Grady as he did U.S. Army pilots Michael Durant of Mogadishu shame, and Bobby Hall, who was blown out of the sky after getting lost over North Korea.

Clinton tosses our warriors into hot spots like they're toy soldiers, then when things work out badly, he and his spin meisters use the same brave men and women as props for photo ops.

Yes, we should celebrate O'Grady's rescue and be damned proud of the daring Marines who scooped up the downed aviator right in the middle of Serb bad land. But we should ask; Why were 40 aircraft available for the rescue mission, but so few guns were in the sky when O'Grady went down? And could this mishap have been avoided?

Sources tell me our intelligence system knew where every surface-to-air-missile was located in Bosnia, and our pilots have known about SAMs being in Bosnia for almost two years. A pilot says, "Our air crews have been forecasting just such a shoot-down. They've been painted, locked-on and waiting for the big bang to happen."

Adm. Leighton W. Smith Jr., NATO commander for Southern Europe, "has been screaming for a year to take out the SAM sites," an Italy-based advisor to Smith told me. "He's raised so much hell from NATO to the White House, it's amazing he hasn't been fired," he said. Smith has been constantly overruled by his superiors -- the desk jockeys at NATO headquarters, the Pentagon and the White House -- who are lying through their teeth and blaming "bad intelligence."

Under Clinton's erratic Bosnian watch, which he describes without blinking an eye as "firm," political correctness wins over war-fighting. The president's military advisors, from Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. John Shalikashvili down -- all personally selected by Clinton -- appear to be go-along-to-get-along prancers who dance to the president's tune even when the notes are wrong. Not one of the involved four-star chiefs backed Smith and demanded the SAMs be taken out before they took out O'Grady.

The reason the SAMs weren't knocked out is strictly political. Bombing means hostages and U.N. casualties. The United Nations, fearful its forces on the ground would become the meat in the Bosnian sandwich, leaned on Clinton, who, as usual, caved in.

Clinton wanted to get into the Bosnian poker game but didn't want to risk any chips by putting soldiers on the ground. He thought air power would be an easy answer. O'Grady and his mates who fly those dangerous missions, or any airman from World War II, Korea and Vietnam, could have told him there are no milk runs when it comes to using manned aircraft over enemy territory.

The basic problem between NATO and the United Nations is there's no unity of command. NATO pulls the rope one way and the United Nations, the other. There's also no focus or integration between these two outfits, which the Serbs exploit to the hilt.

So it's our fighter jocks who take the high risks and pay the hard price. In Vietnam, our sky warriors saw the North Vietnamese SAM sites under construction, but couldn't touch them. The war managers pumped out the same garbage: "Bombing would escalate the war." It was only after our planes got blasted from the skies that the green bomb light blinked on, when it was too late for those caught in the cross fire. The SAMs knocked down hundreds of our planes and filled the Hanoi Hilton with POWs, who then became hostages to the peace effort.

When will our war managers learn not to send Americans into battle without defining the national goal, following the Principles of War or establishing clear rules of engagement? And when will they learn that in war there are no halfway measures? You either jump in, boots and all, or stay out.

George Santayana got it right when he wrote this in "The Life of Reason": "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it." I'd like to tattoo this on the forehead of every war manager and White House and Pentagon spin meister.