DEFENDING AMERICA
David H. Hackworth
Jan. 16, 1996

CLINTON STAY HOME

SARAJEVO, BOSNIA -- Last week, a shoulder-fired rocket round smashed into a commuter tram here, killing a woman and wounding 19 other civilians. No one knows which side the gunner was on. Some people swear the rocket was fired by the Serbs, and others bear witness that the Muslims were up to their old trick of blowing away their own folks to get more 'we are the victims" press.

This strike was accomplished within 100 yards of three IFOR armored cars, bristling with guns, manned by a dozen damned alert French paratroopers.

IFOR's reaction was good. I talked to a gunner who says he saw the rocket grenade's flash, and he immediately blasted the target with six rounds of 20 mm cannon and machine-gun fire, as did his mates.

But most of the people in Sarajevo are angry. They say that IFOR is no different than the United Nations and that they are still not being protected. Many don't understand there's no way to stop a terrorist attack in a land that has more weapons and crazies, and more anger and hatred, than good sense.

IFOR has few spies in the terrorists' camp and can only do as the French warriors did, which is to react after the event. Adm. Leighton Smith could put every one of his 60,000 warriors on Sarajevo's streets, and these bloody attacks would not stop -- just as your city could put two cops on every block and still not stop crime.

My gut says there will be more attacks in the land that saw Arch-duke Ferdinand killed by terrorists in 1914, as this futile one-year peace enforcement mission ticks on. Most will be directed against Bosnian civilians, but if history prevails, IFOR warriors will get hit, too.

As we relearned during the Vietnam War, stopping terrorist attacks is like trying to stop teen-age sex -- next to impossible.

Terrorists have all the advantages. IFOR warriors are like actors on a stage, their every move watched by the insurgents, an "audience" that sits in the dark, plotting and striking at will.

I suspect the terrorists' goals in this shooting -- which occurred in "sniper alley," next door to the IFOR press headquarters -- were to let the Sarajevans know the war is not over, to grab the lead story on the evening news and to embarrass IFOR just before Clinton's arrival.

And it worked.

The people in Bosnia got the word big time that IFOR cannot put out every fire, that they remain vulnerable and that this war is a long way from being over.

The press corps went nuts -- most don't know a tank from a turd or a terrorist attack from a bowling strike -- and blamed Smith for not being hard enough. It seemed to me a few of these unschooled "war correspondents" expected him at least to un-limber a couple of nuclear weapons at the Serb areas of Sarajevo.

Clinton canceled his visit to this battered and brave city because, an intelligence officer said, "His security couldn't be assured."

Instead, he took his presidential circus to Tuzla, traveling with more of an entourage than the Yanks have tanks. His visit cost the taxpayer several million dollars. It unduly tied up the top U.S. brass, who are trying to get on with their mission. And it wasted the time of a lot of soldiers, who painted and lined up rocks and were used as television stage props for this PR trip.

Imagine FDR visiting Ike at Normandy at D+30 (July 5, 1944) when he was trying to break out of the beachhead, or Truman bopping into the Pusan perimeter in 1950 when Lt. Gen. Walton Walker's army was fighting hard not to be pushed into the sea.

No active duty high brass would sound off and tell the chain of command that Clinton's visit here was a royal pain in the ass, which prevented them from fulfilling their duty as they spiffed up things for a president looking for tube time.

In today's politically correct military saying something like that would be the kiss of death. But sergeants have less to lose and are closer to the truth. The warriors, thank God, remain the ultimate truth tellers.

As one old grunt says, 'I didn't come here to baby-sit Clinton. Tell him to stay home."