DEFENDING AMERICA
BY DAVID H. HACKWORTH
17 October 2000

NO MORE COLES AND NO MORE SNOW JOBS

Seventeen American sailors were killed last week. Did these young men and women die because their seniors failed to do their duty?

That's the question Congress should ask President Bill Clinton, Defense Secretary Bill Cohen and the uniformed brass from Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Hugh Shelton to Navy Chief Adm. Vern Clark to the skipper of the destroyer USS Cole.

Last month, U.S. intelligence warned that an attack on an American warship in that dangerous region was in the wind. Simultaneously, superterrorist Osama bin Laden and some like-minded rats ranted on Arab TV about making Americans bleed.

So why did the brass send sailors into the Port of Aden like grunts onto Hamburger Hill, when only days before our State Department had closed its embassies in that area because of terrorist threats?

If State was worried about the risk to embassy personnel in Aden -- long known as a terrorist snake pit where only two days before thousands of Yemenis took to the streets calling for a holy war -- why didn't the brass show the same concern for our sailors? And why didn't the Cole refuel at sea or at least in the outer harbor of Aden, where the ship could've been protected by gun crews capable of blowing a suicide craft out of the water before it got danger-close?

Almost before the smoke drifted away from the Cole, the White House launched into its too familiar after-the-terrorist-attack damage control. First Clinton addressed the nation using the identical words he uttered in 1996 when 19 U.S. airmen were killed by terrorists in Saudi Arabia -- "a despicable and cowardly act" -- followed by the now well-worn threat that we're going to get 'em and extract an eye for an eye.

Then he ordered his spinners to flood the media with the party line. The following, culled from a dozen similar snow jobs, says it all:

* Gen. Wesley Clark of Serbian War shame -- now retired and working for the same Arkansas gang that contributed so generously to Clinton's taking over the White House in 1992 -- told TV journalist Geraldo Rivera that the U.S. military must take risks; that big guys don't hide from trouble; and that because we're a superpower, we had to enter this terrorist hangout to "show the flag."

* Navy Chief Adm. Vern Clark followed the Wesley Clark act by stating, when asked why the destroyer wasn't refueled at sea, that there weren't enough oilers to go around.

America is engaged in an undeclared but very real war against terrorism, but as with the Vietnam War, our senior military types are thinking and acting conventionally. In Vietnam, the brass refought World War II while their opponent fought -- and won -- a nonconventional war.

Showing the flag may have worked when Teddy Roosevelt dispatched the Great White Fleet. But it doesn't make a lick of sense when a high-tech warship capable of mass destruction can be taken out by two martyrs in a small craft who pulled off a kamikaze attack with a tactic as old as the Trojan Horse.

Adm. Clark, along with the most of the Navy's top brass, has long been silent regarding the state of naval readiness. Candidates George W. Bush and Dick Cheney rightly say readiness stinks, while their opponents Al Gore and Joe Lieberman say it's just peachy keen -- and the Navy brass continue to duck and weave just as the Pentagon did in 1993 when 18 soldiers were killed in Somalia because there were no tanks to protect our troops.

Have Adm. Clark and his fellow gold-stripers shirked their duty by allowing our fleet to be downsized in the past seven years from 435 ships to 311 without telling the president and the candidates that the Navy doesn't have the ships to do the job?

Had they stood tall, an oiler would have been available. Had they fulfilled their sworn duty to their country and their sailors, the USS Cole would have stayed with its battle group -- instead of being dispatched by itself to pick up the slack in the Gulf because there aren't enough warships to accomplish all assigned missions.

Come January, let's hope our new president rebuilds our broken military not only materially, but morally, by putting in top leaders with the guts to hold to their sworn duty.