David H. Hackworth
June 1, 1999
DO YOUR HOMEWORK OR FLUNK THE WAR
BY DAVID H. HACKWORTH
Superbright guys without a basic load of street smarts don't make good war leaders. The Vietnam disaster and the blunder in Yugoslavia both prove the point: Jack Kennedy and Robert McNamara brought us Vietnam and now Bill Clinton and Sandy Berger have bumbled the nation into the ever-widening Balkan minefield. In both bloody follies these big-brains never worked out in advance how their opponents were going to react once the bombs started falling. It was probably too tedious for such quick studies to bother figuring out the consequences of the military solution.
Since Vietnam, McNamara has dedicated his life to finding out why he blew it. He's vetted every aspect of that bad war with the same sharp analytical focus for which he's famous. McNamara's conclusion from this tortured investigation is simple: American decision-makers never studied Vietnam, its history and its people before ordering "bombs away."
President Clinton and his advisers have made exactly the same mistake with Yugoslavia. Four weeks into the bombing, Clinton said he was going to ready up on the Balkans, noting that World War II started there. But Bill, your cramming session should have been done before you ordered the attack. A simple hundred page "white paper" on the situation in Yugoslavia would have told you that while that country had zilch to do with kicking off World War II, a fight with the Serbs would be a bigger mistake then dalliances with Monica in the Oval Office. It would have also told our constantly fumbling commander - in - chief that his NATO-inspired intervention would get him an "F" on his Y2K presidential report card and a lot of bad-mouthing by historians for years to come. Besides being the biggest military screw up since Gallipoli, the operation has made NATO look spastic and toothless and could well bring down that obsolete military bureaucracy. So far too, the war has cost the American taxpayers billions of bucks, while the cost of the study could have been quietly pulled out of Hillary's travel allowance by scratching just one Senate non-campaign trip to New York City.
A "white paper" would have shown that:
* The Serbs are a stubborn, gritty people to whom Kosovo -a province in their state of Serbia- is sacred ground not unlike Jerusalem is to the Jews or the Alamo is to Texans. Dirt they'd fight and die for even against NATO, the most powerful military coalition in world history.
* The Russians have a tradition of marching to their Serbian brothers aid and will not take their being used as a NATO punching bag lightly.
* Kosovo has been in a state of conflict since 1389. The rebel Kosovo Liberation Army has only heated up the civil war as this terrorist mob has become more and more violent.
* Ethnic cleaning has been going on in the Balkans since before the Ottoman Empire invaded there. No world leader sounded off when the autonomous Albanian government of Kosovo ethnically cleansed more than 200,000 Serbs, Gypsies and others from Kosovo in the 1970s. Nor did the international community utter a word when more than 200,000 Serbs were ethnically cleansed by Croatia in 1995 with Clinton-authorized U.S. military assistance.
An addendum on modern war would have noted that:
* Never in history has a bombing campaign won a war without ground forces being assembled before the first bomb falls.
* A bombing campaign unifies those being bombed and causes them to rally behind their leader even though many people - perhaps the majority - might have been opposed to him before the bombing began.
* Bombing campaigns create massive refugee problems, aiding ethnic cleansing rather than relieving it.
* Military operations must be about national security, have a clearly defined objective, an exit plan and the support of the nation.
* Military coalitions -especially ones with 19 El Supremos like NATO- violate Unity of Command, a principle of war, and almost always screw up the soup. Bummer that Bill and his idol Jack and Sandy and Mac didn't have an old sergeant to teach them what I learned as an 18 year old corporal: PRIOR
PLANNING PREVENTS POOR PERFORMANCE. And when you fire a rifle without aiming it, you'll most likely shoot off your own foot.