BY DAVID H. HACKWORTH
21 December 1999
"WANTED: PEACE, GOOD WILL AND A WISE LEADER"
Not much peace or good will is going down in many countries where
our peacekeepers are deployed this Christmas season.
Last week in Kosovo, a terrorist land mine blew Special Forces
Sgt. Joseph E. Suponcic to kingdom come.
The week before, Air Force Capt. Michael D. Geragosian and airmen
Travis Hall and Warren T. Willis were killed and 17 other airmen
injured when a major goof-up occurred as their C-130 aircraft
tried to land at Al Jaber airfield in Kuwait.
Geragosian, Hall, Willis and the 83 other passengers were being
flown a short distance on what the troops describe as a "taxi"
flight to avoid precisely what took Green Beret Suponcic's life
-- a ground terrorist attack.
The Air Force brass move their personnel around Kuwait almost
exclusively by aircraft rather than using ground transport --
even if, as in this case, it's only a 30-minute bus ride from
one base to the next.
Since the 1996 Khobar Towers terrorist attack killed 19 airmen,
the brass have made zero-casualties a top priority. But force
protection revved up to the max has become a major frustration
to our warriors.
Around the globe, it's the tail wagging our military dog. A field-grade
officer in Kuwait says, "We're developing an overreactive
force-protection policy here, and common sense has been thrown
out the window."
This is equally true at almost every U.S. overseas base.
A pilot in Saudi Arabia says, "The Air Force's top guys are
so worried, they've gone overboard and treat our airmen like Girl
Scouts. They've absolutely forgotten we are, in fact, armed forces
more than capable of defending ourselves."
Now, because of overzealous force protection, three airmen are
dead. And it might have been worse. All 86 passengers and the
eight-man crew aboard the flight could have been killed during
the attempted landing, which drove two 6-foot landing-gear struts
into the passenger compartment.
Here we are, the most powerful nation in the world, the sole surviving
superpower, and around the globe our military folks are hunkered
down like inmates in maximum-security prisons. In dozens of other
overseas hot spots, our soldiers live in virtual barbwire-enclosed
fortresses and call themselves POPs -- prisoners of peace.
Our warriors from Bosnia to East Timor wear their helmets and
flak jackets almost everywhere except in the shower. A senior
officer who recently returned from Kuwait says, "Just before
I left that dirty little needless war with Iraq that Clinton's
trying to keep a secret, I warned that someday we'd kill people
in order to save them. And now we've done it."
It will only get worse. Not only for our warriors, but also for
American citizens overseas. The State Department just issued a
warning that American civilians traveling abroad are in great
danger. The last seven years of wrongheaded military missions
and dumb statements such as the recent threat by Clinton that
"Russia would pay a heavy price" over the war in Chechnya
have upset a lot of folks around the globe. For sure, they're
all busy out there figuring out how to get more than an eye for
As we celebrate the holidays, there are 67 wars grinding away,
many of them between Muslims and non-Muslims. The demise of the
Cold War brought the beginning of the end to multiethnic and multicivilizational
states as we know them; these breakups are fueling the horrific
fires now raging in Russia, Yugoslavia, Indonesia and elsewhere.
If the United States doesn't have significant national interests
at stake, there's no other reason to place our soldiers in or
near these infernos. Despite the best of our intentions, we can
only expect more casualties -- regardless of how careful our commanders
are -- if we continue to play World Policeman.
The 2000 presidential primaries and election have got to revolve
around more than a pop quiz on foreign leaders' names. For instance,
the candidates must be very clear about the conditions under which
American soldiers and sailors should be dispatched to foreign
shores. The ultimate force protection is: Don't send our warriors
on harebrained missions.
We should demand well-considered strategies that put an end to
any more warriors dying in vain in places like the Gulf, Bosnia
and Kosovo from the sort of military failures and disasters we've
witnessed this past decade.