DEFENDING AMERICA
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 an eye.

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.
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