David H. Hackworth
22 September 1998


Within our Armed Forces, Bill Clinton is as popular as a 25-mile hike in a snowstorm, a visit to the medics to retake all shots or a tour of desert duty in Saudi Arabia at Christmas time.

Contrary to the majority of their civilian counterparts, many of those in uniform don't trust Clinton or think he's fit to be their commander in chief.

It's a high career risk for a soldier to sound off about his or her ultimate boss. Fort Knox told its people to just give a "no comment" if cornered by the press. "Otherwise your comments may be actionable as criminal behavior."

But warriors live by a higher code and aren't easily silenced. Here's what they're saying:

* A Sergeant Major: "Clinton doesn't even understand the concept of duty, honor or country. We stay in the service not to get rich, but to serve a noble cause. Why would such selfless people want to follow a self-serving bum who can't be trusted."

* An Artillery Lieutenant: "I no longer believe that President Clinton has the moral authority to order me or my men into harm's way. I will resign."

* A Ranger leader: "He got a Monica while he was conning (Congressman H.L. "Sonny") Callahan on the phone about why our guys should be deployed to the killing fields of Bosnia! Gimme a break. He doesn't care about us. He's the same joker that got my unit shot up in Somalia and wrote it off by calling my dead pals "Unfortunate Casualties,"

* A Navy Lieutenant: "How would you like to be in a POW camp with Clinton? He'd sell you out in a minute. Talk about King Rat."

Of all the intangibles that make up the profession of arms, trust is the most sacred. Trust starts within the rifleman, the fighter pilot and ship's crew and goes right to the White House.

A soldier trusts that his buddy will cover him when he charges a machine gun. There's no written contract. He simply yells "Cover me" and expects his buddy to risk his life while pumping slugs into the aperture of a machine gun nest, keeping the enemy gunner down while he rushes the bunker to flip in a grenade.

A fighter pilot trusts that his crew chief and maintenance crew have done their job and that his wing man will stay as stuck to his tail as Calvin Klein briefs regardless of the flak or incoming missiles.

A sailor trusts his leader has done his duty and made sure that everyone's out of a fire-ravaged compartment before he seals the hatch.

Privates must trust sergeants. Captains must trust colonels. Colonels must trust generals. Generals must trust Presidents. Without trust all the way up the chain of command, expect the chain to break -- and the battle to be lost.

In Vietnam, soldiers eventually lost trust in their leadership. Many battalion, brigade and division commanders were self-serving incompetents who used the war to win medals, punch career tickets and get out of the heat unburned. Nor did anyone in that bloody swamp trust those in charge in Saigon, the Pentagon or the White House. Vietnam was the first war we ever lost.

Soldiers were not impressed when Clinton lied about dodging the draft during that war, when he quibbled about not inhaling or when for his opening act as president, he attempted to let gays out of the military closet. His dumb use of the forces for the last six years caused even more serious questions regarding his judgment and concern for the troops.

But the Monica disgrace removed all doubt. It was the final assault on our soldiers' trust in their commander in chief's ability to lead.

Last month when Clinton ordered a missile attack on terrorist leader Osama bin Laden, our soldiers' gut feeling was to suspect a "Wag The Dog" diversion to distract national attention from his self-inflicted agony. Evidence now indicates that as usual our grunts got it right.

In the next few weeks, Clinton will rattle missiles over Kosovo and Iraq. But how can those who do the dying trust that the President hasn't again put them in harm's way for his own selfish interests rather than the greater good of our country?