David H. Hackworth
March 23, 1999


What is it with most Marine generals? Do they get inoculated with double
shots of truth serum in boot camp? From two-time Congressional Medal of Honor recipient Smedley Butler-- who in the 1930s said, "War is a Racket"-- to the current crop, they sure know how to tell it like it is and don't sweat the fall out.

Recently, Marine Gen. Charles Wilhelm, headman for all our troops South of the Rio Grande, told Congress our forces haven't been able to tame the natives in Haiti and the longer they're stuck in that strife-torn swamp, the more they're at risk. He advocated yanking our troops and writing off the $6 billion "meals-on-wheels" mission as a failure.

That took a lot of guts, because the Clinton administration has been crowing about what a splendid success the Haitian mission has been ever since 20,000 American warriors invaded the place just after we got chased out of Somalia. After six years of global miscalculation and fumbling, it remains Clinton's crown jewel -- especially when compared to the catastrophe thatwent down in Somalia and the running sores of Iraq and Bosnia. Another tough-as-an-old-boot Marine general, Anthony Zinni, our military commander in the Persian Gulf, has sharply criticized Clinton and his national security gang that can't get anything right for their flawed policy to topple Iraq's Saddam Hussein. Clinton's camp holds that Iraqi opposition groups can toss Saddam out. Zinni flatly says Clinton's plan is ill-conceived and could further destabilize the Gulf region.

In 1993, then Marine Commandant Carl Mundy took a shot at the crowd in the White House who are doing their level best to turn American warriors into 'consideration-for-others' brainwashed Boy Scouts. Mundy said marriage should be banned during a Marine's first hitch. He took a lot of heat for his stand, and his idea was spiked by White House and Pentagon social-scientists civilians who think they know more about soldiering than soldiers. He told me later, "Time will prove I'm right." And it has.

The Marines are now outflanking the Clinton policy that's caused a 40 percent divorce rate among first-term Marines. When high-ranking Pentagon political appointee Sara Lister called Marines "extremists," the Marine commandant, Gen. Charles Krulak, fired back with a stinging salvo: "Honor, courage and commitment are not extreme." Lister resigned in a firestorm a few days later.

Back during the horror of the Vietnam War, only retired Marine Gen. David Shoup had the guts to tell Congress that Vietnam was a bad war and we shouldn't be there. What a difference it would have made had Congress had the good sense to check out what Shoup, who earned the Congressional Medal of Honor in the South Pacific during World War II, was saying instead of listening to spinners like Army Gen. Maxwell Taylor and his White House-scripted party line.

Now, as Kosovo boils on the front burner, NATO Gen. Wesley Clark, who's in charge of our troops in ex-Yugoslavia, is clearly the wrong guy for the job. As with William Westmoreland during Vietnam, he's a smooth, slick and very political Army general with a track record for political expediency.

Back in the 1970s, Westy was looking at the Oval office and Clark now has his eye on the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff job. Both generals, masters in the political arena, don't stack up when it comes to boots-in-the-mud combat and standing up for the troops and telling it like it is when the politicians do dumb things that put our soldiers and airmen in dangerous places.

Clark, a Clinton pal from their Arkansas and Oxford days, has zoomed up the promotion ladder light years ahead of his peers because of that connection. He's also the military architect of the quagmire in Bosnia, where our serving soldiers are now referring to themselves as "Prisoners of Peace." Rather than sitting around and allowing history to repeat itself, we should insist on the appointment of a Marine general like Zinni, Wilhelm or Kralak to run the show in ex-Yugoslavia. You could bet your boots -- like it or not -- they'd tell the pure unvarnished truth instead of singing a political tune like Clark's that may soon turn into a Vietnam-like national funeral dirge.