David Hackworth
25 June '97


Last March, Defense Secretary William Cohen said our troops would be out of Bosnia by June 1998, even though the U.S. pull out might trigger the rival ethnic factions to once again start "slaughtering each other."

Cohen's wisdom in saying enough is enough and calling for U.S. withdrawal suggests he's been quietly studying Robert McNamara's Vietnam-era Pentagon Papers.

Like Vietnam, Bosnia is mission impossible. Bosnia is three separate countries artificially wrapped in one -- not the reunited Bosnian pipe dream of the 1995 Dayton peace accord -- and each country has its own separate military machine which distrusts and hates the other two.

Our forces there are not unlike the little Dutch boy who stopped the flood by keeping his finger in the dike. In Bosnia, regardless of how long we stay, once the U.S. finger is pulled out, these killers will go at each other again.

Now President Clinton, Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and other close Clinton advisors are signaling that Cohen misspoke, that America has a vital interest in preventing more violence in the Balkans and that our failure to stand tall would abdicate America's leadership role in Europe.

Funny thing though, during the Vietnam War when most of these Hawks, including the prez, were of dying age, they were university-bunkered doves who conveniently loathed war, uniforms and the chance to serve their country.

It never ceases to amaze me how age, draft status and proximity to the killing zone help define who's a hawk and who's a dove.

At least in 1997, these 50ish Vietnam-era draft dodgers aren't talking about the dominos falling or saying if we don't stop 'em in Bosnia, the bad guys will invade San Francisco. Now their spin is about U.S. interests, the consequences if our leadership blinks and what will happen if we abdicate our moral responsibility in a thousand year old feud among crazies.

Super-draft-dodger-turned-super-hawk Richard Holbrooke, former head Bosnia peace negotiator, argues that America has invested too much politically and militarily to quit the game before we have won all the chips.

This kind of throwing-good-money-after-bad-money thinking is what green horn poker players employ when they are on a losing streak. "Just a few more hands and my luck will turn." Remember, this was LBJ's style in 1965, when the "invincible" South Vietnam Army started to crumble.

A quick scan through the Pentagon Papers will show that in 1964, Robert McNamara said, "I think the number of U.S. personnel in Vietnam is not likely to increase substantially." One year later the force level in South East Asia jumped from 30,000 to over 200,000 military personnel, and by 1968, we had 550,000 soldiers in the bloody pot.

Soldiers serving in the similarly wrongheaded Bosnian mission tell me that not only are they preparing to stay beyond 1998, but that "Iron Princess" Madeleine Albright having finally prevailed over the generals, our forces in Bosnia will move from keepers of the peace to a much more aggressive role.

They say within the next few months American troops will round up almost all of the indicted war criminals still at large. Once these raids happen, the fat will be in the fire. We can expect that the hostility towards our forces -- which presently lies just under the surface -- will explode.

Already Clinton and hawks have stupidly permitted a basic tenet of peace keeping to be violated: Never take sides. American mercenaries -- former U.S. Army soldiers and Marines led by a retired U.S. Army chief of staff -- are training, equipping and arming the Bosnian Muslim Army while the Serbs and Croats seethe.

I hope Cohen will not cave in like McNamara and play the go-along-to-get-along-game. He must stand tall and convince Clinton and his hawks that Bosnia is an unwinnable end game or resign. If the Hawks prevail, we'll get stuck deeper and deeper in the swamp and like Vietnam, in the end we'll leave in failure.

The solution: give the Bosnian Serbs and Croatians the independence they want by cutting Bosnia into three chunks. Then do what we didn't do in Vietnam: declare victory and get our troops out of that quagmire before the snow begins to fall.

The end