David H. Hackworth
April 26, 1994


In brain power, Rhodes scholar Clinton is a jogging think tank. White House insiders say he always wants more facts, more studies and more meetings before he makes a move. Smart people are frequently this way. Few are quick-draw gunslingers.

I'm glad Clinton approaches big deals, especially war stuff, with caution. When in doubt, men of action often lash out without considering the consequences. Johnson, Reagan and Bush were "slap leather" leaders who stuck the nation in the no-win hell-holes of Vietnam, Lebanon and Somalia. They didn't follow the World War II "save gas" slogan: "Is this trip necessary.?"

If Clinton were a gung-ho sort of guy, our warriors would be up to their necks in the quagmire of Bosnia. Like Vietnam, body bags would be filled weekly at the rate of a small-town high school graduating class, until the American people rose and stopped the madness.

The U.S. military solution won't work in the Balkans. We could commit our entire ground forces, cloud the sky with every mean machine from our four air forces and still be filling body bags in year 2,000. No amount of firepower will change the ancient. fanatical Hatfield-McCoy hatred.

When the Germans had a force of almost a million men there during WWII, about 10 percent ended up in the grave or on a stretcher. With total control of the sky -- and their Yugoslavian opponents not only fighting them, but, like today, busy killing one another -- the Germans were still zapped. A favorite Serb trick with German POWs was to throw them down on the ground, then crush their heads in with the butt of a rifle. German morale got so smashed that their women soldiers -- strictly medical and administrative -- were soon sent home.

Many Americans have forgotten the major lesson of Vietnam: don't get involved in someone else's civil war. Clinton's little bombing bites in Gorazde violate that rule. We've taken sides and become the Muslim air force. We're in the swamp, the mud already pouring into the top of our boots. But it's early days. If Clinton uses history as a guide, there's still time to do an about-face.

During the post-Cold War period of new world disorder, we must not jump into every war. Right now, North Korea and the United States are breathing hard, and nuclear-armed Russia may reject its fling with democracy and come back as a cut-down "Evil Empire" before the snow falls. Not to mention 43 other fights going on around the globe in places like Rwanda, Haiti and Cambodia. Clinton must not get suckered into a fight in Bosnia when we may have to fight elsewhere to defend America's vital interests.

Many Americans want to stop the killing in the Balkans. Some, such as hawk Sens. Joseph Biden and Joseph Lieberman, are into a military solution that would mean their war and our kids. Both senators were in graduate school during the Vietnam War along with tens of thousands of other well-connected draft dodgers. Both senators' kids have similar safe chicken coops to hide in. Mine don't. Do yours?

The feeling among a lot of action guys is that the United States has been put down by the Serbs and we need to show them no one messes with us; if this means war, so what! But if the Do-Something Gang wants combat, let them pick their side in that tragic three- way civil war, jump on a plane and join up.

It's the smart leader who can assess when a fight doesn't involve his interests and back out when he knows he can't win. It's the wise leader who fights only on his terms, when he can win.

I hope Bill keeps on eyeballing studies, asking for more details, organizing more conferences and having lengthy phone calls with world power players -- as long as he commits no more U.S. forces in the Balkans. Although he consciously avoided Vietnam, swapping a fox-hole for a schoolhouse, he should read every book on the American failure there and study the history of the Balkans as well. Then he'll know the trip to Bosnia is not only unnecessary, but very, very dumb.