David H. Hackworth
2 July 1996
ALL IS QUIET ON THE BOSNIAN FRONT -- FOR NOW
At the moment, our troops in Bosnia are NOT sinking into the quagmire as they did in Vietnam and Somalia. Their performance there has been magnificent, accomplishing every assigned mission while their casualty rate has been amazingly low. Only good leadership, quality troops, careful planning and well executed operations have made all this possible.
But while our top military leaders have learned from past disasters, that's not the case with the civilians in the White House, State Department and the Pentagon. Mission Creep is in the wind. Secretary of State Warren Christopher and many of Washington's mighty pinstriped terminators want the indicted Bosnian war criminals in jail before the fraudulent Bosnian national election is conducted in September.
Most of these sweet-smelling bureaucrats insist it's ridiculous that the 60,000-man NATO force can't nail a few dozen war criminals such as Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic and his sidekick Gen. Radko Mladic.
They argue that it would facilitate the election, the refugees returning home and help heal the wounds of the long war if the war criminals were in the slammer.
Adm. Leighton W. "Snuffy" Smith, NATO's main man in Bosnia and one of our finest leaders, has been reluctant to track down the bad guys. He rightly reckons the risk to his forces would be too high, and that hunting down rogues isn't part of his Dayton Peace Accord assignment.
Like any other good soldier, Smith, if given the job to snatch the bad guys, would do it in a heartbeat, but he won't bleed his troops in response to the vague hints he's received to "marginalize Mladic" or to conduct "more visible and proactive patrols."
No one, from the President on down, has directly ordered Smith to seize the war criminals. A clear "do it" order would mean someone on high could be held responsible -- not smart in an election year. They all only too well recall Clinton's "unfortunate casualties" -- the 18 warriors who died in the back alleys of Mogadishu -- when the White House changed the Somalia mission from feeding to fighting, a screw-up that could be traced back to Clinton too clearly.
A French commando officer in Bosnia says, "We know where the war criminals are and we can capture them. But it will not be without a price. We will take casualties."
The problem with policing up Karadzic, Mladic and the others isn't the friendly raider losses or the Bosnian casualties among the targets' body guards -- not to mention the civilians who'd get shot up along the way-- but the long-term fallout on our NATO force from these raids.
Our troops, whose main worries up to now have been the mines, the bad roads, the harsh conditions and the killer boredom which comes from peace operations, would become targets of the crazies.
And the "Bosnian Crisis" logos and theme songs would be back to prime time news as we're updated on the latest American casualties from Bosnian mines, snipers, terrorist attacks and shellings.
As long as a good man like Smith is in charge, things are jake, according to seasoned warriors. He'll fight the bastards, goes the thinking. Surely the President, his defense and foreign secretaries and all the other national security smarties wouldn't be so dumb as to move Smith out until the mission is over in December.
Would Lincoln have relieved Grant before Appomattox? Would FDR have replaced Ike before Normandy or would Bush have swapped Norman before he went stormin'?
Yet Snuffy Smith's change-of-command ceremony is set for 1000 hours, 31 July in Naples. The admiral wouldn't play the operate-on-innuendo game, so he's gotten his marching orders.
You can bet the new NATO skipper in Bosnia, T. Joseph Lopez, will be a well-behaved, politically correct admiral who will translate the murky whims and orders from Washington into the desired actions, not unlike the generals who gave us the Mogadishu disaster.
I wouldn't be surprised if Lopez asks that the mission be extended beyond its December deadline. This would take Clinton off the hook from his "one year" in Bosnia pledge to the American people just before the November presidential elections.
After all, how could a President refuse a request from a commander in the field?