David H. Hackworth
January 4, 1994


There's talk in Washington about putting U.S. troops under foreign commanders as part of future U.N. peacekeeping operations. Except for NATO and the two World Wars. U .S . forces have never marched under foreign brass -- and they shouldn't start now. The United Nations is not ready for such an awesome responsibility.

A recent White House directive dreamed up by mostly Vietnam-era peaceniks outlines an expanded U.S. commitment to the United Nations. The thinking goes that the world's in a mess and the United States doesn't have the force, inclination or money to be World Robocop, but order can be achieved on the cheap: The United Nations will be the global police chief, and U.S. forces will be just another cop on the beat.

Besides violating the Constitution, this is a wrong-headed approach. While such idealism -- even altruism -- might be commended in some quarters, it doesn't square with my experience of what's happening out there in the real world.

Peacekeeping can get nasty, as Bosnia and Somalia have proved. Combat, which is like a lethal football game, swiftly follows. In battle, the unexpected always happens, and that's why it's imperative for a unit's players and coach to be a well rehearsed, spirited team. Fighting is confusing enough when everyone speaks the same language, trains on the same field and practices the same drills together.

When Murphy's Law -- if something can go wrong, it will -- strikes, Murphy had better be an American. To get out of those jams, the chain of command must be able to issue orders quickly, sing from the same sheet of music and tug on the rope in the same direction.

I recently watched U.N. operations in the Balkans, Cambodia, Kuwait and Somalia. Most of the U.N. commanders I observed out in the field were fumblers who didn't understand the basics of their trade. The U.N. Security Council, unlike the Pentagon, is understaffed, over-worked and not up for the game.

The professional competence of U.N. military commanders just doesn't compare with U.S.-trained combat leaders, whose military education, practical experience, decision-making ability, leadership style, motivation and standards are light years ahead.

The British, French and Canadians were often up to snuff, but the African, Italian and Middle Eastern commanding officers would be hard- pressed to get a Boy Scout troop into the mess hall. From the best to the worst, each had a totally different way of executing tasks. A killing field isn't the place to practice togetherness.

Last May, President Clinton scaled down the U.S. combat forces in Somalia and turned the operation over to the United Nations. Then the United Nations changed the mission from feeding to fighting, at which point the operation became a multi-lingual disaster.

Murphy's Law created a triple whammy in October. A U.S. Ranger raid in Somalia went to hell without any contingency plan. When U.N. brass took charge to rescue the trapped U.S. unit, it took them more than 10 hours to organize a U.N. armored relief force to come to the aid of the cutoff Rangers. A U.S. armored unit could have busted through in less than 30 minutes, even if the tankers started from the beer hall.

The night operation from beginning to end was a soldier's worst fear come true. Few of the U.N. vehicle drivers spoke English and no one had worked together. The relief operation was a study in military incompetence. Many men were wounded or killed because it was executed so badly. So far, no one has been held accountable.

Congress is aware of the danger. After the Somalia disaster, Sen. Don Nickles, R-Okla, pushed for congressional approval before U .S . combat forces could be placed under U.N. command. Although he was unsuccessful, a resolution was approved that reads, "The president should consult Congress before placing U.S. troops under foreign commanders."

Nickles and colleagues called it right, and they must continue to fight to prevent our warriors from serving under U.N. command. An American officer, now deployed with the United Nations in Kuwait, told me recently, "Anyone who puts U.S. units under U.N. command should be prosecuted for reckless endangerment and criminal negligence." As the troops say, that says it all.