DEFENDING AMERICA
David H. Hackworth
Aug. 6, 1996

POLICY WONKS FILL BODY BAGS

In the past four years, President Clinton has been ill served by his National Security Council.

Why? Most have no been there/done that experience. But this isn't the view of Robert G. Bell, senior director for defense policy and arms control of the NSC, who wrote to me:

"When the president gathers his senior civilian advisers on national security matters, he is surrounded by veterans of our Armed Forces, i.e., men 'who have worn a uniform."'

Let's take a look at the prescient ones who offer up our sons and daughters to post-Cold War death traps. These are the names Bell provided:

Secretary of State Warren Christopher was a Navy lawyer during the big war. The nearest he got to combat, according to a source, was in a courtroom where a client almost decked him for his lack of enthusiasm.

Secretary of Defense William Perry was a PFC in Japan in 1947. Instead of enlisting at 17 or 18 and chancing the trenches where other 17- and 18-year-olds learned about killing or being killed, he sweated out the draft long enough to avoid World War II. He has since become a multimillionaire by being a defense insider.

NSC Adviser Anthony Lake never served in the military. During the Vietnam War, he was a State Department wonk. Bell says Lake traveled to "villages where ambushes had recently been sprung by the Viet Cong."

Had he learned anything from those after-the-battle scenes, he wouldn't have been one of the Saigon embassy commandos who advised in 1965 that U.S troops be dispatched to bail out the South Vietnamese. With any real battlefield experience, he would have known that regime couldn't have made it even if backed by an army of Rambos.

Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. John Shalikashvili wears a chestful of "good clerk" and "having been there" medals. In Vietnam, he never led fighting men. Rather, he advised a Vietnamese District Chief and wrote party-line, we-are-winning reports. Hardly the stuff that teaches about war-fighting or what U.S. combat soldiers go through when they're tossed onto killing fields.

Chief of Staff Leon Panetta was an infantry lieutenant with a good-to-go sharpshooter's badge while the Vietnam War was bubbling. But he didn't go - he never left California because he conveniently "needed to care for his mother," says his aide.

NSC Advisers Leon Fuerth and Robert Bell both served in the Air Force, and NSC intelligence Director Randy Beers was a Marine.

All may be clever, but none ever experienced hot lead snapping over their heads or watched their friends fall because somebody in charge screwed up.

Vice President Al Gore wore a uniform and actually made it to Vietnam. There, with the "luck" of the connected, he scored a cushy non-combat job as a flak for an engineer brigade, and soon after, his one-year hitch was curtailed to seven months.

I almost gagged when Bell wrote he couldn't claim that everyone on his list who advised Clinton on matters of fighting and dying was "battle tested," and that becoming a "'combat veteran can be a matter of circumstance, timing and military specialty."

If you ran that sorry rationalization by members of a Purple Heart convention you'd hear "yeah, sure" a lot from the grunts without pull who bled and learned about war the hard way.

Bell and his elite pals are the people who brought us the blood baths of Somalia and the wasteful mission in Haiti - a trip that didn't work the first time and is now being very quietly resuscitated by Army paratroopers already back patrolling the streets of Port-au-Prince.

These perfumed policy whizzes are also the masterminds that got us into Bosnia - a time bomb ticking louder and louder each day - and are the same lightweight strategists who failed to tell Clinton's CIA boss they were sneaking arms to the Bosnians.

The Clinton NSC team is composed of many bright dorks, with no hands-on know-how. The president needs to replace them with real veterans with real combat experience, people with the savvy to know that war's not a CD-ROM game. People who won't send our precious youth to hot spots unless America is really at risk.