DEFENDING AMERICA
David H. Hackworth
June 6, 1995

CLINTON'S FOLLY

As American warriors prepare to wade into the blood-filled trenches of the Balkans, they can blame Bill Clinton. He and his National Security fumblers, without thinking out the consequences, pushed the bombing that triggered the latest crisis.

The Serbs have repeatedly warned they would take hostages -- as they have before -- if NATO used air strikes again. Now not only are UN peacekeepers missing or chained to targets, but so is the American F-16 fighter pilot shot down by a Russian-made missile. Unless our leadership wakes up, more Americans will be ground up in the Balkans' meat grinder.

A few years ago, when Clinton kicked off his start- stop-and-sputter, knee-jerk Balkans game plan, he was eager to commit American ground troops until his war-smart chief, Gen. Colin Powell, stopped him with "We do deserts, not mountains." Powell knew Bosnia was not militarily doable and wasn't afraid to tell the boss.

Powell was right: The military solution won't work in the Balkans. We could fill the sky with bombers and turn that tortured land into moonscape. We could deploy all 12 active Marine and Army divisions, outpost every road junction, display our Desert Storm prowess, and we'd still lose, just as we did in Vietnam and Somalia.

The Nazi apparatus deployed more force into 1940s Yugoslavia than we currently have on our active rolls. They cut and ran, having sustained tens of thousands of casualties. And the Nazis were not nice guys; if they took one rifle shot from a village, they leveled it, killing every occupant.

The problem with Clinton and gang is they're not street smart. They continually underestimate their opponents. This was the sin of Somalia, and unless Congress puts the brakes on this latest misadventure, we'll get clobbered again. Once again, planeloads of body bags will arrive in the dark of night at Dover Air Force Base, with the press barred by military "thought police."

More than 2,500 years ago, the ancient Chinese philosopher, Sun Tzu, wrote: "If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of 100 battles. If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle." Few American leaders, past and present, have gotten this simple lesson: Know your enemy.

The principle enemies in the Bosnian killing field are the Serbians, Muslims and Croatians. All three are meaner than junkyard dogs. They are collectively the most brutal savages I've encountered on a dozen battlefields over the last 50 years.

The Serbs have an edge on meanness, but have no doubt, the others are serial killers, too. They make the Viet Cong and the North Koreans look like Mary Poppins. No amount of military power, no amount of NATO punishment will cause them to change their ingrained hatreds or Hatfield vs. McCoy mind-set.

Congress should ask former Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara for his judgment on the Bosnian civil war. He was faced with a similar damned-if-I-do, damned-if-I-don't dilemma over 30 years ago. He went with the military solution, which damned him to this day as he lives with the knowledge that his decisions created a lost generation of young Americans. Every reader should scope his book, then ring/write/fax their lawmakers.

The Balkans are not our backyard. Sure, our old pals the French, the Brits and the Spanish are up to their hips in that swamp, but they didn't rush to our aid in Vietnam. Instead, they carped and criticized from the high ground.

We should tell the United Nations to cut a deal with the Serbs, pick up their hostages, beat feet in retreat and leave the war to the crazies. That civil war will not end until one side wins.

And if later our children ask why we didn't intervene, we should remind them of the major lessons of Vietnam: don't get involved in a war unless U.S. national interests are at stake; don't get stuck in someone else's civil war; and only a fool gets into a fight that can't be won.