DEFENDING AMERICA
David H. Hackworth
September 6, 1994

BILL CLINTON AND THE U.S. MILITARY

Right or wrong, to most serving soldiers and veterans retired General Harold Campbell's comments that Bill Clinton was a "gay loving," "pot smoking," "draft dodging," "womanizer" were dead on target.

Bill Clinton's relationship with soldiers remains a barbedwire-lined sleeping bag. In their eyes, he can't lose either his Vietnam War baggage or the widespread view he's morally unfit for the job. Nor the perception he doesn't understand or respect the military culture and gives his duties as Commander in Chief a back-seat ride to domestic issues.

White House spin master George Stephanopoulos says Clinton's relations with the armed forces are "quite strong." Yet, from Korea to Kuwait and in foxholes in between, I find the rumbling in the ranks louder than the roar of a B-52. As usual, "Boy George" is wrong.

Clinton's made big mistakes in his military policies such as: insisting gays serve openly in the ranks; putting women in combat slots; placing unqualified civilians in high Pentagon and security posts; selecting politically correct top brass who won't fight his agenda to swap fighting ability for social opportunity. These and his dithering use of military force have turned off most warriors -- past and present.

The character issue haunts Clinton. He lied about the draft, waffled with "I didn't inhale," and generally doesn't care to tell it like it is. Instead the truth gets washed, spun and dried be it the past or what happened last month in Somalia or Bosnia.

Clinton's values and the military's don't mix. A soldiers' code is straightforward: "don't lie, cheat and steal and don't tolerate people who do." Many soldiers feel Clinton hasn't set the example of integrity, decisiveness, courage, leadership and vision that warriors expect of their president.

Herbert Shughart, the father of Sergeant Randall Shughart, refused to shake hands with Clinton following the White House ceremony last May when his son was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor. Shughart, who reportedly told Clinton, "You are not fit to command," captured the feeling of most warriors and veterans I've interviewed.

Clinton's back-and-forth, up-and-down, in-and-out fumbling over Somalia, Bosnia, North Korea, and Haiti have widened the gap between the president and the military community. His apparent inability to focus on national security and to develop a coherant defense strategy has put warriors in harm's way. His weapon's acquisition policy is pure pork. He buys unneeded gold-plated weapons, while neglecting the stuff that's needed. His indifference has resulted in badly defined and frequently changing political and military objectives. This has caused warriors such as Sergeant Casey Joyce and 43 other comrades in Somalia to die in vain and others not to be employed competently elsewhere around the world. Most warriors feel he can talk the talk, but not walk the walk.

I have never heard more bad-mouthing of a president. In the 1940s, FDR was hated by the brass and called "Rubber Legs" by generals like Joe Stillwell. Truman was held in contempt for gutting military preparedness, which led to the initial disasters in Korea, the Douglas MacArthur firing, and wanting to deep-six the Marine Corps. Military academy graduates Eisenhower and Carter were considered turncoats by the brass for cutting defense spending. With Clinton, it's not just the brass and right-wingers that are grousing, it goes down to the grunt where the buck stops with bullets, and in their dangerous world, he is despised.

Perhaps if he became a SEAL and won a Medal of Honor, he could win the hearts of those who have and still wear dogtags, but I doubt it. He'd be viewed like a serial killer who finally sees the light on death row. Even with divine intervention, he's not redeemable by the standards of most warriors and veterans.

To ease the pain, Clinton should stop his trite speeches, cosmetic wreath-laying and military stumping. All are viewed as insincere political schmoozing. His wearing military jackets and hats for photo opportunities is bad enough, but his preppy Michael Jackson saluting to warriors is even worse. FDR understood the salute is a symbol of respect that can only be earned, so he elected to hold his hand over his heart instead. Bill should follow suit.