David H. Hackworth
August 9, 1999
A PERFUMED PRINCE GETS THE AXE
NATO's General Wesley Clark is the first military leader in our country's recent history who won a war without receiving a Fifth Avenue parade.
Instead of being lionized, he got just what the rest of the U.S. Army has gotten in the last decade: downsized. The Pentagon's spin is, "This is a normal rotation, his tour was just shortened." It was shortened, all right. A review of past NATO skippers shows they had four to five years in the job as opposed to Clark's less than three.
So what went wrong?
Was it Clark's apocalyptic order to use NATO forces for blocking Russia's end run at the Kosovo air base, or his threats to have NATO sea power stop Russian ships from supplying the Serb army with oil? Either act of bad judgement could well have triggered a nuclear war with Russia.
Was it because Clark and his flacks kept crowing about how NATO was destroying the Serb army, when in truth NATO barely laid a glove on its opponent?
Was it because Clark's $120,000 U.S. Army Mercedes -- with a reported highly classified radio system aboard -- was car-jacked while his wife used it as a personal vehicle to drive to the golf course?
Certainly these sins, plus his hot temper, abrasive style and demand for much of America's air assets to fight the Serbs, didn't exactly win fans in Washington. Like a little boy stamping his feet, he wanted everything NOW and showed no concern for the Pentagon's need to maintain global forces to cover threats from other fronts such as Iraq and North Korea.
For sure, Clark is one of the smartest guys ever to wear four stars. He finished number one in his West Point class, graduated with honors from Oxford and the National War College, was a war hero in Vietnam and as a young captain was earmarked as general officer material.
But among mud soldiers, he's known as a guy who never paid his dues with the troops in the trenches and doesn't understand the nitty- gritty of war or what motivates warriors down at the bayonet level. He's like a doctor who's brilliant at theory but dangerous with a scalpel because he hasn't been there and done that long enough to learn the skills of the trade. In 33 years of service, Clark spent only seven and one- half years in command with troops from platoon to division level-- barely enough time to learn what makes a tank platoon tick. The rest of his service was as a staff weenie, an aide, a student, at the White House or at some fat cat headquarters.
The man is not a field soldier; he's more a CEO in uniform. Perhaps an efficient manager, but not a Patton-like leader. The troops call his sort "Perfumed Princes," brass known for their micromanagement bias and slavish focus on "show over go" and covering their tails with fancy footwork. Unfortunately, today's senior Army ranks are filled with such managers -- and these kind of dweebs are why the U.S. Army is in trouble. The troops and young leaders are great. But too often the senior brass are politically correct dilettantes, out of touch with their soldiers more interested in chin straps on the points of chin than in battle-drill being executed correctly. They don't understand that everything they need to learn about leadership and combat savvy doesn't come from management books or advanced degrees.
The CEO managers started taking over from the warrior leaders during the Korean War. Slowly, the Alexander Haigs and Bernard Rogers replaced the Hank Emersons and James Hollingsworths. The "slick and quick" replaced the warriors who knew how to win wars and inspire soldiers because they'd spent most of their careers down in the dirt learning their trade the hard, old- fashioned way. Instead, with the Perfumed Princes, connections and the right punches on the career ticket have become more important than troop leading skills and inspiring soldiers by example and tough love. Looks like somebody on high finally got Clark's number and sacked him. Let's hope -- for our country's security and for the welfare of our soldiers -- that the new Army leadership team that just took over gets rid of the "Perfumed Princes" and the culture that's created them. And returns warrior leaders to the top positions.