THE PARTY’S OVER

9 January 2001

BY DAVID H. HACKWORTH

Secretary of Defense William Cohen has spent four fun-filled years wasting our money like no other public servant except Bill Clinton, who set the standard by blowing more than a billion dollars on presidential junkets alone.

Here we foolish citizens have been thinking the two bits from every tax dollar the Internal Revenue Service rips out of our hides to fund the Pentagon was spent defending America, not paying for Cohen & Cohorts' pleasure tripping.

Well, think again! Because Cohen's been lapping the world like a dot-com CEO, staying at five-star palazzi while rubbing elbows with the rich and famous and throwing lots of power parties. One of those we popped for cost $290,000, according to the Pentagon, but a Pentagon general says, "BS, $750, 000 is closer to the mark."

Cohen has used the fleet and the rest of our forces as though they were his private toys and boys. Last month when he took a bunch of pals -- entertainers, sports stars, war heroes and old buddies -- to Europe to "entertain the troops," the aircraft carrier USS Harry Truman was turned into Radio City for a day. A pilot whose flights were canceled said, "It was damn the hot operational missions, Cohen's USO Show must go on."

Meanwhile, Cohen and wife played MC in their matching, tailored "Top Gun" costumes that cost the country a cool two grand, chump change when compared with the millions we've contributed to run the Cohen Circus.

"Hollywood Cohen used U.S. warships like they belonged to the New York Yacht Club," says ex-tailhooker Mark Crissman, who quit the Navy because of such shenanigans. "He's done more to 'Pearl Harbor' the fleet than any SecDef and is clearly more concerned with photo ops and self-promotion than protecting America."

Sure, Cohen runs a $310 billion corporation that burns through money as fast as a drunken oil sheik playing no-limit baccarat in Monte Carlo. But that doesn't mean he's entitled to the same perks as a sheik or the CEOs of General Electric or General Motors, who are at least accountable to their shareholders.

The years of being an inside-the-beltway taker on the government's teat seem to have addicted him to the fast lane. He's plumb forgotten he's a civil servant whose obligation as SecDef is to make sure every buck we give him goes toward our nation's fighting capability, not his playing Globo Host.

If he'd have set the example and not hogged it up, maybe, just maybe, our generals and admirals would've followed suit instead of also acting like American royalty entitled to first-class everything. Then maybe our military would be shipshape and combat-ready rather than just a heartbeat away from stroking out.

If the troops had received even a portion of the dough Cohen's run through, morale wouldn't be at the bottom of the septic tank, and there'd be no need for him to dash from Beverly Hills to Bosnia to try to pump everyone up.

Our troops need everything from toilet paper to aircraft and vehicle spares and money for training to sharpen their dull combat edge, which when push come to shove is what keeps them alive. They don't need Al Franken, Jewel or Jerry Bruckheimer to thank them for "keeping our country strong" when they know they're out there hanging without the right stuff to pull off another Desert Storm.

Had Cohen looked at the homes and barracks at Fort Benning, Ga., and almost every other U.S. military base, he'd have seen how the other half lives. Had he gotten his nose out of the VIP room and talked to the troops, he'd have found out in a GI minute just how burned out and ragged the force is.

At least Donald Rumsfeld, earmarked to replace Cohen-of-the-flying-costume, can slip on his "Top Gun" flight suit and wear it with pride because he earned it and those gold wings the hard way. But Rumsfeld's track record shouts that the party days are over and the Pentagon had better brace itself for a much-needed overhaul. It can't happen fast enough for all our good troops and their long-suffering families.

How ironic that the absentee ballots of our warriors who've been so badly treated in the Clinton years cost Cohen and cronies their jobs. Many troops say, how sweet it is!