David H. Hackworth
July 9, 1996


At the moment, our troops in Bosnia are not sinking into the quagmire as they did in Vietnam and Somalia. Their performance there has been magnificent, accomplishing every assigned mission, while their casualty rate has been amazingly low. Only good leadership, quality troops, careful planning and well-executed operations have made all this possible.

But while our top military leaders have learned from past disasters, that's not the case with the civilians in the White House, the State Department and the Pentagon. Secretary of State Warren Christopher and many of Washington's mighty pinstriped terminators want the indicted Bosnian war criminals in jail before the shotgun Bosnian national election is conducted in September.

Most of these sweet-smelling bureaucrats insist it's ridiculous that the 60,000-man NATO force can't nail a few dozen war criminals such as Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic and his sidekick, Gen. Ratko Miadic.

They argue that it would facilitate the election, expedite the refugees returning home and help heal the wounds of the long war if the war criminals were in the slammer.

Adm. Leighton W. "Snuffy" Smith, NATO's main man in Bosnia and one of our finest leaders, hasn't been eager to track down the bad guys. He rightly reckons that the risk to his forces would be too high and that hunting down rogues isn't part of his Dayton Peace Accord assignment.

Like any other good soldier, Smith, if given the job to police up these gangsters, would do it in a heartbeat, but he won't bleed his troops in response to the vague hints he's received to "marginalize Mladic" or to conduct "more visible and pro-active patrols."

No one, from the president on down, has directly ordered Smith to seize the war criminals. A clear "do it" order would mean someone on high could be held responsible - not smart in an election year.

They all too well recall Clinton's "unfortunate casualties" - the 18 warriors who died in the back alleys of Mogadishu - when the White House changed the Somalia mission from feeding to fighting, a mission creep screw-up that could be traced back to Clinton too clearly.

A French commando officer in Bosnia says, "We know where the war criminals are, and we can capture them. But it will not be without a price.

The problem with seizing Karadzic, Miadic and the other scumbags isn't just the friendly raider losses or the Bosnian casualties among the targets' body guards - not to mention the civilians who'd get shot up along the way- but the long-term fallout on our NATO force from these raids.

Our troops, whose main worries up to now have been the mines, the bad roads, the harsh conditions and the killer boredom that comes from such a tightly controlled peace operation, would become targets of the crazies.

And the "Bosnian Crisis" logos and theme songs would be back on prime time news along with updates on the latest American casualties from Bosnian mines, snipers, terrorist attacks and shellings.

As long as a good man like Smith is in charge, things are jake, according to seasoned warriors. He'll fight the bastards, goes the thinking. Surely the president, his defense and foreign secretaries and all the other national security smarties wouldn't be so dumb as to move Smith out until the mission is over in December.

Would Lincoln have relieved Grant before Appomattox? Would FDR have replaced Ike before Normandy, or would Bush have swapped Norman before he went stormin'?

Yet Snuffy Smith's change-of-command ceremony is set for 1,000 hours, 31 July, in Naples. The admiral wouldn't play the operate-on-innuendo game, so he's gotten his marching orders.

You can bet the new NATO skipper in Bosnia, T. Joseph Lopez, won't be a Snuffy Smith but a politically correct, Clintonized admiral who will translate the murky whims and orders from Washington into the desired actions, not unlike the general who gave us the Mogadishu disaster.

I wouldn't be surprised if Lopez asks that the mission be extended beyond its December deadline. This would take Clinton off the hook from his unworkable "one year" in Bosnia pledge to the American people just before the November presidential elections.

After all, how could a president refuse a request from a commander in the field?