DEFENDING AMERICA
David H. Hackworth
Column 4

IT'S NATIONAL SECURITY, STUPID

Bill Clinton and his team of high IQ players are hard put to untangle the snarls they've bloopered into U.S foreign policy.

Since winning the White House Super Bowl last November, Bill and his cerebral team have botched every overseas game they've played. First was the hunt for Aidid in Somalia that left our military battered, followed by our forces being booted out of Haiti by mobs on the sidelines before they even got on the field. Meanwhile, there was the ongoing Bosnian scrimmage of to-bomb-or-not-to-bomb. So far, incompetent fumbling and stumbling has been the name of the recent U .S. foreign policy game, a classic example of how not to deal with the post-Cold War snake pits of the world.

Bill Clinton hasn't inspired many people with his global leadership, and his foreign affairs team has produced even less confidence. Neither Clinton nor its advisers seem to be able to get their international act together. Our warriors who must stand behind the line these whiz kids draw in the mud are no longer sure any of these folks can draw straight.

Most say Clinton's national security team -- Defense Secretary Les Aspin, Secretary of State Warren Christopher and National Security Adviser Anthony Lake -- are not street-smart when it comes to employing military muscle, and they don't seem to talk with one another or with the U.S. military chiefs who well know about crusades abroad launched by do-gooders from afar.

Confusion reigns. During the Haiti crisis, Professor Aspin was opposed to sending troops. Lawyer Christopher was all for the Governor's Island political solution and Professor Lake remained silent. In the end, American came off humiliated.

Somalia was more of the same. The White House, the Department of State and the Pentagon didn't coordinate their plans or listen to the generals in the field. The result was disastrous, with more than 300 dead or wounded in running battles that made no sense.

The Balkan situation has been less bloody so far, but just as amateurish: a lot of talk, but no well thought out, cohesive plan.

While it would be easy to blame all the blunders on Clinton's aides, the president is still the man in charge. Instead of providing much-needed presidential leadership and calling the shots at the helm of state, his concentration has been scattered and erratic. The strategy at the top -- if there is one -- doesn't seem to include keeping a sharp, steady eye beyond our shores.

The president is no longer the governor era landlocked stale with a big chicken industry, but the leader of a free world just boiling over with serious problems demanding his unique focus, energy and leadership. As our leader, Clinton must lead. He must recognize that America's national security is his most important duty and personally take charge of our foreign policy as he did his fight for NAFTA. Problems overseas cannot be tossed to underlings.

Another reason Clinton's team is playing barefoot in the world's barnyard of soft stuff is that they've dismissed proven past foreign policy rules. Caspar Weinberger and Colin Powell studied the lessons of the Vietnam War and developed principles or the use of U.S. forces. Their doctrine, which is as germane now as it was before the Berlin Wall crashed, follows:

· Commit combat forces overseas only when the conflict is critical to our national security.

· Jump into a fight only with an achievable objective of winning and with a well-defined military and political objective that has an end-plan.

· Use the military solution only as a last resort.

It is hoped that Clinton will dust off these rules. They were paid for with the blood of almost 400,000 Americans killed and wounded in Vietnam and were tested once again in the Gulf when George Bush issued his field commander a clear mission and then stood back and let him win.

Perhaps this is why Clinton's foreign policy has lurched from crisis to crisis like a football team coached by a ballet teacher who's never been to practice. The Clinton team should huddle more, think it out before they call a play and it probably wouldn't, hurt if they were made to write on the blackboard 10 times daily: "It's national security, stupid."