DEFENDING AMERICA
David H. Hackworth
Column 9

MR. CLINTON, HIRE A VET

1993 was not a good year for Commander in Chief Clinton. A lot of rain fell on his military parade, splattering every GI -- past and present -- within range.

Defense Secretary Les Aspin became the designated fall guy and has walked the plank. Certainly some of the foul ups were his, but not all. The president and his advisers must take the rap for many of the flaps and for the bad blood that exists between them and many members of the armed forces and a lot of veterans.

The view of many in the military is that non-veteran Clinton filled the key jobs in his administration with folks who have never worn a uniform and think that most people who serve in the armed forces are either Rambos or losers.

Many of these warriors and vets look upon Clinton's advisers as a clique of elite prima donnas who were opposed to the Vietnam War and still carry that baggage. Many believe that those in Clinton's cadre don't like having vets around to remind them of their refusal to answer the country's call.

Aspin's replacement, Adm. Bobby Ray Inman, should fix the Pentagon's disorder, but he will need a lot of help to clear the air and correct the lack of understanding of the military that has caused so many of the problems.

Few key positions on Clinton's team have been filled by vets. Of the first 92 senior White House posts, only seven went to veto. In the 14 Cabinet departments, the first 330 Senate-confirmed slots have only 18 vets. Based on a recent demographic study, which has been endorsed by military sociologist Charles Moskos, at least one-third of the key executive branch management positions should be filled by vets.

Like his predecessors, Clinton has a lot on his plate and must rely on the judgment of his aides. There's no question he's surrounded himself with talented people. Probably no president has assembled more Rhodes scholars on his team. But since only a few of his key players have served in the armed forces, the result is an ignorance of the military's limitations and capabilities, as well as a failure to understand the mindset and values of America's defenders.

We have been down this 'best and brightest' trail before. Presidents Kennedy's and Johnson's insiders were also smart, but, like Clinton's advisers, few could tell a tank from a turtle.

The JFK-LBJ brain trust also believed that technology and firepower could win over peasant soldiers. The disaster of Vietnam can be laid at the feet of many of those very talented people.

A similar lack of military experience accounted for many of the errors of 1993. With unqualified administration starlets, mistakes were made and warriors got hurt. A Clinton aide knew that Aspin had denied the request by the U.S. commander in Somalia for armor. Had tanks been available to punch into the cut-off Rangers, six soldiers wouldn't have died and a score wouldn't have been wounded. A combat vet would have known that light infantry needs a tank reinforcement capability and would have told the president so.

The latest snafu was flying Somali clan leader Mohammed Aidid in a U.S. Army VIP aircraft and providing him with a security team of American soldiers, who only a few weeks before had been Aidid's targets.

Clinton says he didn't make this decision. But one of his insiders did. This dumb move outraged the parents of sons who died by Aidid's orders, further disgusted vets and serving soldiers alike and made the president look like a fool.

At the 1992 American Legion convention, candidate Clinton said, "I will honor your service and sacrifice with deeds, not words." Clinton later promised to form an administration that "looks like America," but so far a fair share of vets have not been included in the mix.

Inman's selection is a great start. Clinton's number one New Year's resolution should be to hire more vets. They'd help him stop the fumbling and insure that America is defended at the least cost in lives and dollars.