Man Without Qualities

Monday, September 22, 2003

Opportunism Knocks II

Katharine Q. Seelye, writing in the New York Times, reports that then-President Clinton relieved Wesley Clark of his command of NATO to "General Clark's humiliation" and while "apparently unaware that [Clinton] was being deceived by Clark detractors."

That's it. No sources cited. No quotes. Just the bare assertion from Ms. Seelye.

But the Los Angeles Times runs a rather extensive report on the entire affair that doesn't mention any "deception" by "Clark detractors." And it seems that then-General Clark's "detractors" included Joint Chiefs Chairman Henry Hugh Shelton, Defense Secretary Cohen, Gen. Eric K. Shinseki (Army chief of staff from 1999 to 2003), Shinseki's predecessor, Gen. Dennis Reimer, and lots and lots of the people who worked for him - who apparently refered to him, without affection, as "The Supreme Being."

Here's what the Left Coast Times reports:

In ... 1999, there were bitter disagreements between Clark and his Pentagon bosses about what was probably the most important military judgment of his career — how to drive Yugoslav leader Slobodan Milosevic and his troops out of Kosovo.

NATO leaders broadly agreed that the effort should rely on a high-altitude bombing campaign, rather than a ground war that would risk major casualties — and a public backlash. Clark pushed for weeks to use ground troops, in the face of resistance from President Clinton, Defense chief William S. Cohen and members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Clark's desire to bring in low-flying Apache attack helicopters alarmed top Army officials, who argued that the Apaches would be vulnerable because they would lack the essential cover that long-range artillery could provide. "This wasn't according to Army doctrine," one retired Army colonel said.

In the end, Milosevic caved and withdrew his troops from Kosovo, after a longer-than-expected 78 days of bombing — but without the use of Apaches or NATO ground troops. Victory was achieved without any U.S. combat deaths.

"Once we were on the ground, it [would have been] a much more difficult situation," former security advisor Berger said in an interview last week. "And, by the way, the strategy worked."

But if Clark's ground troops weren't proved to be necessary, many analysts believed the threat that NATO might escalate was key in persuading Milosevic to give up.

Clark's critics in the Pentagon have long accused him of trying to get ahead by cultivating important civilian leaders.

On one 1998 trip to Washington, Clark met with White House officials to discuss the possible air campaign in Kosovo, without first stopping at the Pentagon — drawing a warning that he needed to share his itinerary with Joint Chiefs Chairman Henry Hugh Shelton and Cohen.

Berger acknowledged the tensions, but he insisted they were only natural when so much was at stake. "Inherent to the battlefield is a situation where the commander seeks to be somewhat more aggressive, in some respects Tell me a relationship between a field commander and the people back in headquarters that has not been somewhat laden with friction," Berger said. The Pentagon, he added, "over-imagined" how much secret contact there was between Clark and the White House.

Clark's approach to the war revealed his broader philosophy about the use of the military. He split from the post-Vietnam era view that force should be used in overwhelming measure, and only if all else had failed, a doctrine associated with Secretary of State Colin L. Powell and former Defense Secretary Caspar W. Weinberger.

Clark's view was that military force could be used in different degrees of intensity, in different situations, as one of the tools of foreign policy. "This distinguishes him from most of the post-Vietnam generals," said Ivo Daalder, who served as European specialist on the Clinton administration's National Security Council. "He sees force as one of the tools in the toolbox."

Daalder noted that as a key staffer on the Joint Chiefs, Clark was important in urging its chairman, John M. Shalikashvili, and others to agree in 1995 — before the Kosovo intervention — to the NATO bombing of Bosnia that helped drive the parties to the bargaining table.

Clark also believed in aggressively using the military on the ground, sometimes in an improvised fashion.

As NATO boss, he sometimes clashed with the U.S. Army generals who were leading the NATO "stabilization force" in Bosnia because he wanted them to be more aggressive in using military pressure to force Bosnians to change. He wanted to use the troops to accelerate resettlement of populations, to get local leaders to agree to creation of a multiethnic police force, and to pressure ethnic leaders.

On this, there was "pushback" from the field commanders, including Gen. Eric K. Shinseki, who went on to serve as Army chief of staff from 1999 to August. Shinseki feared going too far in using military force for "nation-building," said another general who worked with Clark during the Kosovo war. The relationship between Clark and Shinseki in Bosnia "was extremely strained."

Clark, said the general, "would take more risk — he'd rely more on instinct than staff recommendations."

After the Kosovo war, Clark's tactics raised questions in a confusing moment when the Russian army sent a column to the provincial capital of Pristina to occupy an airport. Clark ordered British Lt. Gen. Sir Michael Jackson to block the runway so the Russians couldn't bring in reinforcements. The British general refused, telling Clark: "I'm not starting World War III for you," Clark said in his 2001 book, "Waging Modern War."

In his book, Clark said he feared NATO's future influence would have been undermined if the Russians had been able to become a postwar force on the ground in Kosovo. He told Jackson that he had NATO support for his action.

But Kenneth H. Bacon, who was assistant secretary of Defense for public affairs, said this was a "controversial moment." Amid confusion about Russian intentions, "the feeling in Washington was that we needed to resolve this at the capital level, Washington to Moscow," rather than on the ground.

"We spent the entire Cold War resisting overly aggressive actions; we had a long history of talking these things out," said Bacon, who is now president of Refugees International.

Still, Clark came out of the war with wide acclamation, including praise for his efforts at holding together a fractious coalition of 19 NATO countries.

A year later, in July 2000, Shelton, the Joint Chiefs chairman, called Clark, shocking him with the news that he would be pulled off the job three months ahead of schedule — and without the year's extension Clark was expecting. Officials insisted that the early departure was only to make way for a new commander, Air Force Gen. Joseph W. Ralston, who they said would otherwise have been forced to retire under Pentagon rules.

But "it didn't wash," Clark later wrote in his book. "Was this a way of easing me out, without admitting it?"

Whatever the truth, at the close of his military career, Clark struggled with the residue of conflicts and strains he had experienced with senior officers and civilian leaders.

He had clashed with Shelton and Defense Secretary Cohen; he had a strained relationship with Shinseki, the Army chief of staff from 1999 to 2003; and he was cool to Shinseki's predecessor, Gen. Dennis Reimer, according to senior Army officers who know Clark and the others.

The New York Times is suggesting that all of those people deceived the President about General Clark, and thereby induced the President to remove him as leader of NATO. Without some real support, that's just libel - and absolutely dreadful reporting.

Comments: Post a Comment