I thought for sure the blogosphere would jump all over this, but if so I missed it. The other day the New York Times ran an article about General Wesley Clark by Katharine Q. Seelye entitled Weighing his Run, General Was Encouraged and Praised by Clintons. Now, I'll be the first to admit that the source here is not the most reliable one. This is after all the same Katharine Seelye who so memorably and unprofessionally slanted her coverage of the last Presidential election. (Want examples to substantiate this serious charge? OK. Look here, here, and here.) Nevertheless, this was an eyebrow-raiser:
To Clark's humiliation, Clinton's Pentagon relieved him of his command. And Clinton had signed off on the plan, according to several published accounts, apparently unaware that he was being deceived by Clark's detractors.
The end came unceremoniously. It was July 1999, shortly after Clark had led the successful air war against Serbia. Clark was forced to retire early by top people at the Pentagon who, according to several accounts, tricked Clinton.
This is pretty amazing stuff: top military or civilian officials deceiving or tricking the President. Is this common knowledge? Substantiated? Did heads roll? If not, why not?
Of course, it makes a major difference if it was the civilians or the military.
If it was the civilian appointees, it is a sign that things were more rotten in the bowels of the Clinton administration that I'd suspected, that the mendacity of some officials involved in the Hilarycare plan was equaled elsewhere. At this point, that would be more of a historical curiosity than anything else. If, on the other hand, the deceivers wore uniforms, that would be a big deal.
Our top military officers now play political roles. General Clark's own experiences in Kosovo illustrate this, but the real proconsuls are the “CINCs”—the five regionally oriented Unified Commands (Central Command, Southern Command, Pacific Command, European Command, and Joint Forces Command). As General James T. Scott put it, CINCs “find themselves more and more relied upon to exercise 'operational diplomacy' because of the resources the CINC's possess”. That doesn't mean we want them feeling they can lie like politicians.
To avoid being misunderstood here, I suppose I should say a thing or two about my utterly unscientific view of the officer corps. I grew up in a time and place in which the military was not popular. The Vietnam war was the issue of the day, and the military was stereotyped by Gen. Curtis LeMay and Lt. William Calley. That is not my view today. I've met a number of serving and former officers, and been very, very impressed by the higher-ranking ones and some but not all of the more junior officers. The Army Captains and down I've met are a pretty mixed bag, but by the time you get to Lt. Colonels, or Navy Captains, they tend to be pretty serious people, and even more so when they have stars on their shoulders. All the more reason why I'd imagine it was the politicals, and be surprised and disappointed to find Admirals and Generals lying to the President in this way, even to one they may not have liked much.
General Clarks own experiences in Kosovo illustrate this, but the real proconsuls are the CINCsthe five regionally oriented Unified Commands (Central Command, Southern Command, Pacific Command, European Command, and Joint Forces Command). As General James T. Scott put it, CINCs find themselves more and more relied upon to exercise operational diplomacy because of the resources the CINCs possess. That doesnt mean we want them feeling they can lie like politicians.
Clark was the CINC for the European Command. If you read Clark’s book Waging Modern War, it’s clear that the people responsible for his sacking are high level DoD and military folk, most likely Secretary Cohen, Chairman Hugh Shelton, and Army Chief Reimer. They might also include the other Service Chiefs. Either way, it was they, not the CINCs, who were responsible for the sacking, and who were lying like politicians. Its pretty bad news when the military leadership decides to lie to the President.
The version of the Seelye article in the NYT makes clear that she takes her account from David Halberstam’s book:
It was July 1999, shortly after General Clark had led the successful war in Kosovo — though as he wrote in his memoirs, he could not claim victory because the administration had been reluctant to call it a war.
In any case, General Clark was forced to retire early by Pentagon officials who, according to several accounts, tricked President Clinton.
Members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff told the White House that they had to find a spot for Joe Ralston, a popular Air Force general and right-hand man to William S. Cohen, the secretary of defense. General Ralston had been denied the promotion to chairman of the Joint Chiefs after admitting to adultery 10 years earlier while separated from his wife.
These members, according to several accounts, told President Clinton that General Clark’s regular tour of duty as NATO supreme allied commander was up and that they wanted General Ralston to succeed him.
“Clinton signed on, apparently not realizing that he had been snookered,” David Halberstam wrote in his book, “War in a Time of Peace: Bush, Clinton and the Generals” (Scribner, 2001).
“Clark was devastated by the news, a world-class slap in the face, a public rebuke of almost unparalleled proportions,” Mr. Halberstam wrote. He added that Samuel Berger, Mr. Clinton’s national security adviser, had told General Clark that the Pentagon had fooled the White House.
General Clark wrote that later, President Clinton had told him privately, “I had nothing to do with it.”
With regard to this matter, one needs to remember Cohen is a former Republican Senator, fairly closely associated with Senator John Warner, chair of Senate Armed Services Committee. If you look at the Republican Senators who did not support the resolution funding Kosovo, you’ll note a number are members of Armed Services. To put it mildly, they were not at all pleased that Clinton confronted them with a NATO military action in the winter-spring of 1999, and in particular they did not fully appreciate the political benefits Clinton received from having Kosovo come out successfully. This is partly a political matter (Destroy Clinton and all he touched) and it is also about the Republican version of American Military Doctrine post cold war which is much less supportive of alliances, and much more tied to a view that military should focus on the Gulf and North Korea — that is the two regional wars proposition.