Retired General Wesley Clark talks about his new book, "Waging Modern War: Bosnia, Kosovo, and the Future of Combat."
MARGARET WARNER: The book is "Waging Modern War." The author is retired four-star army general Wesley Clark who commanded both the U.S. and NATO forces during the Kosovo War of 1999. The book details his struggles against the enemy Serb forces and against his own political and military bosses in Washington. General Clark was relieved of his commend ahead of schedule one month after the war ended. Welcome, general.
GEN. WESLEY CLARK: Thank you very much, Margaret.
MARGARET WARNER: You called this "Waging Modern War". Describe briefly what it is about modern war that makes it different for conflicts in wars we've known in the past.
GEN. WESLEY CLARK: Well, it's a very complex terrain. It's difficult geography, difficult diplomacy, difficult legal conundrum, so it means you can't turn it over to the military and say, "boys, girls, go at it, just smash them and come back and tell me when you've done it." Instead it's continuous interaction of political and military forces.
MARGARET WARNER: And public perception.
GEN. WESLEY CLARK: And public perception is a very big part of this.
MARGARET WARNER: Now, in the Kosovo conflict you write that you feel the Pentagon was ready, really, to fight this kind of war and had great difficult difficulty doing so. What do you mean?
GEN. WESLEY CLARK: Well, the Pentagon had its own national military strategy required by law. And it was a strategy that focused their responses, their military actions on two nearly simultaneous operations-- one in Korea and one in the Persian Gulf. Although we could do presence missions elsewhere, and certainly we had a mission on the ground in Bosnia-- these were, if they expanded, they'd be distractions and they'd be detracting from the Pentagon's ability to put money into the procurement account and build forces for the future. And so the Pentagon was torn and it was trying to do the best it could, but it had its own internal priorities, its own internal strategy.
MARGARET WARNER: And so you felt that it made it very difficult for a commander like yourself, the guy who was responsible for actually...
GEN. WESLEY CLARK: There's no doubt about it, no doubt about it.
MARGARET WARNER: Give a couple of examples.
GEN. WESLEY CLARK: Well, from the first time I got there in command in Europe in 1997, Javier Solana called me in, the NATO Secretary-General, he said, "look," he said, "Wes, you have to understand, this mission for NATO has to succeed." Well, I had been with Dick Holbrooke on the Bosnian negotiations. I knew it. I said, "we'll make it a success." Javier said, "no," he said, "listen, I don't mean a success by protecting your forces."
MARGARET WARNER: You are talking about in Bosnia now.
GEN. WESLEY CLARK: In Bosnia. He said, "I mean you are going to be a success because the entire military and civil implementation has to succeed, and you have to help the civil implementation to succeed." Well, this was precisely what the Pentagon had been struggling to prevent. It was known in some circles as "mission creep." And now it was on my shoulders to do this. So I always knew that when I started down this path to have a successful operation in the Balkans, that I would face... And that's exactly how it turned out at every step along the way as I tried to work my way through this and take actions, there was resistance.
MARGARET WARNER: Several times, though, in this book you say you were actually stunned that you were not getting the support you felt you needed, that you felt that the commander out in the field and you were responsible for all these forces should be supported at home.
GEN. WESLEY CLARK: Well, I felt that...
MARGARET WARNER: Give an example.
GEN. WESLEY CLARK: It's one thing in a policy process that people have differing opinions. But once you're dropping bombs and your men and women are at risk flying into hostile antiaircraft fire and so forth, then it was inconceivable to me that I wouldn't get the ultimately the full support that I needed to be successful. I asked early on to have more targets released from the Pentagon, and I was really surprised five or six days into the war when the Pentagon was rejecting my request for the targets. They didn't fall under their categories and so forth. We were... By the Americans we were told, you can't escalate to such and such a target. You know, I was really concerned about this. Later on the Secretary of Defense called and he said, you know, he was worried about the three Americans who had been kidnapped. I said, "Mr. Secretary, we're a week into the war. I need the Apaches." He said, "well, I don't..."
MARGARET WARNER: These are helicopters, the low-flying helicopters.
GEN. WESLEY CLARK: Exactly. He said, "well, I don't know anything about that." I said, "well, Mr. Secretary, the proposal's in the Pentagon. It's been there since before the war started." A couple of nights later, we had a video teleconference, and I made my case. And subsequently the Apaches were approved for deployment, but not for employment. And throughout the campaign I kept working the system to try to get the right to use the Apaches to strike the Serb forces. It would have a powerful... A powerful effect on Milosevic, it would galvanize our European allies, but no support.
MARGARET WARNER: What is this... What should this tell us or what does it tell you about the Pentagon? I mean, why... How do you explain this reluctance, or this tug-of-war?
GEN. WESLEY CLARK: Well, I think a lot of it came from a conversation... was illustrated by a conversation I had with the army chief, General Denny Reimer, in December of '98, four months before the air campaign began. He was over in Europe visiting the troops and I said, "you know, Chief, things are looking bad here. We may be going to war. I think you ought to be preparing for this and requesting resources for it." He said, "but Wes," he said, "we don't want to fight in Kosovo." I said, "but, chief, do you want to fight in North Korea or Iraq? Do you want to fight anywhere?" And he said, "well, I guess you're right." But the simple truth was that the mindset in the Pentagon was that if we were ever going to go to war there were only one of two theaters where we were going to go to war in, and it wasn't in Europe.
MARGARET WARNER: Now the other tension that runs through your whole book is the tension between... That this was an alliance war. And you were head of NATO forces as well as American forces. There is an amazing scene at the Pristina Airport as NATO forces are coming into Kosovo, and the British general on the ground, General Mike Jackson, refuses your order to block the Russians on the runway. Just tell us more about this.
GEN. WESLEY CLARK: It was a surprising moment to me. It was Sunday the 13th of June, about 8:30 in the morning. And he said, "I'm not going to take your order to block these, this runway." And so we talked about it. He was extremely agitated and emotional and making all kinds of statements. So I said, "let's get your chief of defense," his boss in the British chain of command, "on the line." I talked to General Sir Charles Guthrie, the British chief of defense, and he said, "let me talk to Mike." And so I pass the phone over and then Mike handed the phone back to me. And the British chief of defense said, "well, I agree with Mike." And he says, "so does Hugh Shelton," the American chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. I was very surprised because I had gotten word from Washington that Washington supported, in fact, suggested that I block these runways and strongly supported how I did it, how I wanted to do it. So I called Hugh. It was about 3:00 in the morning in Washington, and I said, "well, you know, here is the problem and Guthrie says you support Jackson, not me. What... Do you support me or not?" Because you can't take actions in war without support of governments. He said, "well," he said, "I did have a conversation with Guthrie. I knew you were getting this order. Guthrie and I agreed we don't want a confrontation but I do support you." So I said, "well, then you've got a policy problem." And it really was a policy problem caused by the British government's differing perception than the American government's, and by Mike Jackson's perception of the situation.
MARGARET WARNER: What does this tell you about alliance warfare? I mean, that if push comes to shove, does the whole alliance command structure break down?
GEN. WESLEY CLARK: Well, only in... It tells you the same lesson we've always known about alliances, that if you are going to lead and you have the command positions, you have to back up that command position. You have to earn it by committing the resources. Now, in this case, although we had the majority of the aircraft and the air campaign, we had done our best to avoid taking a leadership role on the ground. The British had the vast majority of the forces. They were there first. They had the capital sector around Pristina and the Pristina Airport sector, and they had the commander on the ground. So it was going to be, except for the Apaches, it was all British troops at risk, and it was a British commander and therefore it was essentially a British operation under my command. It's the same thing that we would have found in the Second World War. Eisenhower was the supreme allied commander because the United States put the bulk of the forces in, not the Brits. In this case, because the United States didn't want to take the lead by committing its resources on the ground, when push came to shove, it was another country that actually set the policies.
MARGARET WARNER: If Milosevic had not caved what he did, do you think the alliance had the wherewithal and the will to pursue this war, to do what it took to win?
GEN. WESLEY CLARK: Yes, I do, I do. I think the decision had already been made in the White House that one way or another they were going to find a way to work this out.
MARGARET WARNER: And finally, there's another theme in the book, and I've only been able to touch on a couple, had to do with the inability of the U.S. Government and the western governments to prevent these conflicts when you felt earlier action, both Bosnia and Kosovo could have. Do you... One, what did you think was behind that, and do you see the same thing happening vis-à-vis Macedonia now?
GEN. WESLEY CLARK: Well, I... What was behind it is very simply conflicting interests and priorities in Washington. And I was doing my job as a regional commander in chief warning the Pentagon, but it wasn't a well-received warning. It was a warning, which was rejected, basically, and subsequently we went to war. I think the risk in situations like this is high. The earlier one can get involved decisively, the better. But when the decision is still ambiguous, your chances of a successful, low-cost preventive solution is much higher than waiting for it to become so clear-cut that you go to war. And that's the concern for Macedonia today.
MARGARET WARNER: All right, General, thanks very much.
GEN. WESLEY CLARK: Thank you very much, Margaret.