Not long after Beirut, about a year after that, there is this press
conference, the Secretary of Defense [Caspar Weinberger] comes forward. He's
being staffed by Colin Powell, a Vietnam veteran, and others around him,
younger people, and there seems to be, all of a sudden, the arrival of these
holy commandments. Tell me about that.
Well, again, remember the experiences we've gone through now. ... You go from
Korea to Vietnam, you look at Desert I, and all of a sudden you start seeing a
theme of things that says, one, we're diluting the way we use the military,
because we're trying to achieve political aims with the military and not using
them as an all-out force to fight the nation's wars. We're committing them in
places maybe we shouldn't commit them. And secondly, we're not giving the
military the authority to do what we asked them to do. ... We're trying to do
escalation control at the political level, but what that amounts to, in the
execution, is that the military's not effective.
And I think there was some realization of this when Caspar Weinberger ... came
up with this litany of things about when you commit military force and when you
don't. And as a young officer, I can remember when that came out, in a number
of different ways, and I literally carried a copy of that for ten years with
me, in my briefcase, because I thought it was so important, and it had such a
dramatic effect on me, when I read it, to think, 'Holy mackerel, it's really as
simple as this. ... You don't commit militaries unless there's a vital interest
to the nation at risk. You don't commit militaries unless you are going to
commit a decisive force. You give them clear objectives, you have a defined
exit strategy, so you know what gets you in and what gets you out. And you let
the military do what they're designed to do. ' ...
When General Powell is first asked to look at this Bosnia problem, what does
he tell the President?
... I wasn't there, but in very general terms ... the idea was that if we were
going to put a force into Bosnia, it was going to have to be a substantial,
decisive force. We're talking about hundreds and thousands of troops to
accomplish the task that was set for us there. And I think when the numbers of
forces were reviewed, there was this feeling that, that is a huge force that
has to go in there, and, number two, if they go, they're going to be a lot of
casualties. This doesn't play well in America. So we've got to find some
other solution to this problem.
And you recall what happened, we ended up saying there needed to be some kind
of a peace agreement, and then we would put forces in, on the ground, as a part
of a United Nations charter, part of a larger force, under the guise of a peace
treaty to separate the forces, rather than going in to fight a battle, which
would have taken substantially more forces. Now, we still ended up putting
50,000+ ... U.S. forces into Bosnia, as a part of this peacekeeping operation.
From the Dick Holbrooke perspective, the State Department, the diplomats
looking at this problem, urging the President to do something about Bosnia,
there seemed to be some other motivations that were driving them. I mean, in
the sense they were looking at this, perhaps, a little bit differently.
I think what's happened is there are different people that view what the U.S.
military ought to be used for and ought not to be, and I've given you one side.
I think Dick Holbrooke would give you another side. Dick would say that, "Good
Lord, wake up, this is the reason we have a military, this is the kind of thing
we need to be doing with our military." Bosnia is a good example. ... There
was a very strong feeling the military ought to get involved in a lot of things
that we in the military said, "No way. This is not what you have a military
for. We're not trained to do it, and it will absolutely start us down on the
path to fail in Bosnia."
But there is a civilian component that needs to do the nation building. And
what the military needs to do is go in and set the conditions in which the
nation building teams can come in and carry out their operations, whether it's
elections, or whatever it happens to be, starting up the economy and getting
things going again ... .
But what happened was, in Bosnia, the military went in and set the conditions
and did its best to stay out of things it was not trained to do--and I'll come
back to this issue in just a minute--but, the civilian apparatus never geared
up. And so what happened, over time, was that ... these tasks that the nation
building, the civilian side of the apparatus was supposed to do, those things
kept being pushed over to the military. ...
As a military guy, I would say that if we're going to do these kinds of things
in the future, and this is the decision of this country, to involve the
military in situations like a Bosnia, that we've got to get serious about it.
We've got to understand that the military, there are certain limitations on
what it can do, and we let them go set the conditions in which we can them
bring in civil agencies that have been organized and brought together to carry
out the rest of what needs to be done, so that these things have a more
positive outcome. ...
Now, there can be some younger officers that have a very different view of
this. They may say, that's why this guy Estes retired, he's part of the old
camp, he doesn't realize that the world's changed, and we've got to get ready
to do this kind of thing. And I argue, keep your eye on the ball, be careful,
because if you build a military that goes off and does things like the Bosnias
of the world, like the Haitis of the world, we will be so engaged in so many of
those things, we will be spread so thin and so engaged around the world that if
something comes along and threatens our vital interest, we won't be ready for
Let's look at how it was done in Bosnia ... [Dick Holbrooke] gets to Dayton
... there is a huge debate over what ... the military is going to do. What's
the role of the military in this whole new mission? ...
There's no question, [that there was pressure on the military to do more]
because you looked at the scope of what needed to go on. It wasn't just going
in to separate the forces, it was all the other things that needed to happen
after that to ensure a lasting peace. ... And so the lists were there of all
the things that needed to be done, andthe idea of some was, 'the military can
do much of this, let's give it to them to do. ' And the military's view was,
'this is not what the nation's military is for, we're not trained to do this,
you need to get the people who are supposed to do this to do it.'
And the frustration was, as I described earlier, that trying to gear up the
civilian apparatus to go in to do the nation building was a very difficult and
frustrating process for the government and, ultimately, because it involved
many nations, was not going as smoothly, and as a result these tasks are
flowing over to the military... .
Admiral Leighton "Snuffy" Smith's at one end of that pressure [for the
military to do more].
... I think Snuffy had some very strong views on what could be done, could not
be done. He was ultimately the commander responsible. ... Most of us really
get this sense, when you're ultimately put in a command position ... you have
this instinct inside, it's built into you as a leader, don't commit your people
to something that they're not prepared for. I don't care if you're a soldier,
sailor, airman or marine, that's instinctive to a leader. ...
Let me ask you about a particular incident Snuffy Smith told us about. The
President came to Bosnia, visited, and there was a lot of pressure, at that
time, for the forces ... to guard mass gravesites. This was an example of this
growing pressure, here, to do more. And they're at a big meeting, and the issue
comes up. The President raises the issue, and says, "A lot of people want us
to do these mass gravesites. " He turns to Admiral Smith and says, "Tell them,
Admiral, what do you think about that? And Admiral Smith says, "I'll do
whatever you want, but I'm telling you, we've got to have the forces to do it,
and it's going to take a lot more." And the President says, "OK." As the
President's leaving, later, he comes over to Admiral Smith and goes up and
shakes his hand and says, "Admiral, I'm sorry to put you on the spot like that,
in front of all those people, but you said just the right thing. Thank you
very much, it was just the perfect answer."
Well, guarding mass gravesites. ... That's not a military task. That's a
police force task. And ultimately, and because of the environment, it would
take military forces to do it. And so it's going to take a substantial amount
of military to do it, in order to do it right. ... If you're going to commit
military forces to it, you're going to ensure the protection of the people you
commit. You're going to make sure you put them in there under conditions in
which they can succeed, not fail, which means you've got to put a lot of force
in there. ... And that's what you saw Snuffy doing, was saying, "It's going to
take a lot of military forces to do this right. I'm not going to willy-nilly
commit them to this and put American lives at risk for nothing." ...
There are grumblings, in early '96--the military's not doing enough, it's
not getting the job done, because we have to build this nation and we know the
civilian's side not working and the military ought to do more of this stuff.
What are you hearing, at that time, about the Commander, Admiral Snuffy
... I think that there was a general feeling, for all the reasons I've
described, that it wasn't just Snuffy, and I would not put this exclusively on
his back, in any way, shape or form. There was a general feeling of the
leadership of the military that you don't commit military forces that don't
live up to the creed that Weinberger came up with. ... Don't put the blame on
Snuffy. There were a lot of us that felt that way. ... I say "the general
feeling," because of those of us who were in leadership positions in the U.S.
military, because of the experiences we'd gone through, instinctively we could
see ourselves getting into another quagmire. Every day we committed to do
something else that the military wasn't supposed to do, in terms of being
trained to do, we were going further down that road, which was going to end up
in a negative situation for the U.S. military. And that was the concern we all
Eventually pressure builds ... and things do start getting done. It may be a
piece of symbolism but I'm curious--the day that your friend Wes Clark ...
becomes Supreme Allied Commander, happens to be the same day they start picking
up war criminals. What's going on?
I think, over a period of time, the U.S. military is a little more comfortable
with what it's doing in Bosnia -- still not well-trained to do it, but still
says, "We've got the lay of the land, we've been here awhile, we understand a
little bit more about what's taking place here, and I just think that there's a
feeling that if we don't go after some of these war criminals, that the thing's
going to keep going south."... And slowly but surely, with each one of these
tasks being added, we're getting deeper and deeper into a situation where the
military is bound to be unsuccessful, and this eventually is going to lead to a
failure in the area. ...
We talk about a changing world. We didn't change the apparatus we've used to
deal with these crises that we get involved in; we should have changed that as
well. We're relying on the same old thing we always did, ... that same old
thing being the military. So, if we're going to change the way in which we're
going to operate in the world in the post-cold war, then we have to gear up a
different apparatus to deal with this issue. The military has a part to play;
so does the civilian agencies have a part to play. And unless we get in unity
and bring these two together, and approach these crises in that way, we'll
continue to put the military in to set the conditions and ship these additional
tasks at them, which they'll continue to resist, and ultimately enough pressure
will build that they'll start doing them, and they won't do them very well,
then things will start not going well for us. ...
Unless we change the nature of our military--we make the decision as a nation
that that's what we're going to do--then I'm going to stick by the creed that
Weinberger came up with, because I know it is successful. I know it lines up
with what the U.S. military was crafted to do for this nation. And so I think
it's real important that we don't let some loose successes guide us in a
direction that says we ought to be doing more in this direction, not less ...
I think there is a realization that the way in which we are using the U.S.
military today, regardless of how well-intentioned the purposes are, is, in
fact, wearing the U.S. military down, and that if we face a crisis of the
proportion that would cause us to fight our nation's wars, in the classic
sense, we are going to find a not very effective military. And what will happen
is, is we'll go through that cycle, we'll go through another conflict, we won't
do well, and we'll say, "My gosh, we've lost our way again, we need to go back
and reconstruct." ...
We've got enough examples in history to tell us that if we do anything
different we may have a few successes, but ultimately it's not going to come
out very well, in the overall, to commit a military in little, limited ways and
hope to achieve some political objective. ... We have too many cases where
we've not been successful: Somalia, Bosnia, to some extent, you can say has
not been totally successful, Haiti's not been totally successful. What is it
we're trying to do here? What is the follow-up piece? How do these nations
come out of this better after we leave than before we came in? Sure, the
fighting has stopped, but all we've done is suppress the tension, and it's
going to pop back up again. These things are going to keep repeating
So, building the new apparatus to deal with these new situations that the
United States faces, as the world's only superpower, in which we feel a moral
obligation to be involved, takes a different sort of a response from the United
States, other than, "let's use the U.S. military."
smith & holbrooke +
uses of military force +
nation building +
lessons of vietnam
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