During that year, we were briefed on Vietnam. And I can remember vividly the
briefings. And I can even remember wondering if the war would be over before I
got there, so optimistic were the briefings. I can remember thinking clearly,
I hope the war isn't over before I get there, because I want to see what this
thing that Steven Crane and Ernest Hemingway and Norman Mailer have written
about. What it's like. And that's something every young man should
What is that like, then, in 1963 [when] you went over there? 1963, you don't
really know what to expect. ...
I land in Saigon with a friend of mine, who was also assigned. We were met at
the airport by a young foreign service officer, who was a very close friend,
who had been sworn in with us under the foreign service and who was already
there, named Tony Lake. ... The only thing I can remember is them telling me to
take my tie off, this was a shirtsleeves kind of place. Well, I mean, what you
saw, then, was a French colonial city. A lovely, beautiful, French colonial
town, with tree-lined streets, and just the first beginning signs of an
American build-up. ...
What was your job?
Well, I had two different jobs. The first half of my three and a half years in
Vietnam, I was in the Mekong Delta, living with the military, as a civilian,
carrying out the so-called Pacification Program; dispensing cement, and barbed
wire, and so on, through a disbursement system to the Vietnamese authorities,
who were supposed to build schools and ditches, and defend themselves. So it
was a shambles of a program, and it didn't really work. I was twenty-two, and
I didn't know what I was doing.
Did you know that it wasn't working?
I knew that areas we were
reporting to Washington were under government control were not. And by the
simplest of methods. I would say to the province chief, "Let's drive out to
this hamlet, or this village." And he'd say, "Well, I can't do that until I
get a company, or a battalion of troops to escort you." I'd say, "Well, then,
it isn't very safe, is it?" And yet we were reporting it as under government
control. And it was dangerous. I mean, you got shot at.
But then, the second half of my tour was entirely different. I was in the
embassy as a staff assistant to the ambassador. First Maxwell Taylor, and then
Henry Cabot Lodge. ...
[What is your memory of] how you and your sorts were received, and therefore
perceived, by your contemporaries in uniform?
Well, the U.S. Army contingents ... were extremely nice to me. They gave me a
place to stay, if I couldn't find a place in town. I ate with them a lot. I
watched movies with them. I think I watched "Seven Brides for Seven Brothers"
seven times. They gave me rides on their helicopters. They tried to give me a
weapon and teach me how to use it, thinking I should defend myself better; but
the first week I had it--it was a .45--I didn't have the safety on, it went off
in my Jeep, and went down through the floor and almost shot my leg off. And I
gave it back. They were wonderful. And I made some enduring friendships at
the major, lieutenant colonel, colonel level down there. They were terrific
You had no antipathy toward the military?
Not at all. I was
fascinated by them. I'd never seen the military before. I studied them. I
read their history. I got to know their jargon. I have great admiration for
the military. ...
[Can you reconstruct the evolution of your thinking on U.S. actions in
Vietnam over the time you were there?]
It's impossible for me to reconstruct now the stages of my evolution and my
thinking about Vietnam. ... I can remember when the bombing started. ...
And I remember thinking how inconceivable it was that we were going to be
bombing North Vietnam. But when we started bombing North Vietnam, we got
ourselves caught immediately in a trap. And here is where the hawks and the
doves, the liberals and the conservatives, can both agree: the policy that was
followed, primarily the policy calibrated by the Secretary of Defense, Robert
McNamara, was a disaster. It simply doesn't matter whether you were a hawk, or
a dove. The calibrated bombing was wrong. You're either going to not bomb at
all, draw a limit on your involvement, and then defend your strategic interests
in another way, globally, negotiate some kind of deal; or, alternatively,
you're going to bomb at a very high level. And I believe that's what people
like General Powell and General Shalikashvili, and others, have in mind when
they confront issues today. If you're going to do it, do it right. ...
But when you were [there], especially in your role in the embassy as a young
foreign service officer, you were then part of this policy; and presumably on
some level, if not an advocate, one of the executors of this, what you came to
see as a terribly flawed, and, indeed, failed policy.
It was a flawed
policy. There's no question about it. Whether one was a hawk or a dove, this
policy was a mess. ... I was given a very privileged position, as were some of
my colleagues. As very junior officers, we were given access to the highest
level policy-makers, because the normal accumulation of professional expertise
was non existent for Vietnam. A lot of it, there just weren't any Vietnam
experts in the government. The China hands had been pretty well either been
cleaned out during the McCarthy period, or else they'd gone underground. They
didn't want to repeat the whole drama in Vietnam. So a lot of the junior
officers--Frank Wisner , Peter Tarnoff, Les Aspin, Tony Lake, John Negroponte,
a lot of others--all of whom rose to very senior positions in the government in
the last decade, all were given a chance to talk directly to senior
policy-makers. And we spoke up. ... I told people what I thought. ... I was
not questioning the objectives in Vietnam at the time, I was questioning the
method. The objective was to save the southern part of Vietnam from a
communist subversion aggression. That was a legitimate objective to us, when
we went over in the early '60s. Then it turned out that the situation was not
as portrayed. That is, we weren't doing as well as we said we were, to
ourselves and to the public. That led to the famous credibility gap.
Then it turned out that no matter how much we tried, we couldn't stop the Viet
Cong and the North Vietnamese, and that our South Vietnamese allies were not
organized enough to do the job, and they were too corrupt. But the North
Vietnamese were just going to keep on coming. And that led, inevitably, to the
sequence that unfolded between 1965 and 1973, with the bombing of the North,
the negotiations, more bombing, more negotiations; and, finally, the
Nixon/Kissinger agreement of 1973, which inevitably led to the loss of South
Vietnam. There was no question that that agreement was the end of South
Tell me about what happened in '66? What was a young kid like you doing in
the highest councils of government?
Well, I wasn't in the highest
council of government. ... [but] I was the youngest man in the room, on some
rare meetings. I was the youngest person in the White House working in
Vietnam. That was just a function of the fact that there were no senior
Vietnam experts left. So when Lyndon Johnson formed a separate Vietnam group
to work in the White House, independent of the National Security Council, I was
asked to join them. And so I came back from Vietnam and was assigned to
Had you known LBJ?
... Do you remember your first encounter with him, in a policy
... Johnson was an overwhelming person. His earlobes seem to reach down to his
shoulders. His hand enveloped yours when he shook it. He looked down on you
with those mournful eyes. But he, I must say, with all due respect, he wasn't
a very good listener that day. He'd gotten a report in the morning that the
price of pork had shot up in Saigon because the Viet Cong had cut the road from
the Mekong Delta to Saigon. So he started a rather long explanation of how
when the price of pork goes up in Texas, it's always bad for the political
And he turned to our boss, his special assistant for Vietnam ... and he said,
"Bob, you get the price of pork down in Saigon." ... And [he]'s saying, "Yes,
sir. I'll do that." And I'm not sure how he's going to do it. We're sitting
in Washington, and the road is closed, you know? And you have to re-open the
road. And you can't just do that. You have to mount a military operation.
And it was that kind of discussion.
I was very young. I was twenty-four years old. And I was in the presence of
the President of the United States for the very first time in my life. ... And
it was both overwhelming and frightening at the same time, because Johnson was
such a substantial figure. And we had such respect for him. But what he was
saying was a little bit--how should I put it?--unreal. And I had just come
from the field, so to me this was really lunacy. ...
I didn't know what was going on. So, finally, after several of these
comments--more than several, after about forty-five minutes of this--the
President began to talk about how we ought to get some colonels, who had been
in Japan during the occupation, re-activated, so they could go out and take
over the administration of South Vietnam. Had I known more about Lyndon
Johnson, I would have just never said anything, because I learned later that
that was just the way he talked. But this was my first day in the White House.
The President of the United States was making a suggestion; which, to me, left
an image of aging colonels, probably in their sixties by now, or seventies,
going out there and trying to teach the Vietnamese how to run their own
country. And so I said, very timidly, something like, Mr. President, with all
due respect, there are limits to what Americans can do in this field in
Vietnam. And LBJ looked at me for the first time in the meeting and said,
"Well, son, your job is to get rid of those limits."
That was my lesson.
[What do you think were the lasting lessons of Vietnam for the American
... The current generation of leaders of the U.S. military, have almost all
been in Vietnam. General Michael Short, for example--my military advisor during
the October, 1998 drama with Milosevic over whether we'd bomb Yugoslavia
because of Kosovo or not--he flew two hundred and forty missions over Vietnam.
He was never captured, but his plane was shot out from under him, and he
ejected with his plane upside down at three thousand feet. And that shapes his
life. And he doesn't want to send his pilots up unless he knows why he's
General Boyd, one of the great American heroes, seven years in a POW camp in
Hanoi; two and a half years in solitary. Tortured, comes back, becomes a four
star general, deputy commander-in-chief of all U.S. forces in Europe. He's a
man who is ready to fight. He's risked his life. But he doesn't want to send
people out on a mission unless he knows what they are. Colin Powell has best
expressed that doctrine. And that is a core point for them. To these people,
the lesson of Vietnam was: Don't accept the mission, unless they give you the
resources to do it, and it's doable. ...
The battle over the lessons of Vietnam will continue, as long as our generation
of Americans--military, civilians, politicians, journalists, academics--who
lived through it are alive, and it will be well into the next century. ... But
we can come together over the concept that, if you're going to engage, you
engage for a clearly defined purpose. And you don't try this micromanagement,
which was the hallmark of Robert S. McNamara.
And that's where you would agree with those military men, who had service in
Well, some of my closest friends and associates in the
government are in uniform. The current NATO commander, General Wes Clark,
General Boyd, General Shalikashvili, Admiral Crowe, General Powell, and many,
many others who are less well known. These are wonderful men, and great
American heroes and patriots. We argue, but I argue with my civilian
colleagues, too. People in uniform are not sacrosanct. They don't have all
the answers. The use of force is a political decision at its core, in terms of
its objectives; then the military, as the experts, must be brought in to tell
you how to do it. You don't do what Lyndon Johnson did, which is sit in the
basement of the White House and personally pick the targets.
You were against the bombing in Vietnam. ... Cut to 1995 [in Bosnia],
you're literally begging, "Give us bombs for peace." That's an extraordinary
It's important to be specific about Vietnam. My views evolved over the seven
and a half years I worked on the problem. From full support for the policy;
secondly, questioning the reporting; third, the tactics; fourth, the strategy;
and only near the end, the objective. I don't want to leave you with the sense
that as a twenty-two year old in Vietnam, I saw the future and I knew what it
was. We didn't know anything in Vietnam.
But you were quite right, [I felt] that the bombing ... increasingly ... didn't
make much sense. It wasn't achieving a tactical objective, of significant
interdiction of North Vietnamese supply. It was creating an international
crisis for us, without producing an on the ground result. And the ally we were
backing up, the Saigon government, wasn't getting any better. In fact, the
more we helped them, the worse they got. So I came to the conclusion--as did
almost everyone I knew, whether they were hawks or doves--that either we
shouldn't be doing it, or we should be doing it more effectively. People went
in different directions at that point, but that was clear.
On the other hand, by the time we got to August 29, 1995, and I got to the
American embassy in Paris, on the second round of our negotiations, after three
of our four colleagues had been killed the previous week, in our first attempt
to get into Sarajevo, because we were on the road and we couldn't fly in. And
we had lost for the first time in the war, we had lost treasured close
colleagues, senior officials, people of great stature. And at that moment, we
get the word that the Bosnian Serbs have lobbed one more mortar into the
marketplace in Sarajevo. Killed another thirty-eight people. I'd always
thought we ought to bomb, but the bombing hadn't been part of the original
plans of the administration for the negotiations.
So when the acting Secretary of State, Strobe Talbott, called me that morning,
and said, "We're going to have to decide what to do. And the recommendation of
your group is going to be critical." I said, "You put us down as unanimously
asking for bombing. Put us down as people who want bombing for peace." I was
completely aware of the irony. And I even mentioned to Strobe Talbott at the
time, I said, "I know this sounds strange," because of where he'd come from as
President Clinton's roommate at Oxford, a strong opponent of the Vietnam war as
a student at Yale and Oxford. I said, "Strobe, this is very important. This
is a critical moment for us personally. A responsibility of the nation. And
the right thing to do. If the negotiations fail because of the bombing, so be
it. Bombing is the right thing to do."
... And in the next fourteen weeks, after two and a half weeks of very heavy
bombing, we got the siege of Sarajevo lifted, a general cease fire, some
political principles; and then we took the people off to Dayton for those
extraordinary twenty-one days that ended the war. So I felt, from the
beginning, that the bombing was legitimate, politically, strategically. And
although nobody wants to see bombs fall, because people get hurt and killed, it
was morally defensible. ...
You say there's a great irony. How so?
I think for most of the
people of my generation, people in their 50s, who grew up and came to political
maturity in the 60s and 70s, Vietnam was at some level a seminal event, either
if we were there, like I was, and like many of my military colleagues were, or
if you were a civilian in the United States as part of the movement to oppose
the war or to support it.
So, for Bill Clinton and Newt Gingrich, neither of whom were in Vietnam, it
carries different messages. For Vice President Gore, who was in Vietnam, and
myself, it carries a different messages. Some military say it proves that you
should never get involved. Others say it proves that if you get involved, you
should give the military the mission and then they'll tell you how many
resources they want. Some military say that the war was lost because of the
journalists and the Congress and the American people. I don't buy that at all.
The American people and the Congress supported the war longer than any other
war in American history, and at a greater cost than anyone ever imagined. Some
people think it proves that American imperialism is evil, the left wing
critique which I think is now pretty well gone. But, the only thing I'm clear
on is that the lessons of Vietnam are going to be as difficult to sort out as
was Vietnam itself. And that as long as the generation that was growing up when
Vietnam was taking place is in positions of importance and authority and
influence, that they will be debating these issues. They'll be debating them as
long as they're alive. And then gradually the shadows will lengthen, and Da
Nang and Saigon ... will fade into history like Guadalcanal and Hiroshima and
Normandy, but not yet, and we're still sorting it out, and it is a legacy. And
it creates ironic overtones. Sometimes you take positions which are the
opposite of where you were in Vietnam. But, one must not be imprisoned by
Vietnam. Let's learn from it, but not be dominated by it.
I'd like for you to take me to the 1992 time frame, post Gulf War: the New
World Order is taking shape, and Bosnia is simmering there on the horizon.
What was your awareness of it, your interest in it, then?
Well, at the time, I was a private citizen, the Bush Administration was in
Washington, and I had maintained, throughout the Republican years, a very
active interest in refugee affairs, which had started when I was Assistant
Secretary for East Asia, under Carter, and I had played a big role in saving
the boat people, a lot of whom were drowning in Indochina, and bringing a lot
of Indochina refugees to the United States.
I was on the board of the International Rescue Committee, a big refugee
organization based here in New York, and, meanwhile, I was watching Bosnia on
television. And when I saw this extraordinary event happening, and the West
not responding adequately, I called the Bosnia Ambassador to the U.N., Muhamed
Sacirbey, whom I'd never met. I just cold called him, and I introduced myself,
[and] I said, "I'd like to help." And we met and we talked a bit. And then, a
few weeks later, Winston Lord, who was then the vice chairman of the
International Rescue Committee, said to me they were sending a refugee
fact-finding mission to Bosnia, would I like to go?
So, a week later, in August of 1992, shortly after the so-called death camps
were found in Western Bosnia--and they were really awful death camps--I was on
my way to Bosnia, with a group of five or six people, to travel through that
country. I had not been there since I was a teen-ager, when I'd hitchhiked
through Yugoslavia, and this was my return to the region--never dreaming, of
course, that I would end up negotiating, and that Sacirbey, the man who I had
first called, would end up being more or less my opposite number on the Bosnian
In August, '92, we drove from Zagreb to Banja Luka, across the no-man's lands,
across minefields, through checkpoints, through areas where the fighting was
going on around us. Our car was seized by a drunken Serb militia man wearing
Reeboks and carrying an AK-47. We were held at a police station. We saw a
mild form of ethnic cleansing in Banja Luka. It was a terrifying trip none of
us were ready for. ... A very ugly situation. Houses blown up everywhere. I
had been in Vietnam for three and a half years, but I had not seen anything
like that in Vietnam.
So, August of '92, there is a presidential campaign going on. You have a
president running for reelection, a president whose own policy regarding Bosnia
was pretty much hands-off, at least not the pronounced involvement that you
later came to advocate. And the candidate on the other side, Bill Clinton,
Governor of Arkansas. Had you known him well enough to suggest, at that point,
any policy points regarding Bosnia?
No, I didn't know Governor Clinton very well, but I was attracted to him
immediately. I thought he was the most extraordinary new generation politician
in the Democratic Party. And when the opportunity came to support him, I gave
him my support, and became a member of what I'd call the outer fringes of the
foreign policy team, which was headed by Tony Lake and Sandy Berger, both of
whom were close and good friends of mine. Everyone agreed that the Bush
Administration policy in Bosnia was insufficient, and Governor Clinton did in
fact, as you suggest, criticize that policy and say that if he became president
he would take a more active policy. I strongly supported what Governor Clinton
said. But I remember saying at the time, to my colleagues, that I hope he
means it because it's not going to be as easy to implement as it sounds.
When he became President, he ran up against very strong opposition to an
aggressive policy from the Europeans, who were very ambivalent about air
strikes against the Serbs because they had already put thousands of their own
people into Bosnia under the U.N. peacekeeping mission. Now there was no peace
to keep, and the people were getting shot at, but the Europeans, the British,
French, and so on, were afraid they'd end up with their people becoming
So, that was the first problem. The second was, many members of Congress were
reluctant to see us get involved. And the third was that the Joint Chiefs of
Staff were openly opposed to involvement. General Powell was then the
Chairman, the most impressive and formidable figure in Washington at that time,
and still, today, I might add; and Colin Powell, a man I have enormous regard
for, had made very clear that he thought an involvement was a big mistake.
... The Administration's inability to move more decisively in 1993, which is
documented, and everyone involved in it admits it and knows it, has to be
understood in the context of the extraordinarily severe constraints in policy
that existed, for political and bureaucratic reasons, at that time. That is
not to excuse it, but since you want to understand it, that's how to understand
So, time passed. By the end of that year, you become, of all things,
Ambassador to Germany [in] late '93. ... In '94, the crisis in Bosnia is
deepening. By '95, you have returned to the Department of State, and Bosnia is
now, more or less, on your plate.
Totally on my plate. I was brought back from Germany specifically for Bosnia,
and NATO enlargement, which were clearly related. You couldn't expand or
enlarge NATO and bring in new members, on one hand, while NATO failed to deal
with the fire right in the middle of its area. ...
There was, at the time, and, as you know, still is the argument that we have
absolutely no inherent interest in Bosnia. You can make the argument that it's
not directly of strategic importance, that Bosnia is the Balkans, what does
America have to do with the Balkans? You've felt otherwise. Why? ...
I would not want to suggest to you that whether Bosnia ends up being one, two
or three countries, or what its exact boundaries are, or what the shape of its
government is, is in and of itself of direct national security interest to the
United States. That's not the way the world works. However, an unchecked
aggression, which destabilizes all of Southeastern Europe, which slaughters
over 200,000 people in the most barbaric way, and which could spread to
neighboring countries, left unchecked, at the end of the century, would bring
us in, just as we had been brought into three other crises in Europe earlier in
the century: World War I, World War II, and the cold war. We could not remain
aloof from this. For larger strategic reasons, for historical reasons, and for
humanitarian and moral reasons, American leadership was still needed in Europe,
and that leadership was essential, because, left to themselves, the European
Union members could not deal with the problem. ...
You were formulating American policy when what you have called the worst,
and what I guess is the worst, European massacre since World War II, took
place, at Srebrenica. Recall for me, if you will, where you were, how the
actual news of that event came to you, and its impact on you.
unfolded bit by bit. Srebrenica was one of three Muslim villages, or towns,
swollen with refugees, in Eastern Bosnia, in an area where they were completely
surrounded by Serb troops ... . They were so-called U.N.-protected areas, or
U.N. safe areas. A handful of lightly armed U.N. troops were in those towns,
providing the illusion of protection but not its actuality.
In July of 1995, the Serbs attacked Srebrenica. The Dutch peace keepers were
trapped, and the Serbs carted off most of the men, took them into a soccer
field, and butchered them. The ICRC, the International Red Cross, estimates
that over 7,700 people were butchered. That is why we call it one of the great
war crimes of modern Europe, and the worst since World War II.
Our own awareness of this came in stages. We had been assured, publicly, by
various European intermediators that this wouldn't happen. That word was
broken. Then, the Dutch were trapped. I remember vividly begging for air
strikes, the Europeans saying, not until the Dutch have been pulled out of the
area. General Mladic, the Commander-in-Chief of the Bosnia army, and the most
dangerous man in Europe, the murderer himself, a hands-on murderer, not just a
guy who issues orders, was in the area. He slit the throat of a pig in front
of the Dutch commander, to make the point of what he would do to the Dutch if
... Once they were trapped, airstrikes, which was the right thing to do, and
what I advocated, [were] not possible because the Europeans would not bomb
until the Dutch were safely gone. And the British didn't want to bomb until
their own forces ... were removed, and so on. So, we sat there and watched
this go from a low point to an absolute disastrous low point. ...
In fact, Srebrenica, one must recall, came only a few weeks after General
Mladic had chained over 500 U.N. peace keepers to telephone poles and trees.
... [as] human shields, and held them hostage, and held the whole world
hostage. And that was the absolute low point, that and Srebrenica.
Give me a sense what the nature of the to and from in Washington, inside the
administration, was at this point. You're advocating airstrikes. Is anybody
at the White House applying pressure to the North Atlantic Council at this
Well, people heard it, but the energy had gone out of the international system,
between the 550 U.N. peacekeepers chained to telephone poles, the human shields
... and Srebrenica. The energy had left the system, and we had hit rock
bottom. President Chirac, the French President, came to Washington the week
after Srebrenica and proposed that if the United States did not now get
actively involved, the French would move to pull out. And I think that was a
very useful reality check, which had a tremendous impact on senior policy
He met with the President?
He met with the President alone, while the
rest of us milled around in the cabinet room for over an hour, and they had a
very intense discussion.
And did you see the President afterwards?
Yeah. We had dinner with
the President and Chirac that night, a small dinner, about 18 people, and we
talked to the President. The President began to focus on it. And it was only
a few weeks later that our diplomatic mission began. ...
[In late August, 1995, a Serb mortar attack struck a Sarajevo marketplace, killing 38 people. The assault triggered NATO's largest military operation in its history.].
The issue [of continuing the NATO air strikes], ... came to be debated
between three star General Wes Clark and Commanding four star Admiral Snuffy
Smith. What was the occasion for that debate?
The most memorable conversation to me was one when General Clark and I sat
together in the back of a car, at Cologne Airport in Germany, about to take off
for a meeting of NATO, and I remember he and Admiral Smith having a really
tough time, and I could hear Smith yelling into the cell phone. And I took the
phone away from Clark, because I was genuinely worried for his career--it's not
safe for a three star Army officer to argue with a four star Commander in Chief
who's carrying both a NATO and an American hat.
And I talked to Admiral Smith, and I said, "Look, you know, we've got a real
difference of opinion here." And he said, "Well, I follow my chain of
command, don't you give me instructions through yours. You're an American
negotiating team, I am a NATO commander." And I said, "No, Admiral, I'm not
trying to give you any instructions; I'm just telling you that we need bombing
resumed in order to get peace." And he was pretty--he's an old sea dog. He
was 33 years at sea, he's a superb naval officer. This was a situation he
wasn't necessarily ideally prepared for. ...
But is it not the appropriate role, for someone in Snuffy Smith's position
at that moment, to make a political decision?
No. Smith should make no political decisions. He is a field commander, he is
not making political decisions, he is controlling the assets; "the assets" is a
euphemism for airplanes and cruise missiles; and he should do what he's told,
and he should not get into those issues.
Were you able to convey that to him that day, on that telephone call?
No. He was pretty worked up. But I think that we have to understand that
Admiral Smith was wearing two hats. He was the Commander-in-Chief of all U.S.
Naval forces in Europe, but he was separately the NATO Commander of the
southern flank. ... It's a very complicated chain of command, that's grown up
through the cold war and subsequently. And his orders did not come to him from
Washington, they came to him from the NATO headquarters in Brussels.
So, when he said, "I don't take orders from you guys," he was, of course,
correct. And when we said, "We're not trying to give you orders, we're trying
to work together for a common goal," I think we were correct. In any case, it
was one of those moments. This was a very tense situation: planes on the
runway ready to resume bombing, a great argument going on, several very senior
military commanders, particularly the Frenchman who headed the U.N. military
forces in Zagreb, General Bernard Janvier, opposing the resumption of bombing.
General Rupert Smith, the British General in Sarajevo, wants the bombing
resumed. General Clark and myself begging for the resumption of bombing.
General Joulwan, the NATO Supreme Commander, right on the fence between
different people. General Shalikashvili, our senior military officer, an
extraordinarily subtle and brilliant man, trying to figure out how to handle
it. Secretary Perry and Secretary Christopher and the President deciding for
the United States. And then, the British, the French and the others. ...
But, ultimately, Snuffy Smith, Admiral Smith, was the man on the ground
controlling the assets. He was the man who had to say yes to the resumption of
No, he wasn't. He was the man who had to follow his orders. It was not his
decision as to whether the airstrikes would be resumed or not. The decision
should come from the chain of command. But because of some highly obscure
delegations of authority it was not entirely clear whether the authority to
resume bombing was delegated to Smith or determined by his Commanding Officer,
the NATO Commander, General Joulwan. Because of that confusion, we had this
constant tension. ...
In fact, Admiral Smith did get his orders, [they] came down through his
chains of command, and bombing did resume. ... There was another call for
another halt in the bombing within what, a week, two weeks?
What happened was after the bombing resumed, it was only authorized for level I
bombing, certain kind of targets and if you went up to level II, you would need
a new authorization. Level II would be a more intense set of targets where you
would start going after the troops instead of just the installations. Admiral
Smith and others who didn't want the bombing to begin with, or wanted to end it
quickly to minimize risks to their forces, began to tell us we were running out
of targets. That I think was a very critical moment. We were pushed by this
statement, that we were running out of targets, into stopping the bombing
earlier than we should have. And that is one of the moments in this process I was
most deeply concerned about in retrospect, because I believe now that there
were plenty of targets and they could have kept the bombing going.
And even at the time, Warren Christopher said to me, as we left the White House
meeting, I think it was September 11th, if my memory is correct. He said, "I
don't really believe they are running out of targets." But we had no way of
second guessing them, so we had to accept the fact that they had about three
days more of bombing and then they were going to stop anyway whatever we did.
... I am, in retrospect, sorry that we did not stretch out the bombing for a
few more days, but once the military said they had about three days more of
bombing, we made a decision that our team should get on the plane the next day
and go back to Belgrade and negotiate with the Serbs to get something in return
for the cessation of bombing, since it was likely to run out anyway. So we got
on the plane and went immediately to Belgrade and had our decisive 13-hour
negotiation with Milosevic and Mladic.
We went into the final meetings just before Dayton with a key issue unresolved,
which was, would the military have to do certain things, other than protect
itself and separate the forces? Everyone agreed on those two missions, which I
thought would be quite easy, but they thought would be quite difficult. Would
they also go after war criminals? Would they also assist refugee return?
Would they help the civilian agencies? Would they assist in elections? Would
they intervene with the use of force to further certain objectives? That was
the issue there. The military felt that everything that we were proposing from
the State Department, was mission creep. ...|
I felt that their fears were gravely exaggerated. And if we were going to send
troops in, we would find that they had very little to do, because separating
the forces wouldn't be that difficult. And I didn't believe there'd be much of
a threat to them. But, they were concerned. ...
Was the conflict ever resolved? Did one side win?
The resolution to this argument came with a very creative, verbal acrobatics
suggested by General Shalikashvili, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs. Shali,
who was a very sophisticated and subtle person, who combined great personal
courage and a personal history which was extraordinary with political skills,
proposed a distinction which is very meaningful to the military. And that was
that they would accept certain obligations. And then once they would fulfill
their obligations, we would grant them the authority to do other things, but
not obligate them to. And, for example, capturing war criminals fell into the
authority area. In other words, they wouldn't be obligated to go out and
capture war criminals, but they were the authority to do so if they wished. I
agreed, as did Warren Christopher, to this compromise.
What did you think you were agreeing to?
Warren Christopher and I agreed to this compromise proposal, because we did not
realize at the time that in its actual implementation, the authority granted to
the commander of the NATO forces in Bosnia would never be used in any
significant way. And this hit home with a fantastic impact in March of 1996
when the Bosnian Serbs, on the day that Sarajevo was supposed to be unified
under Muslim control, burned down the Serb suburbs. And the NATO forces, with
the authority to step in and capture the arsonists and put out the fires, left
the arsonists alone and left their own NATO fire trucks in their fire houses.
And the Serb parts of Sarajevo burned. And so did part of the dream of a
multi-ethnic Bosnia on that day. ...
The fires, explain that to me. There were houses burning down, and what,
there were no local firefighting--
Under the Dayton Agreements, 90 days
after Dayton was put into force, which would be around the 18th or 19th of
March, Sarajevo would be unified under Muslim control. This was a tremendous
achievement, oh, I think probably the most important specific outcome of
Dayton. As the day approached, the Serbs began to leave Sarajevo in droves,
driven away by propaganda coming from the Bosnian Serb radio telling them they
had to leave and burn and blow up their apartments behind them. ... They issued
very specific instructions on the radio that you were to pile all your
furniture in the middle of the room, put all the newspapers there, turn on the
oven ..., pour kerosene on the floor, go to the door, throw a match in and get
out, blow your own house up.
And they beat up people. Bosnian Serb thugs went around the Serb parts of
Sarajevo and beat up old Serb families who didn't want to leave. NATO forces
stood there, within a hundred yards of these incidents, Italians and
French--there were no Americans in Sarajevo, but it was an American
commander--and did nothing. NATO fire trucks stayed in their fire houses and
did nothing for days as this escalated. And the dream of a multi-ethnic Bosnia
was severely hurt, almost died that day. And it took us a year to recover from
that. And even to this day the consequences of that remain. ... If 100,000 or
even 60,000 Serbs had remained, then we could have created a much stronger
multi-ethnic capital for Bosnia. ...
One of the things you urged upon Admiral Smith in the implementation phase
of the peace was the criminalization of Bosnian Serb leaders. And you urged
that Admiral Smith basically go hunt these guys down, find them and turn them
over to the international court. Two questions: What was the importance to the
process of making war criminals of these men? The second part is, why the
resistance to do so?
It was important to bring the leadership to
justice, because leadership had been indicted by the International War Crimes
Tribunal. And the NATO forces had been given the authority to arrest these
people. And to leave them at large was a living, walking symbol to the people
of Bosnia that the dream of separatism by the Bosnian Serbs was still alive,
and its leaders were still at large putting out the same propaganda and garbage
on a television channel they still controlled. The reason the military were
reluctant to do it was that they thought they would get into fire fights and
take casualties, Somalia style.
Did you ever actually have a face-to-face conversation with Admiral Smith
I had many talks with the military about this. One
particular case that I remember vividly, I arrived in Sarajevo just after the
Washington Post had run an article by John Pomfret describing how he had
followed a convoy carrying Radovan Karadzic, the leader of the Bosnian Serbs,
and the most wanted man in Europe, through four NATO checkpoints. I think
there's one Italian, one British, two American. And this article came out the
day before I got to Sarajevo. I handed it to Admiral Smith, and I said, "Is
this true, is it possibly true? How could this happen?" And he looked at the
article and acted like he'd never seen it before, even though it was 24 hours
old, and kind of threw it contemptuously to one of his assistants and said,
"These know nothing interfering journalists. They don't know what they're
talking about." And he was just completely dismissive.
Now, he had the authority to stop Rad[ovan] Karadzic, but he didn't have the
obligation to do so. And he chose not to. Why he did not go after these
people is something you'll have to ask him. I never knew whether it was his own
reluctance, or whether he'd been given advice through private channels from
higher authorities to stay away from fire fights of this sort. All I know is
that the chance to capture Karadzic was higher three years ago than it is
today. ... Karadzic and Mladic were much more vulnerable in 1996 when they
were virtually unprotected, particularly Karadzic, who was by far the more
important of the two to capture, than they are today. ... In early 1996, you
could have practically picked them up with a couple of policemen and an arrest
warrant. Today, they're heavily defended and very difficult to find. We drove
them underground and hardened their defenses. ... They should be brought to
justice, not simply for justice's sake, although that in itself is justifying
the action, but also because their physical removal from Bosnia is essential
for the long term success of a multi-ethnic country.
So, even something so seemingly tangential to the larger picture of Bosnia,
and therefore to the larger picture of that peace of Europe, as whether or not
you're going to arrest these two, three, however many men, can have a
It's not tangential. These two or three men, as you put it, would
be like leaving Hitler and Goebbels wandering around the countryside in 1945,
heavily protected and looking the other way whenever we think they're coming
down the road in convoy. And if you'd done that in Germany after 1945, a lot
of German believers in Hitler would have said the Fuhrer is still around, let's
hedge our bets, let's wait for him to come back. This is an easy issue. These
aren't harmless people. They're highly powerful people in political terms. They
are murderers, but they also have a certain amount of political charisma.
They're very dangerous people. ...
Yesterday I read all the papers, I saw the wires, I watched the nightly news
shows. There were some Republicans urging caution [about sending ground troops
to Kosovo] but nobody was standing up and saying, "Over my dead body we're not
sending any troops--"
The reason people have switched, there's several reasons. One is they
recognize that without troops Albanians and Serbs will tear each other's
eyeballs out continually. ... Secondly, we have the experience of Bosnia. In
going into Bosnia, everyone thought we were going to die in substantial
numbers. ... They had casualty estimates. The actual casualties had been zero,
no killed, no wounded. That is a strong argument for the strength of
American-led NATO forces. So, between you've got no alternative, plus the
casualty rate in Bosnia was very low, it comes down to two other issues--costs
and the so-called exit strategy. And that's why we're trying to keep our
So, there is such a thing now as the lessons of Bosnia.
Oh sure, of
course. This is all about the success of Dayton. ...
Does our presence in Bosnia in some way not almost necessitate our
involvement in Kosovo?
Yes, of course ... because if you succeed in
Bosnia and fail in Kosovo, in the long run you'll fail in Bosnia. Not because
Kosovo will unravel Bosnia, but because Kosovo will spread to Albania,
Macedonia, maybe even Greece, Bulgaria, and you'll have another fire. Bosnia
and Kosovo are, in the end, part of the same problem. ...
When we talk about the possible peace in Kosovo, the role of the military
will be something more expanded?