And, quite frankly, Peter, at that point, I realized that it wasn't anybody
else's fault. I mean, yeah, I was getting a hard time. Who wasn't? All my
classmates were. And I realized it was me. And I figured if I really wanted to
do anything with my life, that he was giving me a chance. ... So I went and saw
every one of my instructors. I talked to my classmates. I said, "I need help. I
don't want to go home." And they all turned to and they helped me. The most
important lesson I learned about that was in leadership. Here was a man, a
captain, a war hero, a commandant and midshipman, had enormous
responsibilities; but he went way, way down to one of the plebes at the Naval
Academy who was having trouble. He brought him up, and he said, "I'm going to
give you a second chance." And he did. And I worked real hard. And I made it.
He saw the options before you pretty clearly.
Yeah, the option was going to what I called sixty pigs. ... We raised pigs,
and we had about sixty of them. And every time I thought of quitting or
failing, I thought about what I had to go back to. I said, "I don't want to go
back to those pigs." ...
You made it through the Academy, got your commission, chose aviation; tell
me a little about what it is to a young man that age to realize that he has the
stuff to fly?
I'm not sure that any of us realize that we had the stuff to fly. It probably
just never occurred to us that we didn't, you know? We were invincible. Most
twenty-one, twenty-two year olds are pretty invincible, and think they're
indestructible. To be perfectly honest with you, I went aviation because I just
about died of seasickness on a destroyer in the North Atlantic during my
youngster cruise. And I thought, "God, if I'm going to die, I don't want it to
take two weeks; I want it to be in a hurry." So I decided aviation. ...
I went into jets because it just kind of seemed like the right thing to do. Got
through them when I got my wings, in January of 1964. ... I ended up in
[Glengo,] Georgia, seven of us ended up there. Flew FJ-4 Furies for a year; and
from that, then went to A-4 Skyhawks, which is what I ended up flying for the
first part of my career. ...
You were a young officer. Where were you stationed when you were told that
you were being posted to Vietnam?
My first squadron was VA-81, the Sunliners. And I joined them in '65. We
deployed in August. And we were in the Mediterranean. Of course, Vietnam was
bubbling. And, obviously, we had people over there flying combat missions. ...
In my case, I think four or five of us were taken out of VA-81 at the end of
that Mediterranean cruise in 1965. ... I think we deployed sometime in the late
fall, to Vietnam, in '66. ...
[What was your first mission?]
... My first time out I shot a bull-pup missile. A bull-pup is a guided
missile. The worst part about it is you got to stay with it. In other words,
you shoot the missile, and then you guide it ... with this switch. ... If you
hit left, you got ... [the] missile to go full left; if you hit right, it goes
full right. So you had to work it all the way down. ... The target at this
particular point was a small bridge. And when I say small, I do mean small,
very small. My flight leader was a gentleman by the name of Jim Krauss, a
lieutenant commander. ... And I rolled in behind Jim Krauss, and I was a little
too close to him. And when he fired his bull-pup missile, of course this thing
is a rocket. And it just [sound of explosion], like that. And the next thing I
know, I'm engulfed in this cloud of smoke, and I thought, "Oh, I'm dead," you
know? And I about ripped the wings off the airplane. And I told Jim, I said, "I
didn't get mine off." And he said, "Well, let's go back and do it again." Well,
rule number one is, you never go back for a second time around. And I thought,
"This doesn't sound like what they told me, but okay, fine." So we roll around
and, damn, I hit the target. And I was surprised. It really surprised me.
... At that level, young lieutenant flying, ... did you have to have a sense
of the larger purpose? What America is doing here? Are we winning this war? ...
Did you ... and your colleagues ever have to think about that on that
Not really. We kind of thought that our mission was moralistically right. We'd
all been trained to do what we were told to do. And in those days, we didn't do
a lot of questioning like that. It was pretty much, if you agreed with the
policy, that was fine, you just went and did your job; if you didn't agree with
the policy, it was just fine and you went and did your job. ... The thing I
guess, Peter, that I admire the most about that generation, if you will, is
that even if we didn't agree with the policy, we did what we were told to do.
And in some cases, at great personal danger. And there were some people, I know
they must not have agreed with it. But it was not something we sat around ...
[and] discussed at great length. ...
When you'd come back from those missions--you mentioned earlier the
importance, the absolute necessity of--in your view, anyway--of just being
truthful--in that context. Vietnam was not universally remembered as an
experience in which the truth was always well served. ...
Yeah. ... We would go into the intelligence center to debrief our mission. And
I recall going in one time, and my target was a bridge. There were thousands of
bridges over there. And, you know, the young man was debriefing me, and he
said, "What was the result of your bombs?" I said, "I missed." And he said,
"Well, I can't put that down." And I said, "What do you mean you can't put it
down?" He said, "I'm not allowed to put down that you missed the target. I've
got to say you cratered the approaches to the bridge." I said, "I didn't crater
the approaches, I put the damn bombs in the water. I didn't do any damage at
all. Now you put that down." He said, "I can't." I said, "Well, don't put my
name on it. I'm not going to give you a debrief if that's the way it is." And I
walked out. ...
Why was it so important to you? Why did you say no?
I don't know. I just didn't. I hadn't hit the bridge. I was angry, because it
just seemed like there were a lot of things in those days that were not exactly
truthful. As an example, I can remember Secretary McNamara saying, "There's not
a shortage of weapons." And I got loaded up with 2.75 inch rockets to go shoot
another bridge one day; and I said, "This is really dumb."
Why is that dumb? What's the meaning of the 2.75?
Well, 2.75 inch rocket means that's how big it is: 2.75 inch. ... If you're
going to go after a bridge, even if it's a footbridge, you know, you take
bombs. ... You sure don't go after a bridge with 2.75 inch rockets.
And I said, "Why in the world are you assigning me this target with this
weapons load?" They said, "That's all we got." And I said, "Well, why don't you
give me another target?" He said, "Go out to the bridge. That bridge is on the
target list. This is your weapons load. You go hit that. Maybe you'll hit a
cable or something and the bridge will fall down." I said, "Hell, there aren't
cables in the bridge, it's a footbridge." Well, I went and shot the rockets at
So, what from the beginning is, on its face, a relatively futile
undertaking? Well, it was that day. ...
...Having to go out after that bridge with a 2.75 rocket instead of a five
hundred pound bomb ... what [lesson] did you take from that?
It takes a long time to realize that you have learned something. ... It was
years later before I realized that what I learned in Vietnam was that ... if
you and a politician are bantering back and forth about the use of military,
military officers are not trained to be politicians. We don't eat like them,
sleep like them, drink like them, talk like them, think like them. And that's
neither good nor bad, it's just a fact of life. Likewise, most--unfortunately,
these days--most of our political leadership have very little experience in the
military. And they had not been trained. They don't eat, sleep, talk, drink,
think like a military guy. And I tell young officers in presentations that I
give today, and while I was on active duty, and that is: If you are in a
position to talk to the political bodies that guide you, and give you your
missions; if you are not honest with them, and tell them precisely what you
think, no matter what the personal consequences, you deserve whatever the hell
you get. And you ought not be in command. I sure learned that. ...
Let's talk about a very particular bridge in Vietnam, Thanh Hoa, which
proved resistant for a pretty long time. Tell me about that bridge.
It's a mythical thing. It's a big bridge. It was built by the guy--I'm
told--that built the Eiffel Tower. It withstood hundreds and hundreds and
hundreds of tons of bombs dropped on it. Why? I do not know. But it became a
sort of a symbol of resistance. ... There was a legend going around that ... if
we actually broke the Thanh Hoa Bridge, that the earth would open up and fall
apart, because this was the latch that held it together. ... One of the ends of
the bridges had been knocked down, and it was literally settled out; but the
bridge was still up. I mean, you take a picture of it, and there's a bridge
there; and the intell guys said, "They're still using the bridge." So we
continued to try and knock it down.
|... I was asked to lead a strike in there. This was in '72. And I was carrying
... Fat Albert [bombs]. They were the big two thousand pound [bombs]. Pretty
impressive weapon. ... And so there's a little bit of planning associated with
dropping one of these things, because you want to make sure that you set it
precisely, and where are you going to get the biggest area of contrast so you
hit what you want to hit. ... I led a mission on the 4th. It was unsuccessful.
... So I was re-assigned the target on the 6th of October. ... I said [to my
wing man], "Okay, we're going to take these two walleyes in. And you just get
up there and tie it on my wing. ... Here are our two aim points. ... I'm going
to call up 'Lock up, 3-2-1 drop.'" And so we did that on the 6th of October
with the squadron skipper, Don Sumner, ... and he and Jim Brewster were
carrying a couple of two thousand pound bombs, each. And the plan was that we
would have all of these weapons hit simultaneously. As it turned out they did;
and the bridge was, in fact, broken in half in the water. ...|
So you knew at the very least you'd never have to leave on another mission
to take out the Thanh Hoa Bridge?
Well, that's what I thought. Then I got assigned to Thanh Hoa Bridge about
three days later, because it happened to show up on the target list. ... I see
this thing back; and I went down to the Intelligence Center, I said, "What in
the living hell are you guys doing? I mean, how many airplanes do you want to
lose? This thing is in the water. Look at this picture. Read my lips: We don't
want to go back." And they said, "Well, that's because it's on the target list;
and they may be trying to build it back. I said, "Come on, you know, they're
going to take years to build this thing back." Well, it disappeared. They took
it off the target list....
By your third tour [in Vietnam] ... you had to have some sense by that third
cycle through there, that in the outside world--back home, particularly--there
was great division over the war. How did that affect you?
Hard. I guess it was hardest not on those of us that were actually engaged in
it, because we kind of knew what we were doing, and we had some sort of a
personal motivation. I found it to be hardest on the families, on my wife. You
know, she had to face up to the realities of the fact that I was in a dangerous
business, that people had been killed. I volunteered for the third trip over.
She asked me, "Why would you do that?" And I said, "Because I got a lot of
friends in Hanoi, and I don't think it's right for me to not do that, if I
think that's the thing to do." I mean, I wasn't any great moralistic
individual. I'm not a superhuman guy. I was like a lot of other people, who
felt in the end, really, that that was probably the thing that kept us going
the most, is that we had friends that were in prisoner of war camps. Had been
there for years and years and years. And we simply cannot let that just
Our leaders in our country gave us a mission. Told us what we want to do. I
didn't particularly like getting shot at over there. I didn't think there was
anything over there in the third time around. I sure as hell didn't think it
was anything we were going to win. What I was looking for, was to somehow or
another figure out a way to get those guys out of there and bring them home.
The last day of the war I think was the 27th of January. I was on the catapult
... and I heard a mayday call. And anytime you heard a mayday call, that became
your first priority. And I was the first guy blasted off the front of the boat,
... [and] I went straight down to just south of the DMZ. And an F-4 pilot ...
had been shot down on a mission over there. And I pulled in, and checked in
with the local forward air controller. ... I said, "I'm by myself, but I've got
a wingman coming, and let me know what I can do." And he said, "Well, let me
roll in and mark the position of the pilot." ... And he transmitted ... "Be
careful, they're shooting Strellis," which was a shoulder-fired missile. He
said, "They've been shooting Strellis out of there." This guy said, "Okay." And
he rolled in, and, bam, they got him. ... So now we got four guys on the
ground. ... I knew where he was. I could see him from the ground. And I said,
"Look, we got all these guys overhead, get some cover somewhere and we'll get
you out of there." He said, "No, they're coming after me. I'm going to throw my
gun down. I'm going to surrender." He was not recovered. ...
There was nothing I could do. Nothing anybody could do. So there were four
guys, and the war was over the next morning at seven o'clock or eight o'clock,
or whatever time it was. It was a pitiful, pitiful thing. And you just think
the waste, the absolute waste. I mean, you go downtown to the Wall, the number
of people on that list. You know, we thought we were doing the right thing,
because that's what we had been trained to do. We believed in our political
leadership. We believed in the people that were telling us. In retrospect, it
was not the right thing at the right time. ... It was just done wrong.
... The seventies come, and into the 1980s. There was, what I guess you
could call, sort of an identity crisis within the military. There had been
this--as it was famously called--the first American military defeat. There was
always the debate about, "Well, we weren't beaten on the battlefield; we were
beaten at home, and in the halls of Congress, and in the streets, and in the
college campuses," and so on. But the fact is, it seemed and felt like a
It was, to us.
Tell me what it was like, what the feeling was to be a military man, still
young, still with a career in the military ahead of you, in that period,
[immediately] post-Vietnam, late '70s, going into the '80s.
I pretty much made a decision that I was going to remain in the military, in
the Navy. ... And I must admit to you, that I went through a period of time
when I really had serious doubts. A skipper of a former squadron I was in, I
mean, he was really a wonderful, wonderful leader. ... I called him up. His
name was Duff Arnold. And I said ... , "Admiral, ... I'm really discouraged. I
mean, here I am at Nav-Pro, Dallas. I'm flying these test ops. I'm working
seven days a week. This thing's going on in Vietnam. The country just says, 'To
hell with the military.' There's no sense of appreciation of what's going on. I
guess I just need to talk to somebody because I'm discouraged."
And he said, "Leighton, you know, it's been that way before." He said, "It's
cycles. After World War II, after Korea, we're going through the same situation
during Vietnam. There are periods of time when the U.S. and the military sort
of part ways. And there's a sense of a lack of appreciation." He said, "It'll
pass. And if that's the only thing that's driving you out, don't let that be
the one thing." He said, "Just understand that it's cyclic. It'll pass." ...
[Do you regret the decision to stay in the military?]
Not at all. ...
... Coming out of this post-Vietnam period, the '70s, the 1980s, Jimmy
Carter, hostages in Iran; you could argue that there was a [low point] for the
American military in that period. And then came Ronald Reagan. Did Reagan mean
a rebirth? A new vigor for the military?
What I took away from President Ronald Reagan, was to feel good about America.
I mean, we have been America bashing for years. And we had made some pretty
stupid mistakes. ... But that may have been the corner, the transition period,
where we had been beating ourselves up about the head and shoulders. And we had
done all these things wrong; and then we had this hostage situation [in Iran]
that didn't turn out very pretty ... and we were down on ourselves. And
President Reagan came in, and he said, "You know, there's a lot of goodness
about this country. We ought to take the goodness and we ought to capitalize on
that, and take it farther, and build on the momentum of the good stuff about
the country. Feel good about yourself." And I think that translated, not only
to the military, but to a lot of the rest of the Americans as well.
And, of course, the fact that he put some money where his mouth was, in terms
of military readiness; he believed in a strong military. He believed that there
was a threat out there. He believed that we had been basically taken down to
parade rest, if you will, in terms of our capabilities, our readiness, our
posture, whatever you want to call it. And he began pumping money back into the
military, at a fairly substantial rate. And programs began to materialize.
It was rather a dramatic turn from the hollow force of the decade earlier.
And you had that period, as you say, of the build-up. And history provided the
stage for an exhibition of this very phenomenon. The Gulf War was, for the
military, truly a triumph, wasn't it?
Yeah, it really was. First of all, we didn't have a very smart enemy. ... Not
too many adversaries are going to give us six months to build up to five
hundred thousand people. But once the decision was made to go forward... [Colin
Powell's] overwhelming force philosophy ... in that particular situation, was,
I think, the right thing to do. ... As you look at the potential force that
Saddam Hussein could have put against us, and the method of his warfare, it
could have gotten pretty damn nasty over there. And so when you're going to
commit forces, and your objective is to eject him from a particular piece of
territory, Kuwait, you can't go about this in a namby-pamby fashion. I mean,
you just can't put the minimum force required and say, "Okay, guys, let's go."
I use the term, "Military men are obligated to plan for the worst and pray for
the best." In many cases, the political leadership plans for the best and prays
they're right. And if they're wrong, the military guys are the ones taking the
shots. Now that's not an indictment against the political system. What it is,
is an indication that sometimes they don't think beyond step one or two.
Obviously, we were right in this, we didn't need all those forces, but who's to
say we wouldn't have, if he had been a wiser adversary? You never really know,
When you commanded our forces, NATO forces, in Bosnia, you had to apply at
least one lesson that was learned a continent away, in Mogadishu, in Somalia.
What happened in Somalia?
They had a mission change. They went in ... to provide aid to the Somalians,
help them through this famine-stricken period; try to keep the warring factions
from beating up on each other, and provide a secure environment so the
humanitarian agencies could provide what they do. And that's a very, very
important mission. Suddenly, that mission changed to, "Get Aidid." He became
the focal point. ... That was a complete change in mission. ...
What was your response to that ... at the time? ... You must have thought,
"What is going on here?"
Well, I think in Somalia itself, first of all, it appeared to be about the
right thing to do. There was this tremendous problem with respect to individual
human suffering. [We were trying to] go in, provide an environment in which
humanitarian agencies can come in and provide the relief to those people who
were suffering. That's not a bad mission.
The question you've got to ask yourself when you get involved in one of those
is, "For how long?" I mean, and in Somalia, you're going to be there a long
time if you're expecting it to get self-sufficient, 'cause they won't be.
But we tend to, I think, react to emotion. And that's not altogether bad. With
the explosion of information, the availability of information, when you're
feeding the dying into your living room and your dining room every single day,
eventually it becomes an issue that you almost feel morally required to respond
I was the Navy's operations deputy, when Somalia went down. And, you know, the
military advice at that time was, "If this is what you want us to do, this is
how we need to go about doing it." ...
As a man who has had young men and women in uniform face missions of life or
death at his command, what ran through your mind when you saw those pictures of
the boys being dragged, the bodies being dragged through the streets?
I can't describe it to you. I mean, it was just revolting. ... I was so angry
when I saw that picture on television. And I guess my first thought was, "What
in God's name does that boy's parents think? What must go through their mind?"
And it was just anger. Why can't we go do something? You know, your immediate
reaction is, "Man, let's go take that place apart." But who? Who do you take
apart? ... But it was an operation that just went crazy wrong, and it just got
as bad as it could get. ...
But within a year ... you found yourself in the new command position based
in Naples ... What did you think when you looked out on the horizon and saw
It's the biggest damn mess in the world. Absolutely, completely unworkable. You
had two political organizations--the United Nations and NATO--and they wouldn't
talk to each other. ... I was completely dismayed at the fact that [when] we
attack[ed] the leadership in Bosnia, the military guys in Bosnia, there was no
effort to get the United Nations and NATO to agree. It was, "Smith, go over
there and make damn sure these guys call you in to bomb this when this
happens." And it was an impossible situation. ...
And aside from the command and control issues, such as that, and the
politics of the two in some ways competing international organizations; there
were the complications of Bosnia themselves.
Yeah. ... They have been on adversarial terms for generations. That does not
mean that they've been killing each other. It is also true that there were a
great number of intermarriages amongst the religious and ethnic groups. But
there was an uneasy peace there. And all of a sudden, it just exploded. And now
you're trying to sort out claims of territory, because that's where my ancestor
lived seven hundred years ago. ... It's a terribly terrible complex issue.
[In 1994], you take over [the US forces in Bosnia.] A couple of events
changed things dramatically. One was, I guess it was August of 1995. The
shelling in Sarajevo. The shelling of the marketplace. Where were you? What was
the effect of that? And how did you respond?
I think we kind of need to walk back a bit and move into this. ... NATO ... had
a policy that if the Serbs did not heed the warning of weapons outside the
twenty kilometer exclusion zone, or if they attack safe areas, they should be
attacked. ... Very, very infrequently--despite, quite frankly, some urging on
my part--very infrequently were we called upon to apply air power to the
situation. And when we were, it was the classic pin-prick strike. I didn't
agree with it. I felt we should have used more force earlier in the game. But I
also recognize that I was dealing with, again, military professionals who were
operating under completely different political frame of reference than I was
operating under. And so I was trying to push them down a road that they were
politically incapable of taking. ...
And what really brought it to a head, in my estimation, was, first of all, in
May, when we bombed because the Serbs had gone into the weapons collection
areas and they had stolen five or six weapons, and they took them out; and
Rupert Smith said, "If you do not put those back in by eight o'clock in the
morning, you will be struck from the air by NATO," period. I mean, it wasn't a
threat. He just said, "You will be struck from the air by NATO." Now, that
wasn't by accident. Rupert and I had talked. He asked me, he said, "Will you
support me in this?" I said, "Rupert, don't make a threat you're not willing to
carry out." ... And he said, "Believe me, Admiral, we will." ...
And then the real catalyst was in July, when Srebrenica fell, when the Serbs
overran Srebrenica ... and later, slaughtered upwards of six or seven thousand
Muslim men. That was just a horrible, horrible thing. The international
community, I think, at that point, realized that there was only one way that
the Serbs were going to be forced to quit. And that was an element of power
that had not been introduced before. ... And the decision was taken, at that
point, that we were going to designate Sarajevo as a safe area. "And if you
attack, or if you threaten to attack Sarajevo, then you will be bombed much
greater than you have ever contemplated before."
... [So] the Serb forces were on notice that Sarajevo's off limits.
Then came ... August 28, the shelling [of the marketplace in Sarajevo.] ...
How did you hear about the shelling?
I was watching on CNN. ... I saw ... this horrendous scene of people lying
about, blood--you know, it was a replay of the marketplace bombing of February
of '94. And, I mean, I didn't even hesitate ... I immediately called down to
Sarajevo, and talked to [one of General Rupert Smith's] ... military
assistants. He told me that General Smith was en route back to the headquarters
as quickly as he could get there, because we had this obvious problem. I said,
"When he arrives, tell him that my message is clear: If this was a Serb weapon,
then NATO is prepared to commence the bombing operations immediately." ...
Mike Ryan and his group ... had very early in the summer, or late in the
spring, developed a target list. ... He had selected an array of targets. They
included communications, command control, weapons handling facilities, ammo
storage bunkers, that sort of things. ... I agree[d] to [the list], and then I
presented it to General Janvier. And I said, "If the Serbs violate this
mandate, or this ultimatum, these are the targets that we will strike. Or this
is the list from which we will choose targets from."...
So, we have the August 28th Serb shelling, we have this system in place,
that's the trigger. We commence bombing. What was the objective,
Well, the objective, number one, was to make sure that Mladic understood we
were quite serious about attacking safe areas; two, was to get him to clean out
the twenty kilometer exclusion zone. Get those weapons out of there. We knew
that they were in there. Just get them out, no exceptions. Pull back, get his
forces; and essentially understand that the international community basically
had it up to here with the Serb military. And safe areas were safe areas, and
we were going to take very serious action if he continued to attack.
... When you all commenced on the 29th, 30th, the middle of that night, how
long was the target list? ... Describe it to me, in terms of how long it would
take to exhaust that.
... When Mike Ryan and I first talked about this, he said, "You know, we could
knock this out in about four or five days, if the weather cooperates." Well, as
you might expect, it didn't cooperate; some of the targets did not get hit the
first time. ... The bombing stretched out, quite frankly, longer than I thought
it would. ...
[On Sept. 1, 1995, NATO suspended its airstrikes to allow for negotiations
with the Bosnian Serbs regarding the removal of heavy weapons from the area
surrounding Sarajevo. Though these talks soon proved fruitless, controversy
erupted amongst the allies and commanders over the wisdom of resuming
Bombing resumed four days later.]
That halt period. ... There was a lot of hammering on you, and others, to
get the bombing going again, and get it going now.
Who'd that come from?
You name it. I mean, everybody that didn't have the authority to make it
Holbrooke says he was pounding on the White House over that Labor Day
weekend ... to exert some direction on you all to resume this bombing. ... Did
the White House direct you all to resume the bombing?
No. I never talked to anybody from the White House. The only person that I ever
talked to in that crowd of people was Dick Holbrooke; and at one or two points,
I talked to Wes Clark. And at no point did I ever take orders from him. I had
to make it very clear to them--and, again, I mean, I didn't do this on my own;
I had very clear instructions from my boss. "This is a NATO operation. I take
my orders from George Joulwan. If you want me to do something, you go through
the proper channels. But I cannot, will not, should not, I simply won't take
orders from you, individually. You want to talk to me, you know how to do
And was your boss talking to the White House?
Yeah, I'm certain he was talking to somebody over there. ... And my guess is,
that George was talking to Holbrooke, but I don't know that. ...
... At one point, it was made clear to [Holbrooke] that we may be running out of viable targets. Dick Holbrooke doesn't believe that's true, he believes that that was
a lie. Beyond that, he says that Warren Christopher told him that he believed
that that was a lie ... .What do you say to that?
Well, they're sorely misinformed, both Holbrooke and Warren Christopher.
...When we began running out of targets, I went to my boss and I requested that
he begin exploring the possibility of releasing [more targets] to me, and I was
told, you're not going to get them, don't ask. He knew that I was running out
of targets; he knew what the target list was; he was kept fully informed. Dick
Holbrooke could have asked him. The fact is, we were quite honest about the
fact that we were running out of targets. ...
But, what does it say to you ... that they would just guess that their
military guys are lying to them about something like, can you bomb?
First of all, I find it hard to believe that Warren Christopher and Dick
Holbrooke would, just out-and-out, think we were lying. Why in the world would
we lie? What possible motive would we have, to be lying about anything like
that? ... If we can't say precisely what we think to the political people that
give us the orders, and say, "Look, this is not a good idea," if we can't tell
them what it's going to cost in terms of commitment and time, commitment and
resources, lives; if we can't be honest with the politicians and have them
accept it as a professional military judgment, we are in a sorry state of
You've seen that circumstance before, where generals felt timid about being
completely straightforward with their political leaders.
The military got bashed, big-time, in Vietnam for not being honest with the
politicians. And I just simply cannot believe that either the media or the
politicians would not want the military to be totally honest with them. We may
not be right. I'm not always right. But, by God, as far as I can determine, I'm
honest about it. ...
Speaking of Holbrooke, do you recollect when and where, and what the
circumstance was, when you first laid eyes on him?
I remember exactly. I guess he had come out of his ambassadorship in Germany,
and he was going to make a trip over to Bosnia. ... And I remember talking to
[General Chuck Boyd], and I said, "You know, why don't this guy come down here
and get briefed in on Bosnia. There's probably nobody in this universe that
knows more than our staff knows about Bosnia. And he's getting ready to go over
there and wade right in the middle of it. It seems to me he might want to come
here." ... Eventually, we got a call that said that he was coming to town. ...
We got all the briefings ready, and met in my office, and we were treated to a
couple of hours of Dick Holbrooke on Dick Holbrooke.
... On what? What subject?
Well, he started out with Vietnam, and how long he had been there, and what a
wonderful job he'd done there. And, you know, we marched through his career. I
kind of got the idea that he had come to transmit, not to receive. ... When he
left, most of us that were sitting around there kind of scratched our head and
said, "I wonder why he came here?" ...
... Did he convey to you, did you take from that presentation, a sense that
he had Vietnam experience in the way that you did?
I think my interpretation of this was that he's trying to make sure that
there's a connection here. That he's been down this road. That he understands
the military. You know, "I'm not just this run of the mill politician. I
understand the military. I've been there. I went down that road."
Did he convince you of that?
Not particularly, no. ...
... Going into Dayton and that process, from which came a peace accord and
brought a cease-fire to Bosnia, one of the matters that had to be decided was
exactly how was this NATO force going to be used post-peace agreement. ... Were
you brought into that discussion?
Not directly, no. The discussions that I had would have been with George
Joulwan, who was the Supreme Allied Commander, but I was never brought into any
discussions with respect to Dayton. ... Now, I do know that George Joulwan was
in contact with the people in Dayton and, in fact, he went to Dayton ... .
... Wouldn't the commanding officer on the ground, whose job it's going to
be to make these varied decisions, ... wouldn't you have to have some voice in
George Joulwan was the Commander of the European forces and of NATO forces, so
it's reasonable to assume that he would see himself as the proper
representative to go over and determine what the forces should do in Bosnia. I
must tell you that I would ... have liked to have been brought into these
discussions and negotiations. ... It would have been nice, I think, if I were
king for a day, or if I were in Dayton, I would want the guy that's going to go
in there to say, I want to look him in the eye and say, "Hey, this is what we
were talking about doing. Does this make sense to you? Do you have a problem
with this?" But that didn't happen. As it turned out, it wasn't a limiting
Well, quite frankly, the military annex in Dayton came out pretty clean. ... It
was fairly clearly written. And one of the things that we had tried to do, as
we went through this process, and this was back several years before I ever got
involved with it: get the military mission as clear as you can. Colin Powell
and others before him have said, give me clear statement, give me a clear
mission, it's got to be unambiguous. What you need to understand is, when
you've got 54,000 soldiers from 34 to 35 different nations involved, you've got
to make it as plain as possible. ...
You have, as you put it, a "clean military mission," which ... in fact, you
all went in and accomplished. But then, there were these other tasks that were
asked subsequently by Holbrooke ... and others, such as chasing down war
criminals. And ... Holbrooke would suggest ... that that was also part of the
mission, that where the military wasn't obligated to do these things, the
military did ... have the authority ... to go do these things, that you all
just refused. How do you understand what is the mission versus what is
... The annex was quite clear, the rules of engagement were quite clear. I did
not have the authority to arrest anyone. I had the authority to detain. ... If
we came across these in the routine course of carrying out our
responsibilities, we ... were obligated to detain indicted war criminals and
turn them over to the tribunal. And that's precisely the orders that we were
So, when Richard Holbrooke comes up to you with a copy of the Washington
Post and there's a story ... about Karadzic going through four checkpoints,
... just basically cruising the countryside, waving hello to your folks as he
goes by, completely unhindered. And he comes to you and ... says, "What about
this, Admiral Smith?" What do you say?
First of all, I would tell him, like I did a lot of the other politicians,
Don't believe everything you read in the newspapers. ... There were a lot of
very good media, in Sarajevo and throughout Bosnia, ... but the individual that
wrote that article knows, as well as I do, that Karadzic did not go through
four check points. He was told that by one of Karadzic's people. ... We didn't
have checkpoints on that road. If you think, for one second, that Karadzic, in
a train of limousines--I mean, he drove Mercedes, and he had cars with him--if
you think, for one second, he would get through an American roadblock, I mean,
you've got to be smoking the drapes. This would not have happened. ...
[Holbrooke] says that because you all refused to take on what you would
likely characterize as a proper police function, tracking down ... these war
criminals, bringing them to justice in front of the International Tribunal,
that you were, in effect, letting Goebbels and Hitler walk free through the
Here's the situation. Holbrooke wanted very much for us to have the same kind
of autonomous powers that we had in Germany, post World War II. ... We didn't.
... If you go back to Dayton, do you think, for one second, that Milosevic
would have ever signed that document if in that document it said U.S. forces
are going to go after these indicted war criminals? It have not been signed,
and I think Holbrooke knows that. He also knows, precisely, that General John
Shalikashvili, the chairman of our Joint Chiefs of Staff, General George
Joulwan ... my bosses, both of them, were clear and unequivocal: soldiers do
not make good policemen, this is not a good idea. Don't send these guys on
police missions; they are not policemen.
And I could not agree more. I will tell you this, Peter. Out of all of the
senior military officers of the countries involved that I talked with, and I
talked to a lot of them, chiefs of defense staff, not one single one, not a
single one, was in favor of going down that road, because all of us felt that
it was a very dangerous path, during that period of time; it was an unknown
path. We could not guarantee success, and there were likely to be substantial
causalities, which would have created a very difficult environment for the
peace force to continue its work. ...
I will tell you, quite frankly, ... in western militaries, the military follow
the guidance of their political leaders...their authorized and rightful
political leaders, okay? If you want me to go after war criminals--and I do not
think that's a good idea right now--if you want me to go after them, give me
the order, get the hell out of my way, and stand by for the consequences.
But that wasn't going to happen?
Oh, no. I guess I was just too vocal about that. There was desire to put this
issue, "Let's don't talk about this issue, Smith ... ."
One of the things that was striking to me, that Ambassador Holbrooke cites,
in terms of a reluctance to [perform] what you would consider extra-mission
[activities], was on the business [of] ... the fires in Sarajevo. The Serbs, as
they pull out, under orders from home, basically, burning down the houses, and
therefore, as he puts it, when Snuffy Smith and IFOR stood by and refused to do
anything ... while these houses are burning down, they killed the dream of a
multi-ethnic Bosnia, right there.
Well, that's one of the issues that I'd like to say, it's too bad that
Holbrooke wasn't on the ground more, and had a better understanding for what
really was going on. First of all, we need to understand that we didn't have a
capability to fight fires. There was no IFOR fire department. We had one fire
truck at the airport, and if we took that fire truck off of the airport, we
shut the airport down, and that was the only way to get in and out of Bosnia at
that particular point in time. And we did use that fire truck. ...