Rush Limbaugh gets liberal with the facts in anti-Clark column
The latest mud to get slung at retired Gen. Wesley Clark comes from Rush Limbaugh
on the editorial page of the Wall Street Journal. Rush makes a facile comparison of Gen. Clark to Union Gen. George McClellan, another military figure who ran for President as a Democrat during wartime. In doing so, he cites to some instances from Clark's career which have been, according to Rush, less than stellar. Here's an excerpt:
Gen. McClellan graduated from West Point, second in his class. Also a trained engineer, he was decorated for his "zeal, gallantry, and ability" in constructing roads and bridges over routes for the marching army during the Mexican War. McClellan had much charisma. He was considered a great administrator who reorganized the Union army into a mighty fighting machine. Now for the debunking.
But, you say, McClellan was an indecisive general who feared using his forces. As NATO chief, Gen. Clark, on the other hand, urged his Pentagon bosses to let him introduce ground troops into the war against Serbia, and he even was willing to use military force to stop the Russians from occupying an airport at Pristina, Kosovo.
But Gen. Clark was badly wrong on both counts. If he had not been overruled by his superior, there would have been unnecessary casualties resulting from the deployment of ground troops. And if his subordinate, British Gen. Sir Michael Jackson, had not refused Gen. Clark's order to confront the Russian troops--who wound up cooperating with NATO peacekeeping efforts--the outcome could have been disastrous.
I'm not sure how well Rush Limbaugh knows these issues, but I'll give him the benefit of the doubt that he's not intentionally
misstating the facts here -- he's just doing so out of ignorance. In the interests of education, I'd like to correct one major mistake in his column.
Let's analyze this excerpt from Rush's column: "As NATO chief, Gen. Clark, on the other hand, urged his Pentagon bosses to let him introduce ground troops into the war against Serbia. . . If he had not been overruled by his superior, there would have been unnecessary casualties resulting from the deployment of ground troops . . ."
I'm no Balkans expert; I didn't deploy to Kosovo or Bosnia like most Army MPs because I was in Korea, and then the experimental 4th Infantry Division. But I have read a lot on this subject, including Waging Modern War
, War in a Time of Peace
, The Mission
, and A Problem From Hell
. Gen. Clark did
urge the Pentagon and White House to do two major things here: make ground troops a realistic option, and allow the use of Army aviation (Apache helicopters) to interdict Serbian ground units who were continuing their ethnic cleansing campaign.
(1) The ground troops option was necessary to make the threat of force credible to Slobodan Milosevic -- a man who Clark knew well from previous negotiations at Ramboillet and from the negotiation of the Dayton Accords. (See To End a War
by Richard Holbrooke) President Clinton took this option off the table prematurely as a way to shore up domestic support and limit the scope of the conflict. Gen. Clark argued (quite correctly) that the credible threat of a ground invasion must be made to force Milosevic to capitulate. Recognizing the wisdom of this strategy, President Clinton made ground troops an option and set plans in motion that could have led to the land invasion of Kosovo. As it turned out, these plans subsequently formed the foundation for deployment plans for KFOR -- the force which eventually established peace and order in Kosovo. By leaning forward in his foxhole on this issue, Gen. Clark displayed a great degree of strategic, operational, and tactical acumen. Not only did the credible threat of ground invasion help Milosevic cave, but it also helped NATO forces quickly enter, occupy, and establish order in Kosovo.
(2) The Apache issue grew out of a basic problem: NATO high-altitude bombing could not successfully interdict Milosevic's ground forces, due to altitude, accuracy, and other issues. Interdicting Serbian units on the ground required slow, methodical, low bombing runs by aircraft with the capability to loiter on station for long periods of time: i.e. helicopters and A-10 aircraft. However, such aircraft are quite vulnerable to ground fire and surface-to-air-missiles, necessitating the use of artillery to suppress those air defenses. Clark wanted to stop the genocide, and he knew that Apaches could do the job. But to use Apaches without losing them, he also knew he had to shoot SEAD (suppression of enemy air defense). The Pentagon wouldn't let him do it. Pentagon lawyers told Clark that he could not do so because firing unobserved artillery fire would violate the Rules of Engagement. However, deploying forward observers (possibly Army Special Forces A-Teams) on the ground would have represented a serious escalation of the war and of the war's tactical risk. Clark was willing to take that risk because he felt, as I do, that we needed to stop the genocide on the ground with Apaches. Unfortunately, the White House was not willing to take that risk, advised by a Pentagon that was more concerned with force protection than mission accomplishment. The Army did eventually deploy Apaches to Albania, but they never flew one mission during the war.
Rush's column glosses over this entire issue, treating Clark as a trigger-happy general who wanted to start WWIII. I don't think the facts, as reported by journalists David Halberstam, Dana Priest, and Samantha Power, bear that out.One other note
: The long knives are coming out for Clark. At a town hall meeting in California, retired-Gen. Henry "Hugh" Shelton had some choice words for Clark
in response to an audience question. Gen. Shelton is an old warrior who served his nation well, and wears both the scars and medals to prove it. He's also the man who effectively relieved Wes Clark as SACEUR, and with whom Clark clashed repeatedly during the Kosovo War. This is a clash of the titans, and it's hard for me to evaluate (from my position of relative ignorance) what's really going on here in this row between two four-star generals.
"What do you think of General Wesley Clark and would you support him as a presidential candidate," was the question put to him by moderator Dick Henning, assuming that all military men stood in support of each other. General Shelton took a drink of water and Henning said, "I noticed you took a drink on that one!"
"That question makes me wish it were vodka," said Shelton. "I've known Wes for a long time. I will tell you the reason he came out of Europe early had to do with integrity and character issues, things that are very near and dear to my heart. I'm not going to say whether I'm a Republican or a Democrat. I'll just say Wes won't get my vote."
In a sense, this was to be expected. Unlike the other politicians in the race, Clark hasn't lived under media scrutiny like this before. Clark's skeletons in the closet haven't been publicly aired like all the other candidates' skeletons. Moreover, Clark appears very threatening to various groups on both sides of the aisle -- he's likely to receive a lot more mud by the time this campaign ends. However, I wish that Gen. Shelton would have left things at "Wes won't get my vote" without making the vague allusion to Clark's integrity and character. Those comments seem out of character for a man like Shelton, whose reputation as a soldier's soldier is at least as great as Clark's reputation as a soldier-scholar.