- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 5, 2001

Of the recent memoirs from four-star American generals, Wesley Clarks is certainly the most entertaining, with touches of inside information enlivened by old-fashioned venom. Colin Powell told a powerful story of a black man rising to the rank of chief U.S. military officer. Norman Schwarzkopf chronicled his career and Gulf War victory in matter-of-fact prose. In both best-sellers, colleagues received much praise and only faint criticism.
Now enters retired Gen. Clark, who led NATO in the European alliances first war and to its first combat victory. Basking in triumph in the spring of 1999, Gen. Clark was brought back to earth by a cabal of Pentagon officials perturbed by his lectures and "I know best" demeanor during the 78 days of Kosovo bombing. The cabal got even by relieving him of his command, under a cover story that Gen. Joseph Ralston needed to succeed him immediately or lose two stars.
"Pentagon spokesmen claimed that giving Ralston my job was the only way they could persuade him to stay on active duty," writes Gen. Clark, still unsure two years later just who blindsided him and why. "Ralston called me the next morning to say he had nothing to do with this. Whatever the motives, it was done."
The general denies that his memoir, "Waging Modern War: Bosnia, Kosovo, and the Future of Combat" is a get-even book. "I tried to tell it straight," he said in a recent conversation. But perhaps Gen. Clark would forgive former colleagues if they view the book as part history, part revenge.
He paints an unflattering picture of his two U.S. superiors, former Defense Secretary William Cohen and Gen. Henry Shelton, Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman. The Armys top leadership, including current chief of staff, Gen. Eric Shinseki, fought a vigorous battle to stop Gen. Clarks request for Apache attack helicopters to deploy to the Albanian border. (With that lack of fortitude, no wonder the mission failed.) The White House demanded it review virtually every target, a haunting reminder of the way Lyndon Johnson interfered with Vietnam war planners by cherry picking bombing sites.
We knew that NATOs 19 members erected roadblocks during the campaign, whose aim was to force Slobodan Milosevic to remove his marauding troops from Kosovo. With this book, we now know the obstacles to victory lay as much in Washington as in Brussels.
"You mean hes going to personally approve every target?" Gen. Clark remembers asking Gen. Shelton of President Clintons role.
Things grew so frosty that Mr. Cohen all but ordered Gen. Clark not to attend NATOs elaborately planned 50th-anniversary summit in Washington. When the general attended anyway, Mr. Cohen and other national security honchos delivered cold shoulders to the very man commanding NATOs ongoing war. "As I approached, two or three of the team glanced at me," Gen. Clark recalls of a moment during the summit when he spotted Mr. Cohen, Gen. Shelton and others. " 'Stay away, was the clear message from the body language. It was jarring."
No wonder the Apaches never crossed the border. No wonder it took weeks to bomb pivotal targets such as command centers in Belgrade and electric power stations. No wonder Gen. Clark lacked sufficient warplanes and Navy ships when the bombing started. He was a pariah among the very people he needed to take his requests and maneuver them through political and diplomatic channels.
As the war began, he writes, "I hadnt discussed overall strategy with Secretary Cohen or the president at all."
With the air war bogged down, the general pushed Washington to help him escalate the strikes. "In my next phone call to Hugh Shelton, I brought him up to date on the issues and then, sensing a certain weariness in his voice, I asked, 'Sir, I need some guidance: how hard should I continue to push? "
"I expected some measure of support. Instead, he replied, 'Wes, I dont know. "
And this revealing anecdote. Gen. Clark not only showed up in Washington uninvited, he gave a press conference. In his usual frank manner, he conceded that Slobodan Milosevic was having some success in sending reinforcements to Kosovo. The next days headlines did not please the White House. Gen. Shelton relayed the unhappiness.
"Wes, at the White House meeting today there was a lot of discussion about your press conference, Shelton began. 'The secretary of defense asked me to give you some verbatim guidance, so here it is: Get your f-ing face off the TV."
Back in Europe, the supreme allied commander confronted other snafus. A French officer betrayed NATO by passing on target information to Belgrade. The Air Force did not want Army soldiers in Bosnia issued Stinger missiles for fear they would shoot down allied aircraft. The head of U.S. Central Command would not let Gen. Clark use a Navy carrier parked in the Gulf.
In all, the Clark book is about how not to run a war as much as it is a roadmap to victory. The mistakes of Vietnam, thought to have been permanently buried in the 1991 Gulf War, were resurrected in the Kosovo campaign. Petty bickering and personality clashes sabotaged proper war planning. Gen. Clark makes himself a hero in "Waging Modern War." But he also acknowledges enough mistakes by everyone involved to make his autobiography "lessons learned" reading for future military commanders.

Rowan Scarborough covers the Pentagon for The Washington Times.

Sign up for Daily Newsletters

Copyright © 2019 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

The Washington Times Comment Policy

The Washington Times welcomes your comments on Spot.im, our third-party provider. Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide