Open letter to President Clinton

By David Hackworth
web posted January 3, 2000

Dear Mr. President,

Seven years ago you took command of a lean fighting outfit that had just busted Saddam Hussein's chops in a war that was over faster than you could say, "Oh, Monica."

Back in 1992, our warriors were combat-ready, battle-tested and bristling with magic spirit -- that fire in the belly which is the most crucial of all the elements of war.

As this century closes, our military is 50 percent smaller than the armed forces George Bush placed in your trust, and their once- deadly edge has been dulled on the futile rocks of Iraq, Somalia, Haiti, Bosnia and Kosovo.

The bumbled war with Serbia has only confirmed that today we simply don't have what it takes to replicate another Desert Storm.

Mr. Clinton, you've tasked our forces to do too much with too little for too long. Their combat ability is frayed, and they and their loved ones are weary and dispirited.

Daily, fine men and women from buck sergeant to bull colonel tell me, " I'm hanging it up. I can't take it anymore!"

In more than a half-century of being a soldier or a writer about soldiers, I've seldom seen lower morale.

Nor have I seen more self-serving senior leaders. From Secretary of Defense Bill Cohen in the bloated Pentagon to the generals and admirals who make up the most brass-heavy military bureaucracy in our country's history.

Perhaps you can take credit for our booming economy -- of those sort of matters I'm ignorant. But you must also take responsibility for the weakening of our military -- you are the person under whose command our forces went from STRAC to SLACK. As Harry Truman once said, the buck stops at your desk. And I hold you accountable.

Your feckless leadership and fickle policies began with your order that gays serve openly, followed by your policies earmarking the profession of arms as a place to provide females and minorities with equal opportunity. You and your advisors never got it straight that the U.S. military is not an equal job employer, but a finely honed sword forged only for the battlefield --- where survival and winning are dependent on skill, sacrifice, spirit, unit cohesion and discipline.

These factors, mixed with total trust and caring leadership, allow a force to win. Battles are not won by how skin color or gender fits into a Pentagon personnel quota matrix, but by teams who've been sweated to perfection.

Every serving senior brass hat has been personally approved by you. The majority fit into the same go-along-to-get-along and don't-rock-the-boat-mold. None have challenged your reckless misuse of our military or your wrongheaded personnel policies.

Why should they? They weren't picked for stand-up leadership, but because they'd roll over. There's not a Patton, Nimitz or Puller-type in the lot of them, and few are trusted by the folks they lead.

But you can still redeem yourself - although don't think it can be by throwing more money at the Pentagon, even though the leading candidates hustling for your job say that's the fix.

The answer is leadership. You need to begin by sacking Cohen and replacing him with a person of the stature of George C. Marshall. A leader with the integrity, know-how and guts to turn the U.S. military around. Cohen's (1) allowing the forces to be weakened, (2) mishandling of the war with Serbia or (3) his Anthrax disaster -- pick any one of the above -- are more than sufficient justification.

At the beginning of World War II, our military's senior leadership was also sick. Marshall, then Army Chief of Staff, sacked the General Blimps and fast-promoted the Gavins, Ridgways and Pattons. Leaders who weren't afraid to make the sweeping, visionary changes that reshaped our military and took it from trench to mobile warfare. These savvy leaders performed a miracle and won a war even though the early odds were on the enemy's side.

Besides sending Cohen packing, read Sun Tzu. There you'll learn the how vital the military is to the state and how a bad Commander - in - Chief can hobble an army.

You still have the time to turn things around. Marshall did the job in less than a year, and he was fighting a two-front war.

One of most decorated soldiers in American history, Col. David Hackworth (Ret.) is the author of the syndicated column Defending America.

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