U.S. Department of State
U.S. Department of State
Other State Department Archive SitesU.S. Department of State
U.S. Department of State
U.S. Department of State
U.S. Department of State
U.S. Department of State
U.S. Department of State
U.S. Department of State
Home Issues & Press Travel & Business Countries Youth & Education Careers About State Video
 You are in: Bureaus/Offices Reporting Directly to the Secretary > Policy Planning Staff > Secretary's Open Forum > Proceedings > 2001 - 2002

Civil Military Affairs and U.S. Diplomacy: The Changing Roles of the Regional Commanders-In-Chief (CINCs); Includes Question and Answer Session

General Wesley K. Clark, United States Army - Retired
Dana Priest, The Washington Post; Alan Lang, Chairman, The Open Forum
Remarks to the Open Forum
Washington, DC
May 30, 2001

Alan Lang: General Clark, Ms. Priest, distinguished colleagues and friends, good afternoon. I'm Alan Lang, chairman of the Secretary's Open Forum. I'm very pleased to welcome you to this on-the-record conversation on civil-military affairs and U.S. diplomacy, featuring General Wesley K. Clark, United States Army-Retired, and Ms. Dana Priest, military affairs correspondent for the Washington Post and guest scholar at the U.S. Institute of Peace.

Today's program is part of the Open Forum's Distinguished Lecture Series, which examines critical issues related to U.S. national interests and honors leaders in government, academia, private industry, the media and the nongovernmental organization (NGO) community for outstanding contributions to national and international affairs.

Before proceeding, I would like to acknowledge the following cosponsors of the series: the Bureau of Political-Military Affairs, U.S. Department of State; the American Foreign Service Association; the Elliott School of International Affairs at George Washington University; the Center for Peace and Security Studies at Georgetown University; University of Maryland-University College; the United Nations Association of the National Capital Area; and the United States Chamber of Commerce Center for Corporate Citizenship. Please give all of our sponsors a warm round of applause.

As you may recall, Ms. Priest and Ambassador Robert Oakley launched this series on civil-military affairs in U.S. diplomacy with two superb keynote presentations on March 23. On May 1, former Secretary of Defense Dr. William Perry delivered a superb and thought-provoking presentation on this theme. Today we're honored to present the third installment, featuring a keynote presentation by General Clark, whose memoir, "Waging Modern War," was recently published by Public Affairs. After the program, General Clark has graciously agreed to sign copies of the book.

Let me just add one more note about this series. This conversation on civil-military affairs in U.S. diplomacy takes place at a critical juncture in national and world affairs. As more and more stakeholders attempt to influence international affairs, as we reexamine the roles of diplomats and the ways in which decisions are made, agreements negotiated and policies carried out. How might the Pentagon, the regional commanders in chief, the State Department, improve coordination on a growing array of regional and functional issues?

Here to explore such questions are two highly regarded experts. Let me briefly introduce the first speaker and our series moderator. Dana Priest is a highly respected journalist. Some of you may know that she was recently awarded the coveted Gerald R. Ford Prize for distinguished reporting on national defense, for her three-part series on the growing foreign policy clout of the regional commanders in chief. I would like to congratulate her on this award and her many laudable contributions to journalism, to our nation. I'm especially grateful to her for the superb job she is doing as series moderator. Please join me in welcoming her with a warm round of applause.

Photo of Dana PriestDana Priest: Thank you, I'm glad to be here again. When I first got past General Clark's half-dozen aides and reached him on the telephone in 1999, I was rather upset, which you probably didn't know at the time, hopefully. It was the beginning of the air campaign and at least then General Clark and the Pentagon were united in one thing: a media blackout. No news on even the basics, like how many missiles had been launched, let alone their impact, physical or political. Under siege from a group of editors from the national media, the Pentagon announced a new policy: get used to it.

Soon it became clear that one reason the military was withholding information about the war was because it was changing so rapidly, in purpose, in intensity, in political risk to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) allies. It was, as General Clark has titled his book, a modern war: the first fought by a genuine coalition for largely humanitarian reasons that the public felt ambivalent about, and without the overwhelming and decisive force that military leaders prefer. It also thrust General Clark into the center of a daily tug-of-war that erased most conventional lines of authority and responsibility.

The NATO allies expected him to interact at a political level in a way that Washington seemed not to understand and then to resist. European heads of state and civilian defense ministers sought him out while his own Pentagon tried to rein him in. The Europeans, it seemed, understood and accepted the broadened role of American military power in the world in a way that Americans still do not.

In his first meeting with NATO's secretary general, he writes in his book, Javier Solana gave him what he called a heavy charge: to make the NATO mission in Bosnia succeed. Solana told him, "You must actively help the civilians succeed. You're just going to have to do more." That was exactly what the military back home was trying to avoid, is still trying to avoid. They call it "mission creep," but is it still mission creep if the mission over and over again is not a purely military one to begin with? Then isn't it mission failure, if the military and the political leaders who put them on the front line in these roles refuse to do what it takes to succeed?

In the previous two parts of this series on the influence of the U.S. military, we talked about the proactive offensive role of the regional commanders in chief in forging and implementing foreign policy, but military influence can just as effectively dampen the intent of U.S. policies abroad. I'm thinking of the treaty to ban land mines, not signed largely because of opposition from the military; or intervention in Rwanda, nixed because it was opposed by the Pentagon at a time that it would have mattered most. Or the apprehension of war criminals in Bosnia, constrained by concerns about military force protection. Or preparing not to repeat Kosovo in Macedonia, as the Department of Defense (DoD) signals to the rebels that its first priority is to reduce the presence of troops in the Balkans. I don't think so.

I have watched General Clark, on the other hand, push commanders to interpret their mandates broadly, to not shy away from isolated confrontations on the ground, and to use, as I've heard him say many times, force not forces in helping to develop civil societies. And also to spend hours explaining his thinking to the public, often through the media, in the hopes of getting their buy-in. Here to talk about what it is like at the eye of the political-military storm, is General Clark. Here to introduce him is Alan Lang.

Alan Lang: Thank you very much, Dana. General Wesley K. Clark was supreme allied commander of Europe, 1997 to 2000. In 1999, General Clark commanded Operation Allied Force, the alliance's successful military action in response to the Kosovo crisis. This was NATO's first major combat action and largest air operation in Europe since the Second World War. General Clark's previous assignments included commander in chief of the United States Southern Command, where he commanded all U.S. forces and was responsible for the direction of most U.S. military activities and interests in Latin America and the Caribbean.

He was Director, strategic plans and policies, J-5, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, from 1995-96, where he was responsible for worldwide political and military affairs and military strategic planning. In that capacity he led the military negotiations culminating in the Bosnian peace accords at Dayton.

General Clark is a 1966 graduate of the U.S. Military Academy, where he graduated first in his class. He holds a master's degree in philosophy, politics, and economics from Oxford University, where he studied as a Rhodes scholar. He is a graduate of the National War College, Command and General Staff College, Armor Officer Advanced and Basic Courses, and Airborne and Ranger schools. General Clark was a White House fellow from 1975 to 1976. On August 9, 2000, General Clark was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation's highest civilian honor. General Clark is currently associated with Stephens Group, Inc., working high-technology venture capital.

We're delighted and honored to have General Clark here with us today. Please join me in welcoming him with a round of applause.

General Wesley K. ClarkGeneral Wesley Clark: Thank you very much, Alan and Dana, for those introductions and those introductory comments. I haven't been up in a setting like this where there's so much obvious power since the last time I testified in front of the Senate, and then I was sitting down there. It's a nice view from up here. Thank you all for coming and I hope you will read this book, because I wrote it for you all. Many people told me not to write this book, there was no money in it, but I wanted to convey some ideas that didn't quite get clearly conveyed during the operation and that, no longer in uniform, I can't convey very well personally. Alan and Dana asked me to talk about the military and the policy process. What I'd like to do is talk through some personal illustrations and anecdotes for about 15 minutes and then turn it over for questions.

First of all, the military and the policy process. What Dana's point is, I think, is that the military has an important role in the policy process, right? It's a big player, at least in Washington. It's a bigger player in the United States Government than probably it is in foreign governments, but let's leave that for a moment.

First thing to know about the military in the policy process: we're not trained for it. We're not. People in this building are diplomats. You go to the School of Foreign Service at Georgetown, you go to the Foreign Service Institute, you write cables, you read books. You dream about the chance of someday being able to interact and lead Henry Kissinger or his modern-day counterparts, or even be a Henry Kissinger himself and be there at the critical moment of war and peace and changing the shape of international relations and maybe even human history through careful use of language, clear vision, and adroit interpersonal skills.

We're not trained in any of that in the military. We go through the officer basic courses, our basic training, our basic combat training. We're taught that the purpose of the armed forces is to fight and win America's wars. We're taught how to use the military hardware we're given, how to build military teams, how to put team above self, how to follow through in case of a crisis, and fulfill our mission even at great personal risk and hardship. As we go through the ranks, we go to various schools, we read, we keep our eyes open, we read the newspapers, but we don't understand the policy process the way you do. We don't know the people who participate in it. At some point in our lives, we're jerked into the policy process and suddenly it's there, it's real.

I was lucky; I was assistant executive officer to General Alexander Haig when he was Supreme Allied Commander. I was his speechwriter. Jeanie Bitner, sitting over here in that lieutenant colonel uniform, was one of my speechwriters at Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers, Europe (SHAPE.) I got to travel with General Haig, I got to read some of the cable traffic, the black book and even what we called in those days the red book. I got to see visiting leaders when they came from a distance. So I saw high-level diplomacy, at least for an Army officer. It was about the best preparation I could have expected.

I was brought to Washington in the spring of 1994. I showed up in the office on the 5th of April. I think it was the 6th of April when the presidents of Rwanda and Burundi were killed. I hadn't served in Africa before, never been to Rwanda. Knew they spoke a different language there, and it was high, and there were gorillas in Rwanda. But it wasn't something I had studied and prepared for. General Jack Sheehan, who many of you know was the J-3, he said, "Wes, welcome to this job." He said, "Every weekend there's a crisis. I've been in the job for 9 months and I've worked every weekend so far. The crisis usually doesn't happen until Friday."

By Friday we were bombing in Bosnia and Gorazde and on Friday nights I was getting ready to leave the office, somebody said, there're French and Belgian troops on the ground in Kigali. We didn't know anything about it. European Command (EUCOM) didn't know anything about it. I tried to put something together and figure out what was going on and we pulled an all-nighter. There I was, talking to State Department people and the Undersecretary of State and the Assistant Secretary of State for African affairs. These were people whom I hadn't met them personally; I had heard about their titles, I had read about them in books -- they were diplomats of yore. I was a three-star general on my first tour in the Joint Staff, and people had said to me, you know, since McCaffrey left the J-5 there's been really no leadership in there for 4 or 5 months. People are wondering whether the J-5 can cut it, can you do anything, can you lead in a crisis.

So we worked all night. The next day I came into a meeting with Secretary Perry, we talked about what we were going to do with Korea -- whether we were going to go to war in Korea or whether we were going to put the pressure on our Korean allies to do more in preparation for his trip to Korea. On Sunday, I was seated in the back row of the White House situation room as we argued about what were the proper rules of engagement for using NATO aircraft against Serb aircraft and Serb ground targets in Bosnia. Spring of '94.

At the same time, we had a Haitian refugee crisis, a compartmented plan down in the J-3 shop that I wasn't given access to because I didn't have a "need to know." But Jack Sheehan had that plan going down there. I was doing the nuclear posture review. Shali called me in after about four days of this and, five days of this, he said, "Wes, I have hired you to be the strategist. I told you that the J-5 must drive the staff. Congress is asking for our strategy. What is our strategy?" We weren't trained for it.

Second thing: the policy process doesn't work the way the military works. The military works from the bottom up. If you're a general, you go out and talk to the troops. You say, what's it look like out there and what do you think is over the next hill. Generals aren't supposed to know that. How bad is the artillery falling on you, this is World War I stuff. The general then goes back to his headquarters well out of artillery range. But occasionally he comes up and talks to the troops to find out what's really going on. World War I stuff -- from the bottom up. When military commanders give orders -- maybe it's not true in the Navy and the Air Force as much -- but in the Army we always know that ultimately the commander on the ground is going to be left with the order. He may have to come back and modify it. You can't go that way, you told me to go on this trail, this trail shows on a map, boss, but there is no trail there. Give me a bigger sector, give me more artillery, give me engineers to clear the trail. It works from the bottom up.

What I discovered about the policy process is it works from the top down. Every State Department person knows this. You don't expect to know exactly what's going on in the White House situation room meeting, do you? But in J-5, I had 200-some officers working for me. There'd be somebody who was working the policy process on, let's say, Haiti and he would give his best input. I would write a paper; I'd take it up to Shalikashvili. Shalikashvili would take it to the White House, and there'd be a White House situation room meeting. He'd come back after the meeting; he'd be back at 5:30. There'd be a tank session, I'd be looking at my watch, is he going to tell me what happened, is he going to tell me what happened. He'd have to go to a social event right after that.

The next morning I'd come in, I'd wait for feedback, I'd get a call, come down and see the chairman. Sir, in the meeting yesterday, he said, can't talk about it, everything went well, thanks for the paper. Now, maybe there are departments in this town that do talk about these meetings. But a lot of people say you're not supposed to, and in the military we take those charges very seriously. So for the military, it's also awkward, because we're bottom-up people and policy works top down.

Institutional interests. If you don't represent your institution in the policy process, what are you representing? So what I discovered when Shali asked me for the strategy is that we had to create a strategy. Shali said -- go see Mike Ryan, he was here when Colin was here, there was something about engagement, peacetime engagement, it's something like that. So I went down and Mike Ryan and I worked this thing over. We had an Air Force colonel named Bob Stratton. We submitted it again and again and again to Shali. We began to joke that we'd carry this tasking through our retirements.

It took us over a year to get a national military strategy published. When we did, we realized why it was a very difficult thing. We called it flexible and selective engagement. But we said we had to have enough military capabilities. The right yardstick was the bottom-up review. Two nearly simultaneous major regional conflicts. Then Shali said, make sure you put in that document that you have to be prepared to fight anywhere, because it's not just those two places. That's just the illustrated planning scenarios.

Over a period of time, two major regional conflicts (MRCs,) as people turned over on the Joint Staff and in the Office of the Secretary of Defense, took on a life of its own. What was a force development strategy, a way of explaining why you needed a certain amount of forces to the American people and Congress, became a force employment strategy. I was a four-star participating in the quadrennial defense review in the spring of 1997 from Panama [brief interruption]. They changed the name from two MRCs to two major theater wars (MTWs.) I remember asking at the time, isn't it the same two places? What does it mean? They tried to explain it but nobody really understood it. I finally understood it after the war. A force development strategy had become a force employment strategy.

In the 1997 quadrennial defense review, the Department of Defense committed itself to shape, respond, and prepare. Meaning, you guys, CINCs out there, go ahead and float around and do things, but we're going to be prepared to respond in two major theaters of war. You're not going to get any more resources for shaping, because we have to get $60 billion into the defense budget. It all sounded logical, it all sounded reasonable. It was a great military theory. Except, as I discovered, one thing: that when you are out there shaping, unless you want to go to war because you failed to shape, that the shaping requirement is somewhat unpredictable. It may actually take more than what people had hypothetically considered giving you.

That's the case I lived through. I discovered that my interests as a CINC, in trying first, to make the Bosnian mission work. Second, to prevent the outbreak of fighting in Kosovo. Third, to fight and win in Kosovo. Fourth, to succeed in keeping the peace in Kosovo and building stability and democracy afterward. All conflicted with the deep-seated institutional interests of my own profession and my seniors in the chain of command, because their interest was in trying to balance everything off. They were concerned about the future of the armed forces, legitimately so; they should have been. But my interest was in terms of making my mission a success.

So institutional interests are very strong, and they impact in Washington very strongly. So when you're a commander in chief in the field, sometimes people in Washington are not that keen to have the views of the commander in chief in the field circulated beyond the Pentagon. I know that's a secret to all of you. But it's the way the process works: institutional interests.

Alliance leadership. The whole key in an alliance is every nation has different interests. That's why alliances are difficult and tough. But in the case of NATO, what NATO allies recognize is that Washington, like several other governments, speaks with mixed voices. That there's not a single unified voice coming out of Washington. Their defense attaches go to the Pentagon and they pick up the word. "You wouldn't believe the Pentagon, Jesus, they don't want to do this!" Goes back in a cable. They go to the State Department and they pick up the word. "State Department says we got to be there!" The ambassadors circulate and they talk to people. They understand; it's a tug of war to make policy because that's what it's about. So you're really working not just one alliance, but multiple alliances simultaneously.

Finally, at war. Yes, in Bosnia, in 1997, when I got there, as Dana said, we had to use military forces effectively. We had to use forces in an effort to break the hardline Serbs. I found a way to do it with a lot of help from Bob Gelbard. But I was only there for a short time before I was called in by the Pentagon. Let me tell you something, they said. You don't take instructions from Gelbard. I said, I understand that. They said, you remember where your chain of command is. I said, I understand that. I said, in fact, if you're that nervous about it, I'll report to you everything Gelbard says to me. In fact, you can even have a military officer be with me when I meet with Gelbard. So Brigadier General George Casey, I invited him along and he was there with me. He would listen as we got into our famous shouting matches and screaming back and forth, and what we said and what we didn't say.

Many of you know Bob Gelbard. I think the world of him; he's a great guy. We had a good relationship. But I want to say for the record, I never took orders from Bob Gelbard. I did give a couple and he took orders from me. One of these is outlined in the book, it's in a case we called the Banja Luka bus raid, in which we were just getting ready to have the parliamentary elections in September in Bosnia. Gelbard called up, he said he's very worried because the hardline Serbs under Mr. [inaudible] were going to use the rally for the parliamentary elections as cover for a coup to overthrow Mrs. [inaudible], the moderate Serb leader, in her hometown of Banja Luka. What could we do? I called General [inaudible], who was the Stabilization Force (SFOR) commander, and said what about this. He said, I'm worried about it too, but we can't do a thing. It's a democracy; rallies and things like this are legal, can't do a thing, my hands are tied. He said, we will check the buses and make sure they're not carrying weapons, that's all we can do. Said okay, I thought about this.

Sunday afternoon before the rally was to take place on Monday morning, I'm still thinking about it. Gelbard called me again. He's really mulling this over, really working it. As I got home and thinking about it again, the idea occurred to me, I said, why don't we just declare the rally is illegal. So I called Bob and said, why don't you use your influence with (inaudible) and tell her to declare the rally illegal. Then SFOR can stop the rally from going on. So Gelbard did. That was the key really to stopping this. So we worked together collaboratively, and there's a lot more to the incident I'm not going to go through here, but I think it's one of the best stories of civil-military relations in the whole Balkan campaign. We worked together.

What happened in Kosovo was something else. I think Madeleine Albright saw it coming. I certainly did. I tried to warn the Pentagon in March of '98, I sent a message to Secretary Cohen and General Shelton. It wasn't well received. Any smart bureaucratic politician would probably have said don't put it in writing, wait til you see them, get them at a good moment, give them a couple of drinks, chat them up, and say, by the way, you ever hear of a place called Kosovo? But I didn't do that, because I didn't think we had time and I didn't have an opportunity to work it at that level. I had to put it in writing, and I thought there was a high sense of urgency about it. The warning wasn't heeded. There was a struggle within the United States Government that it finally came down to. We wavered back and forth, and finally in September of 1998, I went to the Secretary of Defense and said, "Mr. Secretary, you've got to put a stop to this." You need to give them an ultimatum. Otherwise, NATO's kaput. Our credibility will be dashed. He took it seriously. He did lead in putting out a warning. We had a threat and we stopped Milosevic's campaign of ethnic cleansing in Kosovo in the fall of 1998.

I continued to warn that war was likely there if diplomacy didn't succeed. But the Pentagon had other concerns. There was Saddam Hussein and there was the need to strike in the Persian Gulf. It was difficult to focus on this problem. Besides, it was primarily a diplomatic problem. I came into the building, I tried to give diplomatic advice, but I'm just a general. I did what I could but I couldn't get inside the diplomacy. I have a great deal of respect for Jim O'Brian and Chris Hill, who were leading that diplomatic effort, and for Richard Holbrooke. Still, it looked to me like the interim agreement was going to come up wanting. When it did, we were going to be at war. That's precisely what happened.

Then it was all about institutional interests all over again. It was about the commander in the field who wanted to produce a success, the allies who were deeply committed to needing a success, Washington which was concerned about a lot of other issues, and the Pentagon which had its own institutional interests to protect and wanting to sort of measure out what was required most discretely in order to protect larger concerns. It's just the way things work out. I fought as hard as I could; they fought as hard as they could. In the end we both won and Milosevic lost. Then we moved on with the next phase of the operation.

So I think if you look at the military and its participation in the policy process, what you have to understand from the State Department is you all are the experts on it, we're not. There's a process that works in the opposite way than what military officers are accustomed to. There are strong institutional interests that we typically defend when we come into the policy process. They may not be the interests of the commanders in chief. Our allies understand that there's a Washington dynamic that pits one agency against another and they are closely attuned to the positions of the respective agencies. They play them off against one another. Once we go to war, those divergent interests remain alive. What seems in political science 101 to be elementary, that politics should stop at the water's edge, doesn't make it stop at the water's edge. It's alive and well inside the five-sided building, probably inside this one too, all the way through the discussions and all the way across the water. And everybody knows it. So the answer is stronger work, stronger teamwork, greater appreciation, and greater work together. With that, I should stop and I'd be delighted to take some questions.

Alan Lang: General Clark, on behalf of the Open Forum, I'd like to thank you for that superb presentation. Please give him a round of applause. At this time we will begin the question and answer segment of our program. I'd like to invite our series moderator, Dana Priest, to pose the first question.

Question and Answer Segment:

Dana Priest: The first thing you said was that you weren't trained to be a diplomat. So I wanted to ask you, do you think that it is a good idea, the way the CINC position has evolved into a largely diplomatic one, or is that a reckless trend?

General Clark: I think it's essential that the CINC have the capabilities to be able to reinforce our diplomats in the region. But I, as CINC, was always very conscious of the leading role of the U.S. diplomats. I took my signals and my information from the ambassadors in the region and from the policy process and from as much as I could understand about what was happening in Washington in the policy process. I think that when the CINC goes out on his own as a cowboy in anything short of war, when he goes out on his own and tries to make policy, I think it is dangerous. But I think that by the time a person's a four-star general in the armed forces, you ought to recognize what your strengths and weaknesses are, what your limitations are, have a little dose of humility, and take guidance from people who know what they're talking about. I tried to do that.

Question: Thank you very much for coming. I'm the POLAD to Chief of Staff of the Army, State Department Foreign Service officer sitting over at the Pentagon. I wonder if I could get you to comment on the role of the POLAD. You as a CINC have had senior Foreign Service officers on your personal staff. These are people who are sent specifically to support CINCs and service chiefs in the performance of their duties and to provide that interface with the State Department and inter-agency side. This is not a loaded question; I'd like an honest response. Do you think that it's a good program? Do you feel that it was another way in which you were supported in your functions as a CINC? Do you have any suggestions about the future for the program, in terms of how State Department should look at it and try to direct it?

General Wesley Clark: My honest answer is I love POLADS. The reason is that they're a source of great continuity; they're a source of great understanding of what's going on in the region. They are essential for the functioning of the commander in chief. I think they should be a necessary career benchmark for all aspiring Foreign Service officers. I think the world we're moving into is a world where the use of military power and diplomacy are even more closely intertwined than in the past. I think service in a POLAD position is great preparation for any Foreign Service officer who's moving up the ranks toward ambassadorship, because he will see the other building. He'll see the people in uniform in a much different way. He'll have a chance not only to influence, but to grow.

But for the people in uniform, we're totally dependent on our political advisors. I want to put in a plug here for the three guys that worked for me -- Tim Dunn, Mike Durkee, and Pete Chaveas. Dunn worked for me down in Panama. He's a fantastic, smart, capable, savvy, linguistically-qualified POLAD. Durkee worked for me over in [inaudible]; he's still there working for Joe Ralston. He knew where all the bodies were buried, so to speak, in diplomacy. If you were about to go off and say something, he'd say, 3 years ago that phrase came up and it was interpreted as such and such; Supreme Allied Commander Europe (SACEUR,) you don't want to use that phrase. He could do things like that for you; that's what a POLAD does. Chaveas was my EUCOM POLAD, an expert in Africa. He helped guide our efforts in Africa. They're really important, and I hope that we'll take advantage of the people who have been POLADs and put them out there on the front lines as America's leading diplomats. I think it's an unparalleled learning opportunity. That's a moderately strong endorsement.

Question: I'm with the Nonproliferation Bureau, formerly part of the Political-Military Affairs bureau. I wonder what you think of the current and apparent strategy to only be able to fight one major engagement. You seem like a forthright fellow who's not unwilling to take the Pentagon and the establishment on, so I expect we'll get a direct answer as to what your feelings are.

General Wesley Clark: I'll be happy to take the Pentagon on, but first they have to tell me what their strategy is. If you know it and it's one war plus, then tell me, because I don't know what it is. I've seen a lot of hints out there.

My whole point on this is that we need to learn the lessons of Kosovo. You know our armed forces more or less have been stuck in the Desert Storm model. It's very understandable; it was America's apology for Vietnam. So for people of my generation who didn't get much recognition after Vietnam, there was a ticker tape parade. I didn't even go to Desert Storm; I was at the National Training Center in Fort Irwin. They invited me to bring two or three hundred troops down to Hollywood for a big recognition ceremony. I tried to get out of it, but no. The mayor of Hollywood wanted us down there so he could show his appreciation. The American people on TV, they won't know whether these troops went to Desert Storm or not, he said, but it's important that you be there. So we went down there. They'd written music for us. These people who in the '70s had been trying to close the Pentagon, people who were saying why are you wasting your lives in uniform, were now thanking us. God, you can't imagine the impact on the armed forces. It was a strong enough impact that it's like the mother lode of gravity. It's really hard to break it.

But we've got to move beyond that. The next war won't be fought, most likely, in an open desert with no civilians, no clouds, no vegetation, no built-up areas and nothing but sort of silver-gray tanks out there waiting to be struck from 15,000 feet with precision-guided weapons. Kosovo is a good foreshadowing of the future. It was a very complex geographical, diplomatic and legal landscape in which we had to contend not only with the clouds, the villages, the civilians on the ground, but also nongovernmental humanitarian organizations, in the middle of the bombing campaign, trying to take care of people.

We had laws. At the same time that we're trying to strike and knock out the oil, our own NATO allies are supplying oil to Serbia. The law of the sea is in effect -- you can't blockade, it's an undeclared war. We went through that at the summit, which I fought to come back to, over the resistance of some of my bosses at the Pentagon because they were afraid; I don't know what they were afraid of. But I made the case to the leaders of NATO that this is a ridiculous situation. You've got your pilots risking their lives to attack oil storage and oil refineries and you've got NATO nations supplying it. Cut it off. We spent the next 6 weeks trying to figure out how to do it. We finally ended up with a voluntary visit and search regime to which NATO never quite fully agreed, and then the war was over. The result was, we were still supplying the enemy as we were trying to destroy it. Complex legal architecture.

I discovered that many people in the United States armed forces didn't understand that you can't attack targets with the intent of discomforting the civilian population. They continue to think -- let's get those targets, we'll put those civilians under pressure and they'll put the pressure on the government -- that's illegal. We're not going to bomb Dresden again. Klaus Naumann told me on the 6th of April, 1941, Germany bombed Belgrade, 17,000 were killed. We must never have such a thing again. We're not going to have such a thing again. But some of my colleagues in uniform don't understand that's against the law.

So we're talking about a future operation that's going to look a lot more like Kosovo than it will Desert Storm. That means our armed forces have got to be transformed. What we saw in Kosovo I think were the limits of air power. Don't get me wrong, I'm a big fan of the Air Force. But it can only do so much. Ultimately, you have to not only destroy targets, you have to acquire information, you have to sometimes detain, sometimes search, sometimes cordon. Sometimes you've got to rebuild and reconstruct and protect and guard. Eeven if you had perfect information, all of that can't be done from the air. You've got to put brave men and women in there on the ground. Some of them in uniform, some of them in mufti, from AID and State Department and other places. But you can't do it all from the air.

Fact, you can even do less from the air. What we saw in Kosovo was that the air campaign is really a depreciating asset. I knew this before we started, because I'd done my homework on Vietnam. When you start an air campaign, the diplomats often are the ones who like us to use force because diplomacy is at a dead end. But you know, the truth is, an air campaign is a depreciating asset. It starts with a clap of thunder and there's an enormous coercive leverage and high expectations at the outset. The press are screaming, look at these airplanes going in, they'll be pulverized. There're visions of Pearl Harbor, whatever the latest movie has been. What people don't understand is, after the first few days you've struck the most obvious, lucrative military targets. The enemy has looked at your patterns, he's watched you, he's learned from you. You might, through the shock effect of the first few days of operation, take him out. But if you don't, what will happen is the targets will become more difficult to locate, the mistakes will mount, accidents will occur, you'll lose credibility, you may lose forces, you may end up with a captured pilot problem. Pressures will mount to call a bombing pause. Gee, let's talk about this, maybe we weren't so smart to stop striking in the first place. So what we've seen in Kosovo is not only the effectiveness of precision strike, but also some of the limitations.

So we need to learn these lessons. That's what I'm concerned about. I don't know what the Pentagon strategy is going to be. But whatever it is, two things. Number one, I hope we give enough resources to our armed forces that we can take care of the men and women who are in it, who are the most important assets. We need to change our career patterns in there. We need to get enough modern technology so that we're not outclassed on a battlefield. Number two, we have to recognize that the right place to make foreign policy and make the decisions on where to use military force is not inside the Pentagon. It's in the White House, where all the interests of all the departments are heard and weighed and then in consultation with our allies. I think if we take those lessons out of the campaign, we've got the right lessons. Whatever that strategy is, it's going to be a strategy for building forces, not using force as it comes out of the Pentagon, I hope.

Question: I'm from American University. What is your feeling about the increasing role of the military in the political drug war?

General Clark: I'm not sure that the military's role really is increasing in the drug war. In 1989-90, as we recognized the fall of the Berlin Wall, there was a surplus of military assets. There was nothing else that you had to do with them, and so a very enterprising commander in chief in Panama named General Maxwell Thurmond, who many of you may know, commandeered many of those assets, like the Airborne Warning and Control System Radar, and deployed them down into Latin America. Since then, the amount of assets actually dedicated to fighting the drug war in the military has gone down dramatically.

What you are seeing is a military role in trying to assist the Government of Colombia in dealing with its narco-traffickers and the persistent insurgency down there. But what we've always said is this not a military problem. Neither the drug problem nor the insurgency is strictly speaking a military problem. They're longstanding political, economic, and social problems, in Colombia specifically and also in the Andean ridge, that need to be tended with a broad array of programs. We need strong State Department leadership, we need increased resources, and we need a broad-gauged strategy that treats not only the problem in the supply zone but the problem in the demand zone, and that's here in this country.

Question: Follow-up question. Is there a source that you're aware of that would [inaudible] transparency give figures on the exact number of U.S. force [inaudible] vis--vis [inaudible] operation?

General Clark: I'd go to the Department of Defense public affairs, call up public affairs and ask them. They'll get you the numbers. It's no secret.

Question: [inaudible] of the Center for International Policy here in Washington, D.C. I'd like to return, General, if I could, to Africa. You touched on it briefly earlier on. I'm wondering what lessons did the military learn in Somalia and then Rwanda. Because there seems to have been, at least in Africa, a lasting legacy out of those two experiences.

General Clark: We did a full study of Somalia inside the Pentagon and we shared it with the White House and the other agencies. The essence of the study was that somehow during the transition from the initial humanitarian operation, that the United States ran, to the UN operation, then to the U.S. reinforcement of that operation with its special operations forces, we lost a grip on the real purposes of the operation. What was it we were trying to do and what was the best way to accomplish the mission. This was compounded by some regrettable errors that are very clear in hindsight but weren't clear in foresight, with the conduct of the military operation to capture Aideed that led to the 18 Americans that were killed. So we tried to learn all of those lessons.

When Rwanda occurred, we were still thinking about those lessons. There was certainly no appetite in Washington for an American ground presence there. The question I've had to ask myself again and again is, couldn't we have done more through the United Nations. I was the J-5. I had just arrived, as I said, when the two presidents were killed. That first weekend, when we were trying to sort out the situation in Kigali, when the Belgian soldiers were disarmed and killed and so forth, we weren't geared up to do anything. We didn't have our maps, we didn't have an understanding of the real situation on the ground, at least inside the Joint Staff. I know people in the State Department were very well aware of it. But in the Joint Staff, we weren't focused on it.

We got focused on it. We thought about General [inaudible], who was there with 1,000 troops plus a 100 Canadian communicators and logisticians in Kigali. The question was, couldn't we have done something to let General [inaudible], a Canadian general, stop this slaughter. I think the answer is, first, we didn't appreciate the magnitude of what was happening at the time. I know I didn't fully appreciate it until the next December, when I read an article in the New Yorker that described in graphic terms what had happened. We didn't have good information sources. Secondly, we weren't institutionally inclined to take action. We'd already had a tragedy in Somalia. We didn't have a lot of confidence in the troops that were with General [inaudible]. We believed that if we gave them a tough mission and the mission didn't work, the next thing is that we'd be in there with our own troops.

So people were reluctant to push for this operation. It was easier to let it slide away and hope that it could be resolved. Then of course, as you know, we went in with a humanitarian mission to assist the Hutus after the (Rwandan Patriotic Front) RPF and Paul [inaudible] had succeeded in getting back into the country. That's when we began to get the word on the ground of what was really going on there. At least, that's the way I remember it inside the Pentagon.

I think there are a lot of lessons learned. The foremost is the lesson I took with me when I went to the Balkans, after I'd lived through that, reflected on it, and I'd gone and looked at the aftermath of what happened in Bosnia. I remember having a conversation with [inaudible], who was in the ruins of Mostar. It was in September 1995. [inaudible] said to me that night, he said, "I have seen a five" [inaudible] was the Bosnian prime minister, for those of you who may not know. [inaudible] said, "I have seen a five-year-old boy tortured and killed near Brcko?." He said, "What kind of people do this?" [inaudible] was a very fiery orator and a very forceful, emotional personality. "But I thought about it," he said, "I could understand torturing and killing a grown man, but a five-year-old!" I thought about the pornography of violence, I thought about how we allowed it to occur. We stood aside. There were a lot of people in this town who said let them just fight it out amongst themselves. Let's just let it burn out.

I think the lesson is the lesson that President Clinton articulated better than anyone. He said, "If the United States can make a difference, it should." I think that's the guidance for the United States, I think that's our strategy. It should be our strategy in the years ahead. Not a one-war strategy, not a two-war strategy. But the Cold War is over. The United States was successful, along with NATO. We protected the free world from the threat of communism. There's no great threat against the United States. But we need to go and help our friends and our allies, we need to help those that share our values, reinforce our allies. We need to help our friends abroad, strengthen them. We need to confront the evil that's out there in the world, where we can make a difference. No, we can't do it all and we're not the world's policeman. But where we can make a difference, we should make a difference. I think that's the real lesson that should come out of this decade.

Question: I'm a foreign correspondent from Norway. General, I have two questions for you, please. What kind of reactions have you gotten after the book was published from your former colleagues at the Pentagon? Second, why didn't you capture [inaudible] and Radic?

General Clark: On the first question, I haven't gotten any reaction from my former colleagues at the Pentagon. I don't know why. They probably haven't been able to get the book, a lot of people told me it's been sold out.

As far as the war criminals are concerned, you won't find that in the book. All I can tell you is that the NATO mission was to tackle a situation permitting we attempted to detain those. There's a lot behind the scenes. You can read between the lines of the book, you can just imagine what the full story is. But I can't tell that story. Not now, probably not ever. Maybe someone else will. But that's a story that has to remain within the bounds of the classification rules that I agreed to.

Question: I'm with the Bureau of Political-Military Affairs. Sir, what was the single biggest challenge as a commander that you faced within NATO to make the coalition function in the Kosovo campaign? What lessons learned do you think NATO should take away from Kosovo to prepare itself for similar situations in the future, in terms of the organization of the campaign?

General Clark: I think the biggest challenge came from the fact that NATO really didn't have a military doctrine that was agreed, and didn't have a process for working during wartime to agree to. What I believe, my strategy from Vietnam, from studying Rolling Thunder, from elsewhere, is that -- okay, if you can't start a campaign with decisive force, and in this case we couldn't politically, then at least use it as decisively as possible once you begin to use it. There's a countervailing doctrine. The doctrine was expressed to me by several French officers, one who said to me, we can't approve these targets in France because we want the Serb president to realize that he has much more to lose in the future if he doesn't comply with NATO's wishes now than he has already lost. So there was a tendency to sort of push out the tough targeting decisions. Whether that was enshrined in French doctrine, French political culture, whether it was just to resist the American leadership of the campaign, I have no idea. But the simple truth was, we didn't have an agreed doctrine.

When it came time to do the planning for the ground force operations, my problem inside NATO was that there was no planning process that would get a grip on this. It would have taken six months, it would have taken 90 days minimum to have planned a ground operation before we ever moved the first troop. So if we add the 90 days to the first of May or the first of June, we would have ended up not agreeing to do a ground operation, having a real plan, until the first snows were falling in the mountains. Then we'd have had to postpone it's too slow. For the world we're in today, it's too slow and it's too politically intertwined. So those were the two biggest issues.

But I tell you, NATO wasn't the biggest problem. The real problem was that there was a conflict between the Pentagon's institutional interest and what it thought it needed and what NATO needed. So there was, the hardest struggles weren't with the French, not for me. The hardest struggles emotionally for me were with my own chain of command. That was because they were weighing things off. They were still concerned about Operation Northern Watch. I pulled a lot of the aircraft out of Northern Watch. I wanted to use them in the operation that NATO's future depended on. If Saddam Hussein got frisky for a couple of days, I didn't think that was a big deal. But to Washington it looked like a big deal, so they were trying to balance off both of my operations.

I had this very emotional conversation with Tony Blair at one point during the war. It's in the book. But he came in, he talked to me one-on-one. He said, "I want to know if we're going to win." He sat forward on the couch; he didn't drink the cup of tea I'd provided for him. He didn't let me open up my 50-page briefing book. He said, "I just want to know if we're going to win." I said, "Prime Minister, we're going to win." He sat forward a little further and said, "No, I mean, I'm asking you, seriously, really, I want to know if we're going to win." I tried to reassure him, I knew this was about will. This was about confidence in commanders. This was about the future of NATO. I related this story to some military colleagues after the war and one commander in chief said to me, "Who gave you the right to say you were going to win!"

His question was a logical question, because by committing us to victory I had basically committed us to doing whatever was necessary with assets that he considered his own. I understood his concern, but technically I wasn't out of line anyway because the president had already committed us to win. Secondly, I think when a nation commits its armed forces to combat, it owes not only to the men and women who are fighting but it owes to its own people, to its grandchildren, to the legacy of that nation, that it fight to success. That's what I insisted on and that's what we achieved. Thank you very much.

Alan Lang: I'd like to thank General Clark for that presentation. I'd like to thank all of you as well for your thoughtful questions and comments. At this time, it gives me great pleasure to present the Secretary's Open Forum Distinguished Public Service Award to General Clark. In doing so, may I make just a few remarks. In presenting the Presidential Medal of Freedom to General Clark, President Clinton noted that the stakes in Kosovo were monumental. Almost a million people had been driven from their homes, solely because of their ethnic and religious background. Success would save lives, strengthen NATO, advance the cause of freedom, democracy, and unity in Europe. Failure would leave much of the continent awash in a sea of refugees and end the 20th century on a note of helpless indignation in the face of evil. The president went on to say that Wes Clark understood well the perils of the Balkans, for he had already played a vital role in ending the role in Bosnia and beginning the long process of building a stable, multi-ethnic democracy in that country. He summoned every ounce of his experience and expertise as a strategist, soldier, and a statesman to wage our campaign in Kosovo. He prevailed miraculously without the loss of a single combat casualty. At the apex of a long and distinguished military career that goes back to his outstanding performance as a cadet at West Point over thirty years, the president said, he was assigned a challenge many experts thought was mission impossible. Instead, thanks to General Clark we can now declare mission accomplished. General Clark, please accept this Distinguished Public Service Award on behalf of a grateful nation.

General Clark: Thank you very much.



Released on June 7, 2002

  Back to top

U.S. Department of State
USA.govU.S. Department of StateUpdates  |   Frequent Questions  |   Contact Us  |   Email this Page  |   Subject Index  |   Search
The Office of Electronic Information, Bureau of Public Affairs, manages this site as a portal for information from the U.S. State Department. External links to other Internet sites should not be construed as an endorsement of the views or privacy policies contained therein.
About state.gov  |   Privacy Notice  |   FOIA  |   Copyright Information  |   Other U.S. Government Information

Published by the U.S. Department of State Website at http://www.state.gov maintained by the Bureau of Public Affairs.