Letter to Stars and Stripes magazine on Gen. Wesley Clark (Ret.)
By Col. George Jatras (Ret.)
The article "Still no decision on Kosovo medal" (Oct. 8) said "Pentagon brass" ensured a waiver was granted so that Gen. Wesley Clark received the Kosovo Campaign Medal, the first one minted, at his retirement ceremony in 2000. The waiver was necessary because Gen. Clark's service didn't meet the criteria for the award, even though he led the international alliance in its "78-day blitz" against Yugoslavia. An earlier article, "Army can't explain how Clark got medal" (June 16, 2001) said, "The Army is at a loss to explain who granted a waiver awarding retired Gen. Wesley Clark the Kosovo Campaign Medal," and that, "After four months of repeated queries, Army officials say they're still not sure who approved the medal."
To date, we still don't know who granted Gen. Clark the waiver. I guess that's one of the unsolvable mysteries of that era, like law firm billing records. In the meantime, as the story said, thousands of others who supported the campaign at bases in England, Spain, Germany, Turkey and even the United States are still waiting to learn if waivers for their eligibility will be approved.
As a Vietnam combat veteran who had "awards and decorations" as an additional duty, I can understand the intricacies of determining who deserves the medal. Given the scope of the campaign, virtually everyone in the military, active and Reserve, contributed in some way. If the criterion is based on a combat zone defined as "in and around the Balkans," Gen. Clark certainly does not deserve the medal, even given that vague definition of the combat zone. Gen. Clark led the campaign from Mons, Belgium. If the waiver was based on Gen. Clark's contribution to the campaign being more important than that of the ground support troops at places such as Rhein-Main Air Base, Germany, or Whiteman Air Base, Mo., then maybe we should look at just what his contribution was.
In his book "Waging Modern War," Gen. Clark wrote about his fury to learn that Russian peacekeepers had entered the airport at Pristina, Kosovo, before British or American forces. In the article "The guy who almost started World War III," (Aug. 3, 1999), The Guardian (U.K.) wrote, "No sooner are we told by Britain's top generals that the Russians played a crucial role in ending the west's war against Yugoslavia than we learn that if NATO's supreme commander, the American General Wesley Clark, had had his way, British paratroopers would have stormed Pristina airport, threatening to unleash the most frightening crisis with Moscow since the end of the Cold War. 'I'm not going to start the third world war for you', General Sir Mike Jackson, commander of the international KFOR peacekeeping force, is reported to have told Gen. Clark when he refused to accept an order to send assault troops to prevent Russian troops from taking over the airfield of Kosovo's provincial capital."
Gen. Clark's buddy in Kosovo was Hashim Thaci, the leader of the Kosovo Liberation Army, which, according to the Belfast News Letter (Northern Ireland) of July 30, is engaged in sex slavery, prostitution, murder, kidnapping and drugs. The Daily Telegraph reported on Feb. 19 that "European drug squad officers say Albanian and Kosovo Albanian dealers are ruthlessly trying to seize control of the European heroin market, worth up to $27 billion a year, and have taken over the trade in at least six European countries."
Another Clark buddy was Agim Ceku, who commanded Croatia's army during "Operation Storm," when ethnic Serbs were driven out of their ancestral homes in the Krajina region of Croatia in 1995 in what columnist Charles Krauthammer described in Newsweek on April 5, 1999, as "the largest ethnic cleansing of the entire Balkans wars." This is the same Gen. Ceku who commanded the KLA.
The shortsightedness of Gen. Clark's consorting with KLA thugs, whom he is largely responsible for putting into power in Kosovo, is borne out by the Washington Times article "Kosovo Albanian attitudes change; Some see U.N., NATO as foes." (Sept. 21). It said, "Where once NATO troops were greeted with cheers, those cheers have now changed to anger and occasionally violent protests since the arrest of several leaders of the former Kosovo Liberation Army."
As for his ability as a military leader, Gen. Clark failed on two counts - the air campaign and his plan for a ground campaign. While the questionable effectiveness of the air campaign was not solely his responsibility, his acquiescence to the strategy and his cover-up of the results detailed in the Newsweek story "Kosovo Cover Up" (May 15, 2000) are testimony to his dedication to power and career. As for a ground war, which Gen. Clark admits that he favored, he insists that he could have conducted a successful ground war in Kosovo by sending Apache helicopters and ground troops through the mountain passes between Albania and Kosovo, a plan which was described to me by an Apache pilot as a "hare-brained" idea. Gen. Clark planned to support the Apaches with "50,000 Albanian troops," a statement he personally made to me at a Washington, D.C., book signing. There's no doubt that a ground war with the might of 19 NATO nations eventually would have been successful. But at what cost and why? To feed Gen. Clark's ego and ambition!
If Gen. Clark had had his way, we might have gone to war with Russia, or at least resurrected vestiges of the Cold War. And we certainly would have had hundreds if not thousands of casualties in an ill-conceived ground war.
Col. David Hackworth, in his 1999 commentary "Defending America," wrote of Clark: "Known by those who've served with him as the 'Ultimate Perfumed Prince,' he's far more comfortable in a drawing room discussing political theories than hunkering down in the trenches where bullets fly and soldiers die."
In my opinion, Gen. Clark is the kind of general we saw too often during the Vietnam War and hoped never to see again in a position of responsibility for the lives of our GIs and the security of our nation. That it happened once again we can thank that other Rhodes scholar from Arkansas.
Col. George Jatras (Ret.)