May 5, 1999
Meet the Real
Anyone seeking to understand the bloody fiasco of
the Serbian war need hardly look further than the
person of the beribboned Supreme Allied
Commander, General Wesley K. Clark. Politicians
and journalists are generally according him a
respectful hearing as he discourses on the
"schedule" for the destruction of Serbia, tellingly
embracing phrases favored by military bureaucrats
such as "systematic" and "methodical".
The reaction from former army subordinates is
"The poster child for
everything that is wrong with
the GO (general officer)
corps," exclaims one colonel,
who has had occasion to
observe Clark in action, citing, among other
examples, his command of the 1st Cavalry
Division at Fort Hood from 1992 to 1994.
While Clark's official Pentagon biography
proclaims his triumph in "transitioning the
Division into a rapidly deployable force" this
officer describes the "1st Horse Division" as
"easily the worst division I have ever seen in 25
years of doing this stuff."
Such strong reactions are common. A major in the
3rd Brigade of the 4th Infantry Division at Fort
Carson, Colorado when Clark was in command
there in the early 1980s described him as a man
who "regards each and every one of his
subordinates as a potential threat to his career".
While he regards his junior officers with watchful
suspicion, he customarily accords the lower ranks
little more than arrogant
contempt. A veteran of Clark's
tenure at Fort Hood recalls the
general's "massive tantrum
because the privates and
sergeants and wives in the
crowded (canteen) checkout lines
didn't jump out of the way fast
enough to let him through".
Clark's demeanor to those above is, of course,
very different, a mode of behavior that has earned
him rich dividends over the years. Thus, early in
1994, he was a candidate for promotion from two
to three star general. Only one hurdle remained - a
war game exercise known as the Battle Command
Training Program in which Clark would have to
maneuver his division against an opposing force.
The commander of the opposing force, or
"OPFOR" was known for the military skill with
which he routinely demolished opponents.
But Clark's patrons on high were determined that
no such humiliation should be visited on their
favorite. Prior to the exercise therefore, strict
orders came down that the battle should go Clark's
way. Accordingly, the OPFOR was reduced in
strength by half, thus enabling
Clark, despite deploying
tactics of signal ineptitude, to
triumph. His third star came
down a few weeks later.
Battle exercises and war games are of course
meant to test the fighting skills of commanders and
troops. The army's most important venue for such
training is the National Training Center at Fort
Irwin, California, where Clark commanded from
October 1989 to October 1991 and where his men
derisively nicknamed him "Section Leader Six" for
his obsessive micro-management.
At the NTC, army units face a resident OPFOR that
tactics and close
knowledge of the terrain, become adept at routing
the visiting "Blue Force" opponents. For Clark,
this naturally posed a problem. Not only were his
men using unconventional tactics, they were also
humiliating Blue Force generals who might nurture
resentment against the NTC commander and thus
discommode his career at some future date. To the
disgust of the junior OPFOR officers Clark
therefore frequently fought to lose, sending his men
on suicidal attacks in order that the Blue Forces
should go home happy and owing debts of
gratitude to their obliging foe.
All observers agree that Clark has always
displayed an obsessive concern with the
perquisites and appurtenances of rank. Ever since
he acceded to the Nato command post, the
entourage with which he travels has accordingly
grown to gargantuan proportions to the point where
even civilians are beginning to comment. A Senate
aide recalls his appearances to testify, prior to
which aides scurry about the room adjusting lights,
polishing his chair, testing the microphone etc
prior to the precisely timed and
choreographed moment when the
Supreme Allied Commander
Europe makes his entrance.
"We are state of the art pomposity
and arrogance up here," remarks the aide. "So
when a witness displays those traits so egregiously
that even the senators notice, you know we're in
trouble." His NATO subordinates call him, not
with affection, "the Supreme Being".
"Clark is smart," concludes one who has
monitored his career. "But his whole life has been
spent manipulating appearances (e.g. the doctored
OPFOR exercise) in the interests of his career.
Now he is faced with a reality he can't control."
This observer concludes that, confronted with the
wily Slobodan and other unavoidable variables of
war, Clark will soon come unglued. "Watch the
carpets at NATO HQ for teeth marks." CP
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