At the beginning of the Kosovo conflict,CounterPunch delved into the military career of General Wesley Clark and discovered that his meteoric rise through the ranks derived from the successful manipulation of appearances: faking the results of combat exercises, greasing to superiors and other practices common to the general officer corps. We correctly predicted that the unspinnable realities of a real war would cause him to become unhinged. Given that Clark attempted to bomb the CNN bureau in Belgrade and ordered the British General Michael Jackson to engage Russian troops in combat at the end of the war, we feel events amply vindicated our forecast.
With the end of hostilities it has become clear even to Clark that most people, apart from some fanatical members of the war party in the White House and State Department, consider the general, as one Pentagon official puts it, “a horse’s ass”. Defense Secretary William Cohen is known to loathe him, and has seen to it that the Hammer of the Serbs will be relieved of the Nato command two months early.
Adding to this humiliation have been numerous post-war reports from the ground in Kosovo making it clear that the air campaign supervised by Clark inflicted little damage on the Serb army. Derisive comments from Serb generals on the general ineffectiveness of Nato’s tactical air campaign have only rubbed salt in his wounds. Accordingly, on September 16, in a desperate effort to redeem the tarnished record of his military command, Clark summoned the Nato press corps in Brussels to hear his own version of events.
True to form, Clark’s presentation opened with a gross distortion of the truth: “From the outset of this campaign, we said we would be attacking on two air lines of operation. There would be a strategic attack line” against Serb air defenses, headquarters, supply lines and a “tactical line of operation against the Serb forces in Kosovo and in southern Serbia”.
In fact, neither Clark nor anyone else in the U.S. chain of command imagined that the war would involve more than a brief demonstration of Nato firepower in the forms of attacks on air defense radars, communications centers and other fixed targets, thus providing Milosevic with the excuse the U.S. thought he wanted to throw in his hand.
“The Joint Chiefs went along with [the war] on the strict understanding that it would last a maximum of two days”, says one Pentagon official with direct knowledge of these events. “No one really planned for what to do after that.”
Clark intended the briefing to provide unassailable confirmation of his wartime claims that Nato pilots had destroyed hundreds of Serb tanks and other heavy weapons. Yet he had a problem, since the teams he dispatched to Kosovo immediately after the war could only find 26 tanks and self-propelled artillery pieces destroyed on the ground. Accordingly, Clark tried to dazzle his audience with military managerial techno-speak about the “building block methodology” employed in preparing his assessment, which permitted NATO’s supreme commander to add another 67 “successful strikes” to the “catastrophic kills” represented by the 26 tanks and self-propelled artillery pieces he had already claimed.
With the sleight of hand of a true briefer, Clark left the impression in the minds of the press corps that in each of these 67 strikes the targets had actually been destroyed. But the “methodology” meant merely that the target was added to the score so long as two or more sources-i.e. the pilot’s claim, plus perhaps video footage or a report from someone else in the area-indicated that the weapon had hit the target. With such casuistry, Clark was able to inflate the total figure to 93-not far from the wartime boast of 110 such kills.
Even the paltry claim of 26 destroyed targets in this category should be viewed with skepticism. An alert friend of CounterPunch in the defense community points out that slide # 27 in the briefing features a “tank” destroyed by a U.S. Navy F-14 mission. Actually, slide #27 shows not a tank but a second world war U.S. tank destroyer known as the M-36, famously ineffective even when introduced in 1943, and later donated to Yugoslavia some time in the 1950s. Perhaps, our friend suggests, “The Yugos took one look at what they got, and then put the things in front of the nearest VFW-equivalent meeting halls. Then, along come [the Nato attacks] and the word goes out: ‘we need hulks to serve as decoys for the Americans to blow up.’ Wes Clark & staff collect the imagery and proudly display their ‘kill'”.
This same observer notes that the Pentagon is working on what will be a “lying, cheating, thieving” after-action report, basing his description on news that the work is being supervised by deputy defense secretary John Hamre, a noted time-server and catspaw of the uniformed military.
Among the many issues the report is not expected to address is the sudden disappearance, half way through the conflict, of the $2 billion B-2 stealth bomber, described by Clark as one of the “heroes” of the war. Forty-three days into the conflict, the B-2 was reported as having flown “nearly fifty” sorties. When the war ended after 78 days of bombing, an authoritative report stated that the B-2 had flown a total of 49 missions, indicating that it “fell out of the war” half way through. Presumably, the costly behemoths were deteriorating at such a rate that the Air Force decided to relegate the plane to its alternative mission as backdrop for President Clinton’s demonstrations of martial resolve on TV.
Another topic on which we may expect Hamre to remain diplomatically silent is the ingenuity with which the Serbs diverted the anti-radar Harm missiles launched in enormous numbers by Nato’s planes. Early on, the Serbs discovered that a microwave oven, adjusted to operate with the door open, appears exactly like an air defense radar to the $750,000 missiles – a very cost-effective exchange.
Despite such embarrassments, Clark can take heart from the fact that his influence on warfare already transcends the Balkans. Since Operation Allied Force laid waste to the Serbian civilian infrastructure, the targeting of such infrastructure has become routine and acceptable. The Israelis, who have for years shown relative care in avoiding the Lebanese infrastructure in their raids, were quick to change tactics, citing the Balkan operation as a legitimizing precedent. More recently the gangsters in the Kremlin have used the same justification for their terror-bombing of Chechnya.
Since Clark may be chagrined at his reception in post-war Washington, he should perhaps look to Tel Aviv and Moscow for a more fulsome recognition of his role in history.