Versailles-on-the-Potomac Begins the Blame Game as Courtiers
Position Themselves for Future Budget Battles in Congress

April 2, 1999

Comment: #251

Discussion Thread:  #250


[1] Ronald G. Shafer, "Washington Wire: Finger-pointing begins at the Pentagon over criticism of the Kosovo bombing," Wall Street Journal, April 2, 1999, Pg. 1.

For many months now, I have been warning that the self-centered politics of Versailles on the Potomac lie at the roots of our modernization, readiness, and accountability problems. I have argued repeatedly that this is fundamentally a failure of uniformed and civilian leadership in the Pentagon to come to grips with real problems.

With events deteriorating rapidly in Kosovo, we now have another real problem, and, ominously, this inwardly-focused behavior is beginning to surface in the middle of a war the military's raison d'etre.

In Comment #250, I said "... the emergence of a public targeting debate is one of a growing number of signs that bureaucrats and politicians have begun to use the press to position themselves to shift the blame for, or exploit the possibilities of, a possible debacle. "

A field-grade military officer assigned to a prestigious staff agency in the Office of the Secretary of defense responded with the following email:

[begin email]

"Your observations are right on the mark.

The finger-pointing has already begun, with anonymous policy 'advisers' blaming the military for opposing use of ground forces ("Clinton Saw No Alternative To Airstrikes," Washington Post, April 1), and unnamed USAF officers in Europe reporting that the air campaign is developing too slowly, thus making them look inept ("U.S. Pilots Call NATO Targeting A 'Disgrace'", Washington Times, April 1). They're all looking to disavow responsibility.

Further evidence of the attempt to distance itself from its own military campaign, White House spokesman Joe Lockhart said, "This is a NATO operation. I think we have consciously tried to have the allies be the main spokespeople for this. And this was a decision not just by the United States, but by all 19 members." Keep in mind that the US is flying 90% of the sorties, and the President is reportedly reviewing the target lists. But now, Poland, Hungary, and the Czech Republic are equally responsible

Welcome aboard the good ship NATO, boys !"

[end of email]

Today's Wall Street Journal contains a short report on page 1 by Ronald G. Shafer, who apparently senses this behavior as well [Reference #1 to this message]. He reports that some military officers now claim the Joint Chiefs of Staff warned that a limited air campaign wouldn't succeed, but he notes only one member of the Joint Chiefs expressed reservations to Congress about the effects of limited air campaign. He further notes that a top diplomat said: "I never once in all the discussions" heard the defense secretary's office or the Joint Chiefs "say, 'Bombing won't work without ground troops.' "

What a way to end the last year of the American Century! Maybe the high brows had it wrong when they labeled the end of the 19th Century as the Fin de Siecle.

On the other hand, we could roll up our sleeves and pull together to end this intervention with dignity and a larger sense of national purpose. Step 1 is come clean with the American people and tell them what they are in for, so that if we go into an extended Balkan commitment, it is shaped by a unifying sense of purpose, and is done with our eyes open, not piecemeal and surreptitiously like in Vietnam. If we can not do that, then perhaps we ought to work on a way to extricate ourselves from a Balkan quagmire.

In either case, the finger pointing ought to stop ASAP there are more important things to prepare for than future budget battles.

Chuck Spinney

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