Courtesy Reuters

Attitude Adjustment

By Alfred R. Barr

To the Editor:

In "Clinton's Strong Defense Legacy" (November/December 2003), Michael O'Hanlon acknowledges that U.S. military morale suffered during the Clinton presidency, but he does not fully explain why.

Perhaps it was because of fundamental opposition to nation-building and peacekeeping among the Pentagon leadership. These criticisms harked back to the Vietnam War and to the "Weinberger Doctrine," outlined in 1984, which argued against nonessential military intervention. Colin Powell, as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, carried the anti-intervention argument forward in the early 1990s, even getting into a public spat with former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher over whether to intervene in the Balkans. In the late 1990s, General Wesley Clark was fired by the Pentagon leadership for arguing too passionately for U.S. involvement in Kosovo.

Such attitudes had a direct effect on military morale, because soldiers were told by their leaders that peacekeeping missions such as Somalia, Haiti, and the Balkans were wrongheaded and would erode the military's war-fighting capabilities. Given this explanation, it is no wonder that troops in the Balkans felt misused and overworked.

The Pentagon's recent attempt to close the Peacekeeping Institute at Carlisle Barracks suggests that the Army is not getting any more serious about low-intensity missions, such as counterinsurgency and peacekeeping. In Iraq, meanwhile, we are again witnessing the negative effects on morale when soldiers do not support an operation. A change of attitude is desperately needed.

Alfred R. Barr

Washington, D.C.

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