By FRANK GAFFNEY
Defense News , June 28/July 4, 1993
Last week, the career of a distinguished U.S. Air Force general officer was terminated in retribution for displaying contempt for the commander in chief, President Bill Clinton.
Maj. Gen. Harold Campbell will be fined, officially reprimanded and separated from the military on July 1 for having described Mr. Clinton at a public event as "gay loving," "womanizing," "draft dodging," and "potsmoking."
Such terms are certainly harsh but not inaccurate given Mr. Clinton’s statements during the campaign and his policy pronouncements since the election. The issue therefore is not one of slander but whether senior military officers should be permitted to express in public uncharitable views of the president.
The answer of course is no, just one example of the degree to which its personnel are obliged to give up some of their civil liberties.
Still, the nation must not allow the forced separation of Gen. Campbell from the U.S. armed forces to end the examination of contemptuous conduct in civilian-military relations. This is an opportunity for the nation to take stock and corrective action before such conduct does further, possibly irreparable, harm to the essential working partnership between the uniformed services and their civilian leaders.
I believe the following shows that the primary responsibility for undermining that partnership lies with the Clinton leadership:
- The president is determined to impose upon the military momentous social experiments without adequate regard for the professional judgments of those who will be affected. But for stiff congressional resistance, Clinton would not even have gone through the motions of addressing the concerns that most if not all of the Joint Chiefs of Staff feel about integrating women into combat forces and opening the military to avowed homosexuals.
- Under Clinton, precipitous and draconian cuts are being made to the defense budget that will have profound effects on the power projection and deterrent capabilities of America’s armed forces. These actions are being taken without giving due weight to the views of those whose lives will be on the line.
- The military’s apprehensions about the implications of Aspin’s so-called "Win, Hold, Win" strategy appear in particular to be getting short shrift in the secretary’s bottom-up review. This budget-driven concept is understood by serious students of the art of war for what it is: a formula for reduced U.S. influence and ability to deter conflicts and potentially serious combat losses and perhaps even defeat.
- Even on small matters, the Clinton leadership seems to be going out of its way to alienate the armed forces despite a public relations campaign designed to persuade the public otherwise. For example, the secretary of defense failed to extend the basic courtesy to the Joint Chiefs of Staff of informing them beforehand that he was creating an independent commission to monitor the military’s deteriorating readiness. Army Gen. Colin Powell, Joint Chiefs chairman, reportedly found out about it just in time to hear Aspin’s announcement on television.
- The makeup of the Clinton team at the Defense Department almost seems calculated to strain relations with the defense community. Particularly noteworthy in this regard is Morton Halperin, the man named — but not yet confirmed — to fill a new senior policy position of assistant secretary of defense for democracy and peacekeeping.
In fact, published reports reveal that Defense Secretary Les Aspin is untroubled by the prospect of laying down the law on the services, on the Joint Chiefs of Staff and on the regional commanders in chief regarding the dramatic changes in force structure and strategy he advocates.
While Aspin may be within his rights to do so, his highhanded manner seriously aggravates the military’s perception it is being treated with contempt.
Over the past 20 years of active involvement in various left wing policy institutes, Halperin has epitomized the "blame America first" views of what Jeane Kirkpatrick once called the "San Francisco Democrats." He has actively campaigned against a credible U.S. nuclear deterrent against the maintenance of effective intelligence organizations and covert operations; against the classification of sensitive national security information; and against the U.S. right to act unilaterally in defense of its interests around the world.
Those in the U.S. military who were the targets of Halperin’s acerbic criticisms and charges of anti-democratic behavior may be forgiven if they see their prospective subordination to such an individual as an indication of Clinton’s low regard for their sensibilities and mission.
If Clinton means what he says about returning to the political center, one of the first places to start would be by changing his administration’s attitude toward the armed forces.