Clinton's failure at Waco was FBI's weak assault

ROGER SIMON

April 28, 1993|By ROGER SIMON

There are only two things absolutely predictable about military-style assaults:

If they succeed, they are precision operations executed by geniuses.

If they fail, they are terrible bungles that any idiot could have prevented.

George Bush waited 162 days before sending troops into Iraq and Kuwait. The result was universally hailed as a success.

Bill Clinton waited 51 days until sending his troops into the Branch Davidian compound at Waco, Texas. The result was failure and the death of 25 innocent children.

(According to a Harvard public-health team, by the way, at least 170,000 children under the age of 5 died in Iraq from the delayed effects of U.S. bombing. Hardly anybody blamed George Bush for this, however. That's what a victory can do for you.)

Where did Bill Clinton go wrong?

In my opinion, he used too little force, not too much.

Bill Clinton, or more specifically, Janet Reno, his attorney general, and William Sessions, his FBI director, tried a half-way measure.

Their motives were entirely pure:

They thought a half-way measure -- tear gas and tear gas alone -- would be the most humane course of action.

But since they were not dealing with humane people, the gesture was lost.

The only people inside the compound who were innocent were the children. And the objective of the assault should have been to send troops in to secure their safety.

Could Clinton have kept waiting instead of launching any kind of assault? Initially, waiting made some sense. The initial wait allowed 21 adults and 13 children to leave the compound.

But when it became obvious that no more were coming out, waiting no longer made sense.

Endless waiting is not a solution.

L Endless waiting is an excuse not to come up with a solution.

Those who advocate waiting are unable to answer the key question: How long?

David Koresh made clear he was going to use the children to bargain for food when his own year-long supply ran out.

So how long should authorities have waited? One year? Five years? Or just until everyone inside drank poison like at Jonestown?

When I awoke on Monday of last week to learn that an armored vehicle had started punching holes in the sides of the compound and had started pumping in tear gas, I was delighted.

A few days before I had written a column saying that David Koresh had been given enough time and the FBI should assault the place.

But as the hours dragged by Monday, I realized I was watching the oddest assault I had ever seen:

No law enforcement officers had moved in to secure the compound.

There were at least 700 troops of all kinds at Waco. But they were not being used. Instead federal authorities wanted technology alone to do the dirty work.

But as generals have always told presidents who want military objectives obtained "surgically" and "risk-free," there ain't no such animal.

At some point, you almost always have to send in the infantry.

At some point, you almost have to send in troops to secure the ground.

We didn't do this in Waco. It was never even in the plan.

As an FBI official said after the assault: "In an ideal situation, if they [i.e., those inside the compound] did everything that we wanted them to do, we were prepared to go for two or three days of doing nothing but putting gas in."

Ideal? That's not ideal; that's nuts.

You send in the armor, then you send in the gas, then you send in the troops to seize the kids and get them to safety.

You do not pump gas and wait, pump more gas and wait, pump more gas and look through sniper scopes and watch lunatics start fires and burn everybody to death.

(And why, I wonder, didn't those law enforcement snipers shoot those arsonists instead of just watching them through scopes?)

Would storming the compound with troops have been risk-free?

No. Nothing is risk-free; that's the point.

Doing something bold entails risk.

Doing nothing at all entails risk.

Bill Clinton decided to seek a middle path.

And, sometimes, that is the riskiest path of all.

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