We Have a Commander in Chief Who Can Give Orders but Can't Lead

June 11, 1995|By JIM WRIGHT | JIM WRIGHT,Compiled by Knight-Ridder News Service.

As Bosnia heats up, we see more proof that what goes around does eventually come around. For our nation's president and, unfortunately, also the armed forces.

In every one of these services, from the NCO schools for the youngest corporals to the command-and-staff schools for the officers of flag rank, the first law of leadership is laid down early and often:

Never ask your people to do anything you would not be willing to do, to take any risk you would not take yourself.

The present commander in chief, sad to say, does that every time his orders put any American soldier, sailor, airman or Marine in harm's way. It is the main reason he is held in such low regard throughout the armed services, why he is morally crippled in any attempt to lead them.

The legacy of the Vietnam War haunts this country, but the 1960s history of William J. Clinton is a much heavier burden. His role now rests on his shaky '60s foundation of deviousness, dishonesty and a lack of moral courage that makes him try to straddle both sides of any hard issue.

In the 1960s, when others his age were fighting in Vietnam, Mr. Clinton's only military maneuvers consisted of manipulating the Garland County, Ark., draft board and lying to Col. Eugene J. Holmes, head of the Army ROTC at the University of Arkansas.

Already drafted, he sought to avoid service. These maneuvers were successful: He never wore his country's uniform. Yet during his presidential campaign, Mr. Clinton claimed he was being battered by the critics for "a woman I didn't sleep with and a draft I didn't dodge."

Voters can judge for themselves the first claim, but the second is contradicted by David Maraniss' fascinating book, "First in His Class." Mr. Maraniss, a reporter for the Washington Post, received the Pulitzer Prize for his reporting of the 1992 Clinton campaign.

Mr. Maraniss writes that the week the troop commitment in Vietnam reached its peak at the end of April 1969, Bill Clinton was drafted. A student politician at Georgetown University in Washington, young Clinton had won a Rhodes scholarship, and the folks on the draft board were proud of the "local boy who made good." He had been deferred as a student. Others of his class had served, some had died. So, months after he graduated and was classified 1-A, the board called him up.

As Mr. Maraniss records, "Clinton's own May Day . . . had arrived that week in the form of a letter from the Garland County Draft Board. It was the five-page SSS Form 252, the Order to Report for Induction."

When this fact surfaced in 1992, candidate Clinton said the draft notice he received in England just "slipped his mind." Another "yes, but I didn't inhale" Clintonism. But he had been officially drafted, and he knew it. His letters at the time included such words as, "You may have heard that I've been drafted." He understood the order. He did not obey it.

Most young Americans who have been drafted just report in. Not TC young Bill. The Garland County Draft Board generously allowed him to finish the school year at Oxford, but gave him a new date to report: July 28. But by then, the man who later earned the title "Slick Willie" had dodged into another alley.

With the help of Sen. J. William Fulbright's chief aide, he went to Fayetteville for an interview with Colonel Holmes. The next day, the colonel received several calls from draft board members who said they were receiving heavy pressure from Mr. Fulbright's office and asking him to get the heat off by letting Mr. Clinton take officer training.

Having pledged to go to the University of Arkansas law school, take ROTC training and serve, the now-deferred Mr. Clinton let the July induction date slip by, then reneged on his pledge to Colonel Holmes.

His letter to Colonel Holmes, thanking the old man for "saving me from the draft," was somehow "taken care of" by Mr. Clinton's political machine later. Of the revealing letter, he bragged, "Don't worry about that, I've put that one to bed."

But the angry ROTC executive officer had kept a copy for himself. Which is how the world learned Mr. Clinton's explanation for his duplicity: That he actually hated the idea of serving his military obligation, but feared endangering "his political viability" saying so and overtly refusing the draft order.

So he conned the colonel. Courage of his convictions, no; shabby and slick, yes.

Now, Mr. Clinton is committing servicemen to precisely the kind of civil war between nationalist factions that he claimed to see in Vietnam, the alibi for his dodges. By his order, American pilots fly combat missions in Bosnia.

So now young Americans are ordered to face death by a man who refused, on two occasions, even the relatively riskless order to report for induction. The man who artfully dodged a couple of years' safe service as an Army lawyer is now sending pilots up against surface-to-air missiles.

In sum, he is asking his people to do what he wouldn't and didn't do himself. As the rule says, such a man can give orders but he cannot lead.

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