Commander to retire early

U.S. NATO

Clark, Clinton advisers disagreed over strategy during Kosovo campaign

July 29, 1999|By CHICAGO TRIBUNE

WASHINGTON -- NATO Supreme Commander Gen. Wesley Clark, architect of the allied victory in the Kosovo conflict, will leave his post three months ahead of schedule to accommodate the promotion of Air Force Gen. Joseph W. Ralston as his replacement, the White House said yesterday.

Ralston, a favorite of Defense Secretary William S. Cohen, had withdrawn from contention for the top job of chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff two years ago after admitting to an extramarital affair.

White House spokesman Joe Lockhart strongly denied reports that Clark's early departure signified any reproach of the four-star U.S. Army general, who urged a more aggressive policy against Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic than his superiors in the Pentagon and administration at first desired.

Though the administration attempted to maintain a semblance of unity in its Kosovo effort, Clark tangled with Pentagon and White House officials who were reluctant to accede to his requests for early deployment of Apache attack helicopters, a larger-scale and more broadly targeted air campaign and preparations for a ground assault.

"No one is being pushed out," Lockhart said. "No one is being forced out. The president has the highest regard for General Clark. He did incredible and invaluable work in the Kosovo conflict and the realignment of [NATO commanders] in no way reflects badly on his performance."

But retired Col. William Taylor, who taught Clark at West Point and is senior vice president of the Center for Strategic and International Studies, called the action insulting and "a terrible example of mistreatment of a military professional."

"I'm mad as hell," Taylor said. "I don't think this is the way to treat one of the country's finest professional officers -- a great individual who pulled off, against impossible odds, that operation in Kosovo. This is another example of why people with no military experience whatsoever should not be in control of our national security policy."

Clark had been scheduled to leave his European post in July 2000, when he would have served three years, though predecessors have served four years or longer.

Instead, he will retire in April, making room for Ralston to be promoted to the NATO post from his job as vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Without this maneuver, Ralston would have been compelled to take a mandatory retirement in February, when his Joint Chiefs of Staff term expires.

Clark, a West Point graduate and Rhodes scholar, reportedly may be offered an ambassadorship.

A large part of his NATO job involved forging and maintaining a political alliance between often fractious nations with widely varying positions on how to respond to Milosevic's aggression in Kosovo.

Ralston, a former combat pilot, had been Cohen's leading choice for chairman of the Joint Chiefs in 1997, but his nomination was withdrawn amid controversy over military sex scandals.

He had admitted to a past affair with a female civilian CIA employee while legally separated from his wife. Noting that the incident involved no infraction of military rules, Cohen was said to have promised to support Ralston's nomination against all opposition.

At the time, however, a number of African-American enlisted men were being prosecuted by the Army for sexual misconduct and 1st Lt. Kelly Flinn, the nation's first female bomber pilot, was being asked to leave the Air Force because of adultery with the husband of an enlisted woman in her command, among other infractions.

Rep. Nita M. Lowey, a New York Democrat, and other members of Congress charged that a double standard was being applied in Ralston's case and vowed to fight his appointment to the military's top uniformed post.

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