The man who commanded air operations during the 1999 NATO campaign in Kosovo addressed a group of students and community members Monday night as if they were the future politicians, diplomats and leaders of their countries.
About 30 people attended retired Lt. Gen. Michael Short's speech in the Kansas Union's Centennial Room.
Short said students might be able to use his experience as a leader in Kosovo when they become policy-makers.
"The civilian leadership of this country does not understand the military and certainly doesn't understand how to take us to war," he said. "We intervened in certainly a terrible situation with no idea in mind of what the nation has to get us out."
Short offered five lessons from Kosovo in a 25-minute speech and then answered questions for about an hour.
His lessons from the Kosovo campaign:
Coalition warfare is difficult, but we need allies.
Each of the 19 countries in the NATO alliance entered the conflict with a different agenda, Short said. He said it was never clear to him what the United State's interest was, except for the "continual existence of the NATO alliance."
What degree of control should the president of the United States have in picking targets?
Short said President Clinton's hands-on approach to choosing military targets made it difficult to carry out a cohesive campaign. Instead, he said the president should be briefed on the types of targets to be hit, such as power grids, petroleum plants and military manufacturing sites, and then give approval to the military campaign.
Focus should be on the center of gravity. In military speak, the center of gravity is the prime source of moral and physical strength, and resistance, Short said. In Kosovo, it was Slobodon Milosovic. Instead of targeting the military, the focus of the NATO attacks should have been at the leader, Short said.
"It would have caused less destruction and killed far fewer people," he said.
Debunk the myth that the American public will not accept casualties.
Short said civilian and military leaders should make articulate cases of why the country is going to war. He said the elder George Bush "galvanized" the nation during the Persian Gulf Conflict by making clear reasons why American soldiers were fighting.
"Once the diplomacy was over, I thought the leadership of the Clinton administration was bankrupt," Short said. "In the Persian Gulf War, I think we were prepared as a nation to see a lot of body bags coming home."
The United States should come to grips with its power.
Short said politicians repeatedly squandered the leverage of being the most powerful country. In Kosovo, he said England and France wanted NATO to go to war but a ground war was ruled out. That left the United States, which supplies the majority of air combat support and technology, as the main fighting force. He said diplomats should be more careful about risking the lives of Americans.
When asked about the bombing of the Chinese Embassy in Belgrade, Short said they were simply going with the most up-to-date map provided by the CIA and military intelligence.
"We apparently had a tragic failure of American intelligence," he said. "The Chinese Embassy was a tragic, tragic error."
Short said he repeatedly questioned his superiors about the U.S. role in the Kosovo conflict and tried to point out the difficulties of fighting a war when every move had to be approved by 19 different nations and a civilian leadership.
"I think we ought to be out of these," he said. "We should not be peacekeepers."
Erin Mohr, a KU sophomore studying social welfare, came to the speech because she wanted to be more informed about the situation in Kosovo.
"I thought he answered the question and he was honest," she said. "I respect his resistance to his authority."
A group of 11 students from William Jewell College studying world politics came to the speech. Natalia Spartakova, a junior from St. Petersburg, Russia, said she was very interested in what Short had to say because she opposed the Kosovo conflict.
"I liked the way he talked about the mistakes that NATO made because personally, I'm against it," she said. "I think he made his logical points."