WASHINGTON -- Much of the nation's military is fuming at the Clinton administration once again, this time over the performance of the president and his top national security advisers in setting policy on U.S. intervention in Somalia and Haiti.
Senior military officers, particularly in the Army, believe that the administration has failed to set clear objectives for military operations in those countries and has abandoned its policies too quickly at the first sign of trouble, those familiar with their views say.
"The people I talk to are simply disgusted," says Robert W. Gaskin, a former Pentagon strategist who keeps in frequent touch with leading military officers. "The sense among many is that the (Defense Secretary Les) Aspin team is not quite sure of where it's going or what it's doing."
Raoul Alcala, a retired Army colonel with similar contacts, agrees. "The mood in the Pentagon ranges from disappointment to deep dismay," Mr. Alcala says. "People . . . feel there are some significant gaps in experience" in the civilian policy-making team.
The issue is important because a president who does not have the full confidence of top generals and admirals can have more difficulty conducting foreign policy, particularly when it involves the use of military power, which is occurring frequently in the post-Cold War world.
The views of the military leaders also are important because morale is an important factor in the how well the armed forces do their job.
Strains between Mr. Clinton and the military have existed since he took office, involving everything from suspicion over his Vietnam War era efforts to avoid the draft to his calls for cutting the military budget more sharply and his push to end the military's ban on homosexuals.
Although both sides have worked hard to reconcile their differences, the tensions resurfaced after the Oct. 3 firefight in the Somali capital of Mogadishu in which 18 elite U.S. Rangers were killed and 77 wounded. Recriminations have been flying ever since.
So far, senior military leaders have refrained from public comment on the issue. The military culture calls for professionals to swallow whatever orders they receive, carry them out and not grumble openly about their commander-in-chief.
But top military officials have not been shy about making their discontent known to lawmakers and to groups of retired senior officers, who often serve as channels for such complaints.
Congressional sources say that Marine Corps Gen. Joseph P. Hoar told lawmakers in a secret briefing last week that Pentagon civilian officials dismissed his warnings last summer against pursuing Somali warlord Mohammed Farah Aidid, and later denied his bid for extra weapons.
"They really feel that they've been whipsawed," said another military expert. "There's a general sense that the political policy-making people don't have their act together. And that scares the military people more than anything else."