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Basic instinct for miscalculation

April 4, 1999

THE PROPELLER heads around Bill Clinton have struck again. The same elite corps of pencil necks who designed the 1994 health care debacle are at work in Serbia.

In both cases, they've made the same mistake. In all their smart computation of dollars, demographics and demolition, they failed to add the key ingredient: human nature.

Why has allied bombing failed to kill Serbian resistance? Why has the pain and suffering inflicted by the United States and other NATO nations indeed strengthened the patriotic regard for Slobodan Milosevic?

Because that's the way people of any country behave.

In his 16th century masterwork, "The Prince," Niccolo Machiavelli wrote how people in a besieged city became even more loyal to their leader. Even when a city was surrounded and attacked for months, when people had to suffer severe hunger and the full horror of medieval war, they emerged ever more bound to their prince.

The same has been proven again and again in this century. Nazi bombing produced Britain's "finest hour." It made Winston Churchill the greatest man of the century.

This axiom of human nature proved true in Vietnam. Americans dropped more tons of TNT over Hanoi than all the TNT dropped in World War II. Today that other Vietnamese capital, Saigon, bears the name of the leader, Ho Chi Minh, who withstood the assault.

What led Bill Clinton to believe the scenario in Belgrade would play out any differently? What war gamesman in his inner circle of national security experts convinced him that Milosevic would be denied the mantle of hero that other bombings have conferred on national leaders?

Clinton's last big fiasco, the '94 health care reform push, showed the same ignorance of human nature.

Here again, the issue was loyalty. People will fight for what they've built. You negotiate at work for a health care plan and you struggle like hell to keep it. You win a job that pays medical benefits and treatment options and you don't want someone messing with those benefits and options.

This is something the Clintons and their cohort of pencil necks could not understand. People like Social Security because they have paid into it.

They like Medicare because they have paid into it. They like their private health care plans for the same reason: because they have a right to them, because they've won their piece of the rock with sweat, savings and work.

What people don't like is being told that the benefits for which they've sacrificed and fought are to be thrown into some national pie of options and benefits to be distributed at some bureaucrat's whim. They don't want that for which they've worked turned into some "universal coverage" perk that you enjoy for doing absolutely nothing.

Today in the skies over Yugoslavia and in the war rooms of Washington, the same rule of human nature is being overlooked: Never, ever, expect to win a person's or a people's respect by raining fear on them. Try it - at home or abroad - and they will circle their armies against you.

1999 San Francisco Examiner Page

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