In the ranks of the military, the impeachment crisis has evoked scattered grumbling, an echo of the civil-military tensions with which the Clinton era began. In truth, most American soldiers don't much like their commander in chief. In their eyes he remains the "draft dodger" whose efforts to avoid service in Vietnam were plainly dishonorable. In contrast to the ethic of selflessness, self-discipline and honor to which they aspire, the president's recklessly self-indulgent personal life and his weaseling efforts to avoid responsibility for his actions cannot be anything but offensive. Then there is the question of double standards. Beginning with the notorious Navy Tailhook convention of 1991 and continuing through the pending matter of retired Army Maj. Gen. David Hale, charged with having had extramarital affairs, the services have been shaken by a series of high-profile cases involving sexual misconduct by senior commissioned and noncommissioned officers. The outcome in almost every instance so far has been the end of a career. Although bearing only passing resemblance to "the Lewinsky matter," these cases have convinced some in the military that, if only as a matter of fairness, the commander in chief should suffer the same consequences. Yet the sporadic mutterings of a few angry colonels or retired flag officers notwithstanding, impeachment and the looming prospect of a Senate trial are unlikely to affect President Clinton's standing as commander of the armed forces. Americans need not worry about overt military insubordination or dissent. The president's authority will remain intact. That prospect is at once reassuring and worrisome. Reassuring, because deference to a president whom soldiers hold in low regard affirms that the fundamental principle of civilian control remains deeply ingrained. Worrisome, because that formal deference conceals the fact that the president's real authority is exercised--and modified--through a complex and ambiguous process. The dirty little secret of American civil-military relations, by no means unique to this administration, is that the commander in chief does not command the military establishment; he cajoles it, negotiates with it, and, as necessary, appeases it. Clinton's painful initiation into this reality came at the very outset of his first term. Announcing his intention to overturn the prohibition on homosexuals serving in the armed forces, Clinton in early 1993 provoked an unusual outburst of military protest. Liquidating that unseemly spectacle, as embarrassing to the Pentagon as it was to the White House, demanded compromise. The result was "don't ask, don't tell." A peculiar blend of hypocrisy, forbearance and accommodation, the "don't ask, don't tell" formula has since come to embody the essence of civil-military relations in the Clinton era. To forestall military obstructionism, the administration avoids policies that might threaten important interests of the armed services. Having learned on the job to respect military sensitivities, the president asks of his military leaders only what he knows they are willing to deliver. Assured that their civilian masters are taking concerns of the services into account, the top brass obligingly reverts to its preferred position as obedient and apolitical servants of the state. Thus are preserved the essential myths of civilian control and military professionalism. For this, we may be grateful. Yet the bargaining necessary to sustain civil-military amicability in the face of cultural upheaval at home and recurring crises abroad does not necessarily produce sound policy. Indeed, the evidence suggests the contrary. Compromise, logrolling and obeisance to parochial interests may be part and parcel of politics, but in the realm of military affairs they offer a poor substitute for principle. That is true with regard to explosive issues such as gender and sexual orientation, and it is truer still when contemplating the actual use of American power. Operation Desert Fox, the four-day air campaign against Iraq that is the most recent in this administration's long list of martial endeavors, illustrates that point. Critics have noted that this ersatz war manifested all of the now-familiar characteristics of the so-called "Clinton doctrine" on the use of force: the extraordinary importance assigned to avoiding U.S. casualties, thereby advertising America's own point of vulnerability; the hand-wringing preoccupation with collateral damage, signaling that the United States has no stomach for war as such and thereby encouraging adversaries to persevere; the reliance on high-technology weapons employed at long range, inviting confusion between the technical capability to hit targets and the achievement of operationally meaningful results; vaguely formulated objectives often explained in terms of "sending messages"--allowing for facile claims of "success" and the prompt recall of the forces engaged. The aftermath of Desert Fox also testifies to the flaws of this approach to using force. Saddam Hussein survives and, having survived, has prevailed. Henceforth, his efforts to develop weapons of mass destruction will proceed without interference from outside inspectors. Growing international sympathy for the plight of the Iraqi people will erode economic sanctions against Iraq. What U.S. missiles destroyed, profits from the sale of oil can rebuild. At the cost of yet another billion or so dollars, the United States finds itself shouldering--almost alone and in apparent perpetuity--a security burden that supposedly benefits the entire international community. Members of that community, meanwhile, castigate the United States for being a bully. Although Americans may take comfort from the fact that Desert Fox killed only a relative handful of Iraqi civilians, those deaths served no real political purpose, raising troubling questions about the moral justifiability of the entire enterprise. Policies that give birth to such results reflect the president's own tenuous grasp of military affairs. A personal ambivalence about the legitimacy of violence in international politics no doubt contributes to it. Clinton's overall approach to employing American military might, at once indiscriminate and timorous, cannot easily be separated from his own youthful experience on the fringes of an antiwar movement uncomfortable with the exercise of American power. Yet if responsibility for misusing American power rests ultimately with the chief executive, the military itself cannot escape its own share of the blame. Senior officers were present at the creation of the Clinton doctrine. They have shaped it and have given it their stamp of approval. Indeed, the operation that established the parameters of that doctrine, the puny cruise missile attack in June 1993 on an all-but-empty Iraqi intelligence headquarters as retaliation for the attempted assassination of President Bush, was the handiwork of Gen. Colin L. Powell, then chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. In other words, if operations such as Desert Fox amply display Clinton's own apprehensions, they also testify to phobias endemic to the present American military establishment. Despite the fact that the generation of soldiers who fought in Vietnam has now all but passed from active service, memories of that war have not died. The sense of abandonment and betrayal, anguish at being depicted as moral monsters, and resentment at being scapegoated for a debacle not entirely of their making remain fixed in the collective psyche of American military professionals. Operations that adhere to the Clinton doctrine assure the military that it need not fear a recurrence of any such nightmare. There will be no quagmire, no body counts, virtually no risk, no loss of status--just a visually impressive barrage directed at facilities whose occupants have left for the day. Clinton's senior military advisers know that Desert Fox was an elaborate sham, theater rather than a serious effort to use force for meaningful political objectives. But given the terms of the reigning civil-military compact, they are no more likely to communicate that view to the president than he is to press his generals to develop military options that hold the promise of ending once and for all the threat posed by Saddam. The president won't ask and they won't tell. Thus, the price of civil-military harmony is a defective policy that wastes resources, alienates allies and undermines American credibility abroad. That, rather than soldiers' low opinion of the president's character, should be cause for concern. Andrew Bacevich is a professor of international relations at Boston University.