Monday, January 26, 2004

Wesley Clark on Iraq and Kosovo

Exclusive: Wesley Clark Faces Tough Questioning from Independent Press.

I have a lot of admiration for the achievements and personal qualities of Gen. Clark. I was terribly excited during the period earlier in the campaign when the rumors were flying that Dean was going to ask Clark to be his running mate. What a team! But as is often the case, the bloom of infatuation preceeds the discovery that your object of veneration has flaws like all the rest of us. General Clark's may not be unreasonably eggregious for most men, but they may be damaging for a Presidential candidate. Nor am I speaking a character generalizations that are, more often than not, simply exaggerrated and manipulated portrayals of everyday traits which make us all human. Nor do I give too much credence to the statements of any one man about the character of another. Who knows what may motivate someone to attack the character of a former associate? No, I firmly believe that the record of what a man has done is who he is, in ways that mere rhetoric cannot erase, and that no critic can dim. No person is perfectly consistent, we've all done things against our better judgement, and, heaven knows, we all make mistakes. Expecting any candidate to be perfect is absurdly naive, but not looking at and evaluating what a man's mistakes and inconsistencies say about him is equally naive.

I must say I have always been somewhat uncomfortable with the circumstances of Clark's discharge from command and his explanation for it. I can certainly believe that his discharge was politically motivated, but I would be interested to know what mistakes Clark made in the internal politics of the Defense Department to be treated so shabbily. Clark never evaluates this incident in terms of mistakes he may have made. He casts it as the unfounded, or possibly jealous, emnity of others. In my experience, even the most unreasoning hatred has a foundation in the perceptions of others; Clark may not have deserved the treatment he endured, but he almost certainly brought it about. The fact that he brought about him downfall and either lacks insight as to why, or feels his flaws so deeply that he hides them, says something about the man. And then, for him to be taken at such a tactical disadvantage that he had no chance to fight back when his tormentors tore from him the most important thing in his life, suggests that Clark has blind spots that could prove disasterous in the highest reaches of political life.

General Clark's record on the Iraq War has been ambiguous, at best, and, in my view, does not justify his more catagorical statements that he opposed the war from the start. The truth is much more subtle than that. It is refreshing to see General Clark now facing real critical media sources such as Democracy Now!, and I applaud him for it. A read, or a viewing, of this interview with Jeremy Scahill is a refreshingly clear portal into the General's recent, and more distant, past. The General's performance during the Yugoslav action has received relatively little press attention. There have been wild charges of recklessly provocative behavior toward the Russians, but I have seen no substance to such charges. This interview with Clark explores his record in Yugoslavia more carefully, and more responsibly. Given that the General bases his claim to the Presidency in large measure on his military career, it is important to evaluate the capstone of that record, his conduct of the war in Yugoslavia. That is, in part, what this interview does.

His appearances as a commentator during the pre-invasion and during the war, and his advice to others, have left many convinced that his views on the war were much closer to those of the Administration than he now claims. His repeated need to make subtle distinctions about his record on the war, his claim to be generally misunderstood as to his meanings, his undenied advice to Congressional candidate Loretta Swett to vote for 'the' resolution, and his warning to Tom Brokaw to 'be careful' about his questioning of Clark on the subject, have left plenty of room for doubt about Clark's candor about this. Even after lauching his Presidential bid, and having written a book about terrorism and the Middle East, the General seemed unsure about his position.

The New York Times, Sept. 19, 2003: "Gen. Wesley K. Clark said today that he would have supported the Congressional resolution that authorized the United States to invade Iraq. . . . 'At the time, I probably would have voted for it, but I think that's too simple a question,' General Clark said. A moment later, he said: 'I don't know if I would have or not. I've said it both ways because when you get into this, what happens is you have to put yourself in a position -- on balance, I probably would have voted for it.'"

Washington Post, Sept. 20, 2003: "Retired Army Gen. Wesley K. Clark reversed course yesterday on the issue of Iraq, saying that he would 'never have voted' for the congressional resolution authorizing President Bush to go to war, just a day after saying that he likely would have voted for it."

If Clark was for the war and changed his mind later, I think people can respect that. Many citizens supported the war in good faith, trusting the President to be honest and forthright about the security needs of our nation. I do not hold it agaist people that they were misled. Many of us only resisted belief because of our deep mistrust of this President. I rejoice every time I meet a citizen who once supported the war but has repudiated that position as it becomes ever more clear that the President's evidence was nothing more than carefully constructed lies and hyperbole. If Wesley Clark is one of those citizens, he should say so. The record certainly suggests that he was; why doesn't he admit having been misled like so may others? Perhaps he thinks his repute as a military insider, a far-sighted guardian of the public's safety would be damaged by any admission that he, too, was duped.

Ultimately, I think these contradictions would tear apart a Clark campaign against Bush. There are inumerable ways that Clark may have signaled his approval of the war unambiguously to his associatiates in the defense sector, media, and politics who are adherents of the Republican Party. Those private confidences and overheard comments are going to come crawling out of the woodwork like ticks on the scent of blood if the primary season ends with Wesley Clark as the nominee. An admission during that election that he was misled is much more damaging than if that admission came now. Now, Democratic voters would have to choice as to whether Clark's failure of insight, and lack of candor, is acceptable. If it comes out instead in the general election, Democratic voters will no longer have any choice - and voters without choice stay home.


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