Clark's Changing Tune on Iraq

General Wobbled and Weaved as His Candidacy Neared

CNN, January 21, 2003: Anchor Leon Harris says to Clark that it has been "widely talked about that you want to be president" and asks him to pretend he is president for the purpose of discussion.

Harris: "You're being ambushed in the UN Security Council. Support there is waning. . . . What is the next step? What do you do now?"


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Clark: "Well, Leon, if I had been in that position [the presidency], I probably wouldn't have made the moves that got us to this point. But just assuming that we're here at this point, then I think that the president is going to have to move ahead, despite the fact that the allies have reservations."

Harris: "You mean move ahead unilaterally?"

Clark: "With whatever coalition we can establish."

London Times, April 10, Clark article after the fall of Baghdad: Can anything be more moving than the joyous throngs swarming the streets of Baghdad? Memories of the fall of the Berlin Wall, and the defeat of Milosevic in Belgrade flood back. . . . Liberation is at hand. Liberation—the powerful balm that justifies painful sacrifice, erases lingering doubt and reinforces bold actions. . . . Surely the balm of military success will impact on the diplomacy to come—effective power so clearly displayed always shocks and stuns. Many Gulf States will hustle to praise their liberation from a sense of insecurity they were previously loath even to express. Egypt and Saudi Arabia will move slightly but perceptibly towards Western standards of human rights. . . . But remember, this was all about weapons of mass destruction. They haven't yet been found. It was to continue the struggle against terror, bring democracy to Iraq, and create change, positive change, in the Middle East. And none of that is begun, much less completed."

London Times, April 11, Clark column about the modern advances in weaponry and training: "The campaign in Iraq illustrates the continuing progress of military technology and tactics, but if there is a single overriding lesson it must be this: American military power, especially when buttressed by Britain's, is virtually unchallengeable today. Take us on? Don't try! And that's not hubris, it's just plain fact."

CNN, July 16, Clark talks with Paula Zahn:

Zahn: "You are considering a run for president. If you were president tonight, what would you be doing differently that would make these U.S. troops feel any more secure in this very dangerous environment?"

Clark: " . . . Paula, we have got to recognize the truth about this mission. We're in there without the kind of legitimacy we need. We need top cover. We need top cover from the UN. And we need to get other international-based forces in with us to help carry the burden that we're shouldering almost alone in Iraq."

Zahn: " . . . how much of what you shared with us tonight is colored by the fact that you could be running for president of the United States down the road?"

Clark: "Well, actually, I'll be very honest with you. None if it is colored by that. . . . From the beginning, I have had my doubts about this mission, Paula. . . . I never could connect the dots between the fact that Saddam Hussein was a bad guy and had aspirations for weapons of mass destruction with the urgency of putting U.S. troops in there in that mission. There was a hunger in some quarters to go after this fight. It was as though using force was a reward in itself, that by putting our forces in there and showing our power, we would somehow solve our problems in the international environment. And I think the opposite is the truth. I think you should use force only as a last resort."

I will cite only one of the puzzles that struck me in all this verbiage. If Clark had major reservations "from the beginning" about putting troops in Iraq, what are we to make of his praise for Bush and Blair on April 10 for their "resolve" in sticking to their guns?

We know the general is a very bright man; even his critics volunteer that. But there's no getting around that he's been all over the lot on the critical issue of this war. The friendliest interpretation one can give to his performance is that he has been doing his thinking out loud, in public, on television—when he should be sequestering himself until his vision on any particular subject is well formed and he is comfortable with it.

One hopes he pulls his act together so we can get a valid feel for him. In the past, military figures have become some of this country's best-remembered wise men, starting with George Washington. People my age remember Dwight Eisenhower, George Marshall, and Omar Bradley. Men who have sent other men into battle and written letters to the families of the fallen are often less likely than macho but battle-innocent civilian leaders to be careless or superficial in weighing decisions about war. They've already seen enough suffering and spilled blood.

There's no way of telling at this point whether Wesley Clark might have the stuff to be one of those infrequent wise men. We may never find out. Modern political campaigns are about television and stagecraft, with both having the power to cloud voters' minds.

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