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Clark embodies just about everything the right wing hates, and he will no doubt become another ingredient in the president's re-election strategy to fire up the conservative base. Clark is despised by various elements in the military as a grandstander. His battle tactics in Kosovo are questioned by numerous critics on both the right and left: he kept American casualties low by raining bombs from 30,000 feet on civilian targets.
Clinton denies it, but just about everybody thinks he and Hillary are behind Clark's sudden appearance on the political stage. The former president's old campaign staff and aides are pretty much running Clark's operation. But Slick Willy always hedges his bets. Clark might have been the former president's commander in Kosovo, but Clinton has been accused of forcing the general into retirement. You can be sure that if Clark stumbles, Clinton will drop him like a hot potato.
Defense Secretary William Cohen connived to block the General from attending NATO's 50th anniversary meeting in Washington. Now General Henry H. Shelton, former chairman of the Joint Chiefs, is also questioning Clark. He said recently, "I've known Wes for a long time. I will tell you the reason he came out of Europe early had to do with integrity and character issues, things that are very near and dear to my heart. I'm not going to say whether I'm a Republican or a Democrat. I'll just say Wes won't get my vote."
Having the military against you can be unpleasant. In 2000, John McCain's campaign was partly gutted by whispers from the military that he had a screw loose. In New Hampshire he was accused of misrepresenting his time spent as a prisoner of war in Vietnam. These were little more than nasty rumors, but during the primary McCain had to recruit former POWs who had been imprisoned with him to rebut the smears.
On Monday, Clark proposed a 5,000-person civilian reserve, which could be called up for emergencies both here and abroad. The reserve would be open to anyone over the age of 18, and could be mustered at the command of president and the Congress to handle crises like forest fires, earthquakes, and nation-building in places such as Afghanistan and Iraq.
This proposal has already been criticized as a redundancy, since Clinton's AmeriCorps and Bush's USA Freedom Corps have already spent large sums in efforts to boost volunteerism.
Clark's corps would meet another need, though it's unclear if this is the former general's intention. The U.S. military is severely strained by the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Bush and Rumsfeld mock the UN, which means, among other things, we will have to shoulder the burden of running international peacekeeping projects when it is in our interest to do so.
This new corps, which would be run directly by the federal government, might help take the strain off the National Guard, but in doing so it would probably plunge the federal government into direct management of disasters at the local level. That is of questionable constitutional legitimacy, since disasters and ordinary operations of the Guard are supposed to be in the hands of state governors, not Washington.
Research: Ashley Glacel