General Clark hung out a "Help Wanted - Staff Needed NOW!" sign today. The NY Times hates him, and the Smartest Democrat Ever (since Billary! - did you know he was a Rhodes scholar, too!) couldn't, having spent the summer reflecting, articulate his position on Iraq.
OK, maybe asking him about Federal education policy, or immigration, or welfare reform, might have been a bit much. But it simply should not have come as a surprise to him that reporters would ask about the most significant issue facing the country, and the issue on which the entire premise of his candidacy is based.
Anyway, the downward spiral continued with Andrew Sullivan's unkind recycling of a September 2002 Washington Monthly article by the Handsome (and SO Smart!) General. We will hand the hatchet to Andrew:
CLARK ON THE WAR: Reading this essay by Wesley Clark, I have to say I'm not reassured that he has what it takes to wage a war on terror. If he had been president, the war in Afghanistan would probably not have taken place, let alone the war against Saddam. His first instinct after the deadliest act of war against the American heartland in history was to help the United Nations set up an International Criminal Tribunal on International Terrorism.
...His insistence throughout the piece is on process, process, process. Everything is seen through the prism of NATO's Kosovo campaign, his one claim to military glory. Can you imagine having to get every special ops target in Afghanistan approved by 19 different countries...
...There's also no sense in Clark's essay about other agendas from our allies. It's all very well to achieve maximum international consensus on every international action. But what if you cannot get it? What if you cannot get the U.N. even to live up to its own resolutions, let alone American priorities?
I should note that Jack O'Toole (Irish day here? Every day is Irish Day!) and Ted Barlow take issue with Mr. Sullivan's presentation. Well, their posts are titled "Lies, damn lies and Andrew Sullivan" and "A Bodyguard of Lies", so I guess they disagree strongly. But I see updates reflecting a reader rebellion led by "Ogged", so perhaps their views are softening.
Well, call me a liar too, then. Representing Mr. Sullivan, we freely excerpt the following, where Gen. Clark begins his discussion of how he would have dealt with Afghanistan:
The Kosovo campaign suggests alternatives in waging and winning the struggle against terrorism: greater reliance on diplomacy and law and relatively less on the military alone. Soon after September 11, without surrendering our right of self defense, we should have helped the United Nations create an International Criminal Tribunal on International Terrorism."
And I degenerate to free verse:
"...forge a legal definition of terrorism... obtain the indictment of Osama bin Laden and the Taliban as war criminals charged with crimes against humanity.... greater legitimacy... won stronger support in the Islamic world... used the increased legitimacy... pressure on Saudi Arabia and other Arab states to cut off fully the moral, religious, intellectual, and financial support to terrorism.... used such legitimacy... strengthen the international coalition against Saddam Hussein.... encourage our European allies ...condemn more strongly the use of terror against Israel... bring peace to that region... Reliance on a compelling U.N. indictment... given us the edge in legitimacy throughout much of the Islamic world...
Oh, please. This "drown the Taliban in applesauce and pablum" approach does not reassure me as to the General's martial ardor.
Messrs. O'Toole and Barlow argue that, in fact, Gen Clark was prepared to go to war. In the entire article, we find two supporting quotes:
"Soon after September 11, without surrendering our right of self defense, we should have helped the United Nations create an International Criminal Tribunal on International Terrorism."
"Instead of cutting NATO out, we should have prosecuted the Afghan campaign with NATO, as we did in Kosovo."
Supporting the "He would have talked them to death, and then commenced boring their heirs" analysis offered by Mr. Sullivan is everything else in the article, including such howlers as:
" The United States concentrated its firepower on Taliban and al Qaeda troops, hideouts, and weapons stores--precisely the kinds of targets the Europeans were most likely to have approved."
NATO involvement would probably not have hastened our victory in Afghanistan.
"Most likely" our allies would have let us bomb al-Qaeda, but it probably would have slowed us down? Kidding?
What is missing from the entire article is any transition from talk to war. How long does the General suppose it will take to create an "International Criminal Tribunal on International Terrorism", return indictments, and negotiate with the Taliban? With winter approaching, time was not on our side in Afghanistan. Under what circumstances would he view negotiations as a failure, and what would happen next? War would be an alternative, but what about sanctions - perhaps the world community would prefer that route. We had sanctions on Iraq for twelve years - would that be too long a wait? Nowhere does the General offer a hint as to timetables, deadlines, or-elses, or what-ifs. The objective is the process, to paraphrase Mr. Sullivan.
So, is Mr. Sullivan lying? Clark's supporter's may insist, based on two phrases from the text, that the General would just naturally have gone to war (isn't that what Generals do?). How they know that his diplomatic initiatives would fail, or the timing under which Clark would view them as a failure, is a mystery to me.
MORE: Probably ought to call Slate liars, too. Their excerpt completely misses the bit cited by the two critics.
Now, this article was published in September 2002. Let me give an alternative approach to diplomacy, articulated slightly later in September 2002:
We should have gone to the U.N. Security Council. We should have asked for a resolution to allow the inspectors back in with no pre-conditions. And then we should have given them a deadline saying "If you don't do this, say, within 60 days, we will reserve our right as Americans to defend ourselves and we will go into Iraq."
That was Howard Dean, BTW, describing an approach to Iraq. Eventually Bush adopted the "Dean Approach", and asked the UN for a resolution with deadlines and consequences. The rest is history.