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January 16, 2004


The Kid

Was it Harry Belafonte who sang “It’s as clear as mud, but it covers the ground”?

Roger Simon reproduces the text of Clark’s letter printed in the 4/10/2003 edition of the Times/UK. You’ll find it here. It seems like it was written by a supporter of the war despite various interpretations found in the comments.

Is there a way out? I suggest that Clark simply confess to being on a bender during the past three years or so, continually soused from the day he retired to the day last fall that Bill Clinton saved him from himself, dried him out, and urged him to give something back to our great country. It was at that moment that Clark knew that the only way he could regain his self-respect – heal himself and the nation – was to run for president. I think that the everyday Democrats, even the caucus animals, would accept this: they’d accept a habitual drunk over a Republican any day of the week. Evidence? The senior senator from a New England state…


Read the whole context of Clark's HASC testimony, and the letter posted by Roger L. Simon, and even other things written/said by Clark prior to and immediately after the war, and it's not the slightest bit exaggerated to say he shared most of the basic analysis presented by the administration and others to support an aggressive approach to solving the Iraq problem.

The defenders doth defend way, way, way too much. Acting like a jury sifting evidence, if we look at Clark's pre-war positions and his April letter to the Brit paper, there's some evolution, but nothing jarring or odd -- and the tone's all basically positive (one might even use the idiotic and empty word favored by the lightweights since March 1991 -- "triumphalist").

When we get to the summer/fall, however, Clark's tone and substance take a wrenching turn -- one as a jury we notice doesn't appear to have much to do with real-world developments apart from his political plans. If -- in the favorite unsubstantiated formulation of the "serious" critics, the war was a "strategic distraction," it obviously was on March 18 as much as it was on July 18 or September 18. If Saddam's Iraq was "contained and deterred" as viewed from September, surely it also was in March 2003.

So I don't see how Clark's views on the war can be accurately described as either strongly skeptical pre-war or having evolved to negative based on actual developments during/after the war. Pretending, as Clark's defenders implicitly must, that this is the case, is perfectly fine partisan politics or tribalism, but it's not serious analysis.

The attackers probably attack a bit too much, too, as is to be expected from partisan sources.

For some non-partisans, views of Clark stem from a much earlier period. Clark is routinely savaged -- mostly by GOP-leaning critics -- as having "character" issues (being relieved of NATO command early) or "judgement" issues (the Pristina airport incident with the Russians). I typically don't put much stock in personality clashes I can't evaluate directly, so I'm not too troubled by the NATO command thing. I also think the Pristina airport incident (the UK officer famously declaring he wasn't going to "start WWIII" for Clark) is way over-blown.

Having said this, I think the overall Kosovo experience DOES (at least it did for me, approx. 4 years prior to Clark's political careeer) raise and largely answer devastatingly serious questions about the man's understanding of war and politics. Nearly 25 years after the last American soldier choppered out of Saigon, Clark oversaw a campaign straight out of McNamara's Pentagon and Bundy's NSC -- limited force, reliance on coercion rather than compulsion in a war situation, a lack of fall-back alternatives.

Owing to Serbia's nugatory resources and options, and a still-mysterious Russian cave-in at a Bonn meeting, the flaws of that campaign as devised by Clark did not reach full flower. But for me it was a worrisome confirmation that Clark shared the same basic incomprehension of how to wage either diplomacy or war as his then-political bosses -- many of whom are either already associated with his campaign or likely to figure prominently in his administration.

And the best defenses to these criticisms -- that Clark was constrained by the NATO mechanism and its pathologies, and by the lack of realism by his political bosses -- simply confirm that he lacked the skill, force, or even integrity to correct the problems, assuming (contrary to the evidence) that he saw them as problems. If his book had indulged in some self-interested whining on these points, at least I'd know he understood how naive and unsound the Kosovo enterprise was.

Clark, through his pre-war statements, showed he could understand and agree with practical and realistic approaches to very difficult and vital challenges. His Kosovo performance, however, doesn't provide much evidence that his true instincts are so reliable.

Julia Grey

RE: Clark's testimony before Congress, I'll just offer one piece of information that you might find interesting.

Clark was called to testify on the same day, and as an expert alternative to the views of Richard Perle himself. This is how Perle characterized Clark's position that day, a statement found in the very same transcript to which Gillespie referred:

PERLE: So I think General Clark simply doesn't want to see us use military force and he has thrown out as many reasons as he can develop to that but the bottom line is he just doesn't want to take action. He wants to wait.

A later speculative, statement that one "probably" would have voted for A resolution authorizing the use of force under certain circumstances (for example, the Biden-Lugar alternative favored by Dean) -- and for the purpose of providing backup or leverage in an approach to the UN -- is quite different from "voting for the war."

Let's not pretend that Gillespie wasn't trying to say that Clark's testimony was in favor of the war that Bush waged. That was the intent of Gillespie's whole exercise: to undermine Clark with those Dems who are anti-war. The hyperventilating bit about Clark calling for an investigation when he "knows" why the war was waged was just the lagniappe.

Misleading, indeed.

Cecil Turner

The intent of the exercise looked more like a claim the General was incoherent. "On balance his position does not seem clear at all."

And that charge is "dead-on balls accurate" (it's an industry term).


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