September 18, 2003

GENERALITIES (via Kevin Whited):

Force Multiplier: Wesley Clark is not Haig and not Eisenhower. And some Democrats are hoping he won't be Cuomo (Joshua Green, October 2003, The Atlantic Monthly)

Clark believes that working with allies is more than a diplomatic necessity -- it makes a military power stronger; he calls an alliance a "force multiplier." Even though other candidates take similar positions, Clark can explain his in commonsense terms that elude them, and with the authority of someone who won a war. He is likely to find an increasingly receptive audience if the news from Iraq gets worse.

"I would have first aligned the United Nations and NATO against al-Qaeda," he told me in December. "Then, when it comes time to work against Iraq or Iran or North Korea, you've got a strong, committed group of allies." The order of threat, he believed, was al-Qaeda, North Korea, and Iran—and then Iraq. Clark did not oppose intervening in Iraq; he simply thought the Bush Administration's military decision was premature, and reckless in its unilateralism. [...]

Clark exhibits another characteristic common to white-knight outsiders: difficulty making up his mind about whether to run. For all Clark's appeal, the recent record of generals who have run for office is not encouraging. "The most difficult part of the transition from military to public life is going from a system where you basically give and receive orders to one where you're constantly asking -- asking for money, votes, and support," says the Democratic senator Jack Reed, of Rhode Island, a West Point graduate and a former Army captain. This difficulty was exemplified by General Alexander Haig, a former NATO commander himself, who sought the Republican nomination in 1988. Early one morning Haig stationed himself outside a factory in New Hampshire to shake hands with arriving workers. When one rebuffed his advance, Haig, stung by the indignity, turned to the assembled media and snapped, "Every once in a while you meet an a**hole." Soon afterward he withdrew from the race.

Clark is no Al Haig, but during our time together I began to suspect that he might have difficulty switching from general to candidate. When discussing whether he would run, he spoke often of "seeing if people want me"; he seemed to have in mind the candidacy of another former general and NATO commander, Dwight Eisenhower, whom the Republicans drafted in 1951. Although Clark has fans in the Democratic establishment, he has nothing like Eisenhower's stature in his party, and there is no chance that a similar draft movement will arise from the Democratic leadership. His hope that there might be one hints at a certain lack of political acuity, which could become evident if he runs. Though he is a talented, even inspirational, speaker on issues dear to him, Clark's manner when he's probed about subjects he'd rather not discuss is very much like that of a general at a military briefing—he's curt, sure of himself, and not overly concerned about the impression he leaves.

Clark is particularly thin-skinned, still bridling at slights from Republicans and fellow military officers during the Clinton Administration. A polarizing figure in the military who often drew the ire of the brass, Clark was forced to retire early when Secretary of Defense William Cohen and members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff organized a coup to replace him. One night, over drinks in a Capitol Hill bar, he told me that he believed himself to be "the most maligned general since William Westmoreland." Perhaps imagining the criticism he would have to endure as a candidate, many of Clark's admiring friends with whom I spoke confessed in protective tones that they hoped he wouldn't run.

Never mind that he doesn't seem to have many opinions on domestic affairs, let us grant his his "order of threat"--al Qaeda, North Korea, Iran, Iraq--the last is no longer a threat thanks to unilateral military action. How does he propose to deal with the three more dire threats? Would he send troops into the Pakistan/Afghanistan border region? Would he change regimes in North Korea? Would he take out Iran's nuclear facilities before they have weapons?

Posted by Orrin Judd at September 18, 2003 9:06 PM

"I would have first aligned the United Nations and NATO against al-Qaeda," he told me in December. "Then, when it comes time to work against Iraq or Iran or North Korea, you've got a strong, committed group of allies."

And he is supposedly an expert in international relations?

Posted by: Peter B at September 18, 2003 9:33 PM

So, of course, even a "dire threat" should be ignored if you can't get allies.

Posted by: John Thacker at September 18, 2003 9:44 PM

The most maligned general since Westmoreland? Did the desire to please Bill & Hillary screw up the officer corps this much? On grounds of self-pity alone, he should be laughed off the stage.

Posted by: jim hamlen at September 18, 2003 9:51 PM

There are two kinds of rabid Democrats against Bush out there -- the ones who seek to regain the presidency simply for the power and perks it provides, and those who actually want to do social engineering with it once they gain the job.

Clinton falls into the former category -- sure, there were a couple of things he might have wanted to do when he took office in 1993, but when push came to shove after the GOP congressional takeover in 1995, he went with Dick Morris' triangulation strategy and bent whatever supposed core Democratic ideals he had (outside of abortion) to assure himself of another four years in office.

Clark's part of that wing of the party, and the problem he's going to have in the near future is those in the "Dean wing" -- or as Howie's called it "The Democratic wing of the Democratic Party" (including people even further left backing Kucinich) actually want to gain the office to implement their ideology. Those people at times were willing to give Bill a pass, and might do the same for Hillary if she entered the race, because they know how irate both Clintons make Republicans (and they probably believe Hillary's secretly one of them anyway). But they won't accept a triangulation strategy from Clark and will treat him with the same disdain they treat Lieberman once he's forced to make all his domestic and foreign policy positions known.

Posted by: John at September 18, 2003 11:57 PM

Bombing Iran shouldn't be necessary. There's already widespread discontent, and the mullahs have proven to be nowhere near as oppressive as Saddam was.
Thus, a few hundred million dollars in covert support should take care of the situation, with maybe some covert US military operations needed.

Posted by: Michael Herdegen at September 19, 2003 5:17 AM

I would call attention to an interesting phrase the last sentence of the first paragraph, about "if the news from Iraq gets worse." We now know that this is not the same as "if the situation in Iraq gets worse."

Posted by: Bob M at September 19, 2003 8:23 AM

This tiresome talk about “First, I would have gotten the posse together, THE N I would have gone in” is pathetically blind to the realities, then and now, of planet earth today. But it does portray a fundamental element of thinking on the left that is ceaselessly infuriating. Namely, that any event that should transpire on our lovely world happens because the US Formerly, because the ‘West’) did or did not do something it should or should not have done. Period. There are no other players. There are no other agendas. All other humans and nations are basically breathing meat that, like billiard balls on green felt, simply lie idle until the big bad United Cue of America comes along and makes them go somewhere.

Much of the world seems to be saying “stop treating us like children”. I am inclined to agree. Grownups have responsibilities. Get to it.

Posted by: Andrew X at September 19, 2003 10:06 AM

"... organized a coup to replace him."

What a load of nonsense. A Clark replacing the SecDef would be a coup.

The SecDef replacing Clark is civilian control of the military.

Posted by: Jeff Guinn at September 20, 2003 6:25 AM

Don't worry too much about Clark. He may be electable, but he cannot be nominated. Left-wing Hoplophobia is too profound. One has to have been both a veteran and a member of the learned professions to understand this. Every military man is a living reproach to those who have actively evaded service. You may have never given any indication that the evaders are slackers or cowards, but they know who they are and they know what they have done.

Posted by: Lou Gots at September 21, 2003 3:32 PM