October 19, 2003


Clark's war: The Democrats' new hopeful claims he can win wars -- and keep the peace -- more effectively than the Bush administration. Does the record of his controversial victory in Kosovo back him up? (Laura Secor, 10/19/2003, Boston Globe)

IN HIS NEW BOOK, "Winning Modern Wars," recently excerpted in The New York Review of Books, former NATO commander and current Democratic favorite Wesley K. Clark took the Bush administration to task for its performance in Iraq. It was, he wrote, "all too easy to concentrate on the fighting, killing the enemy and destroying his forces. But every serious student of war recognizes that war is about attaining political objectives -- that military force is just one among several means, including diplomacy, and that all must be mutually reinforcing."

Clark held up his own experience as an example of such work done right. After all, Clark was the general who won NATO's only war handily in 1999, working with allies to pry Kosovo away from Slobodan Milosevic's Serbia and turn it over to the United Nations, NATO-led peacekeepers, and grateful Kosovar Albanians.

Just last month, however, H. Hugh Shelton, former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, publicly impugned Clark's "integrity and character." The remark set reporters and commentators to wondering: Does Clark's record show the mix of idealism and forcefulness his admirers celebrate, or the reckless grandstanding his detractors decry?

Although Kosovo looks like an impressive victory in retrospect, the intervention was not especially popular at the time. Clark navigated an unwieldy NATO alliance and an ambivalent American military establishment. Throughout the bombing campaign against targets in Serbia and Kosovo, he regularly clashed with the Pentagon over resources, tactics, and the boundaries of his job. These conflicts would become the unspoken grounds for the Pentagon's decision to remove Clark from his post directly after the war. He won the war in Europe, and won the respect of civilian colleagues in government, but he lost his military position.

In an otherwise fine discussion of the tactics of the war and of bureaucratic in-fighting, there's a strange failure to consider the broader strategic question. If the United States and a few allies have been in a state of undeclared confrontation with Arab nationalism/Islamism for a period of decades now (since Israeli statehood? since Suez? since the embargo? since al Qaeda was formed? whenever), did it make any sense to attack our own frontlines in that conflict? Or were the Serbs merely ahead of us on the learning curve?

Posted by Orrin Judd at October 19, 2003 8:28 AM

I am glad that I am not the only one who hits the post button twice.

Posted by: Robert Schwartz at October 19, 2003 2:49 PM

The Serbs would have proceeded with their slaughter regardless of anything else.

Hard to see how that has anything to do with a learning curve.

Posted by: Jeff Guinn at October 20, 2003 11:46 AM

This is a false dichotomy. Albanian, Kosovar, and Bosnian Muslims were not hijacking planes, kidnapping Americans, or blowing up Marine barracks.

These are precisely "our" type of Muslims. They are not Arabs, but Europeans. And they are trying to build on western democratic tradition, not Islamism.

One wonders why the President hasn't done more in highlighting our accomplishments there and their support of us as a propaganda coup in the war.

Let's keep the war focused on those who have attacked us in the past 20 years.

Posted by: Chris Durnell at October 20, 2003 2:22 PM

They killed Serbs, didn't they?

Posted by: oj at October 20, 2003 2:28 PM

Even in war, Americans are unsettled by genocide and mass rape, which was what the Serbs were accused of. If the Kosovars had simply been "re-settled", with minimal brutality and loss of life, would NATO have become involved ?

Minimal being some, for, as oj points out, there was a low-level insurgency campaign going on.

Posted by: Michael Herdegen at October 21, 2003 1:54 AM