September 29, 2003

Is Wesley Clark the One?

Rolling Stone Interview with Wesley Clark (D-NATO):
"We made a historic strategic blunder. We attacked a state rather than going after a terrorist. Iraq had no connection to the war on terror. Of all the states in the Middle East to give chemical, biological or nuclear weapons to terrorists, least likely was Iraq. Saddam's a control artist. He wouldn't have given bioweapons to Osama bin Laden unless Osama's mother, four wives and fifteen children were in one of his prisons so he could rip their hearts out if Osama screwed up."

Is Wesley Clark the One?

The Rolling Stone Interview

By Will Dana

On September 11th, with flags all across New York
flying at half-staff, Gen. Wesley Clark paid a visit
to the Rolling Stone offices. Though he had not yet
declared his intention to seek the Democratic Party's
presidential nomination -- that would come six days
later in Little Rock, Arkansas -- Clark nonetheless
presented himself as a man primed to take on George W.
Bush next year. For nearly two hours he fielded
questions from the RS editorial board in the
magazine's conference room, presenting himself as a
former soldier who, following the painful dictates of
his conscience, was impelled to break rank with the
president, the commander in chief of the armed forces
in which he'd served for thirty-four years.
Clark, fit and handsome at fifty-eight, could be
George Bush's worst nightmare -- he's tough on
national security, in touch with the broad swath of
the electorate that supports abortion rights, gun
control, environmental protection and a
middle-class-oriented tax policy.

No stranger to tough campaigns, Clark was severely
wounded in Vietnam and spent months afterward teaching
himself to walk without a limp. He played a key role
in negotiating the Dayton Accords, which brought peace
to the Balkans. When Yugoslav President Slobodan
Milosevic threatened to wipe out 1.5 million Albanians
in Kosovo, Clark -- serving as supreme allied
commander -- led NATO forces to victory. In the past
year, the retired four-star general has also emerged
as one of the most vocal and articulate opponents of
the war in Iraq.

What follows is a transcript of his remarks. It's too
early to say whether Clark has got the organization
and the stamina to win his party's nomination, but one
thing was clear from our time with the General -- he
has the makings of a formidable candidate.

Why have you criticized the president for the war in

It was a tough decision to become involved in partisan
politics. I went to West Point when I was seventeen
years old. I believed in this country. I served in the
White House under Gerald Ford. To come out and oppose
the commander in chief has been enormously painful.
But after September 11th, I watched as the
administration's policy diverged step by step from
where it should have been. I went to the Pentagon nine
days after the attacks and called on a man with three
stars who used to work for me. He said, "Sir, I have
to ask you, have you heard the joke going through the
halls?" I said, "No, what is it?" He said, "It goes
like this: If Saddam Hussein didn't do 9/11, too bad.
He should have, 'cause we're going to get him anyway."
He looked at me, and I looked at him, and we both knew
that it would be a classic mistake if we did that.

I was relieved when we attacked Afghanistan, but I
went back to the Pentagon as that war was going on,
and this same guy said to me, "Oh, yes, sir, not only
is it Afghanistan. There's a list of countries. We're
not that good at fighting terrorists, so we're going
after states: Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Libya, Somalia and
Iran. There's a five-year plan." From that moment on,
I couldn't believe anymore that I was just a retired
general of the United States Army. I saw something
wrong, but I couldn't get anyone to listen, so I
started to speak out last September in a vocal way.

Why was going into Iraq a mistake?

We made a historic strategic blunder. We attacked a
state rather than going after a terrorist. Iraq had no
connection to the war on terror. Of all the states in
the Middle East to give chemical, biological or
nuclear weapons to terrorists, least likely was Iraq.
Saddam's a control artist. He wouldn't have given
bioweapons to Osama bin Laden unless Osama's mother,
four wives and fifteen children were in one of his
prisons so he could rip their hearts out if Osama
screwed up. But we didn't want to face the tough task
of going after bin Laden, so we did a bait-and-switch
and went after Saddam instead. And now, look at the
headline on today's New York Times: bin Laden seen
with aide on tape. We're less secure now than we were
before. Spending $80 billion and putting half the U.S.
Army in Iraq has provided a supercharger to Al Qaeda

We helped bin Laden. The only thing we could have done
that would have helped him more is if we had invaded
Saudi Arabia and captured Mecca. We've also squandered
the support that brought 200,000 Germans out after
9/11 two years ago. They're not coming back out again
-- not for this administration. You won't get any
support out of the Germans and the French until you
get a regime change in Washington.

When you were in the Army, you had a lot of contact
with various White House staffs. Did you ever have any
dealings with some of the people who now serve in the
Bush administration?

When I was a thirty-year-old Army major, I was sent to
Washington, where they put me in the Ford White House.
This was 1974. Nixon had just resigned. They said,
"How would you like to be staff secretary to this
executive committee -- it'll have Henry Kissinger,"
who was then secretary of state; James Schlesinger,
the secretary of defense; the director of the CIA and
the counsel to the president. Well, for someone who'd
just come to Washington, you can imagine how I felt.
Pretty impressive, right? What I discovered was that
the White House was full of paranoia and suspicion --
a real Watergate mentality. I'd bring something up,
and they'd say, "Wes, if you ask a question like that,
you can't work here." The reason the White House was
that way was not only because of Watergate but because
of the two guys in charge: Donald Rumsfeld, who was
Gerald Ford's chief of staff, and Dick Cheney, who was
his assistant.

Today you've got the same people in there running
things, trying to close down access to government.
Rumsfeld and Cheney are patriotic men, and I know they
are doing the best they can. It's just that I disagree
with them. I don't believe that government is made
better by secrecy and restraint. It's made better by
transparency, by being open and honest. If you're
right, you're right. If not, you take your licks.

You call the war in Iraq unjustified. So why was the
campaign you led in Kosovo justified?

Kosovo was OK because Yugoslav President Slobodan
Milosevic was engaged in ethnic cleansing that was
destabilizing the entire region. By intervening, NATO
could stop the killing. We tried every means to
resolve it, and we ended up using force only as a last
resort. But there was no imminent threat in Iraq. If
Saddam Hussein did all these bad things, we should
have indicted him for war crimes, held an
international tribunal and ordered him to surrender.
That's what we did with Milosevic. In Iraq, we just
invaded a country ten years after the crimes happened,
in violation of international law, without charging
him with anything. It just doesn't work that way.

Unlike Iraq, the war in Kosovo involved all of NATO,
working in a combined operation. What are the
challenges of working with other forces during war?

It's difficult, and it's never going to be as
efficient as working with only your own people. Just
like when the U.S. Army calls for the Air Force to
come help it, it would be more efficient if the Army
owned those planes ourselves and if they were flown by
Army officers. The guys from the Air Force come from a
different cultural background and speak in a different
way. But there's a reason the Army doesn't own those
aircraft -- you get a higher-quality air force that's
professionally trained. The same is true for combined
operations with other nations: You gain political
legitimacy, and other countries share the burden. You
may pay a price in military efficiency, but you get
operational and strategic effectiveness.

What would you do in Iraq now that we're there?

What we're going to have to do is change the regional
dynamic. I know this is hard for some people to
understand, but if you threaten people, you make them
mad. And if you make them mad, then they want to fight
you. That's the way the world works. If what we want
is to persuade countries in that region that the
democratization of Iraq is not a threat, we should not
be out there saying, "Your day will come!" What do you
expect them to do?

I found out in the military that we weren't the only
ones who had robust men with too much testosterone. We
weren't the only ones who had smart guys. We weren't
the only army who could speak of duty, sacrifice and
courage. I also found out that if you want a fight,
you're gonna fight -- in a bar in Colorado, or in the
Middle East. Of course, that makes some people in the
administration happy.

How do you grade the Bush administration's attempt to
forge peace between Israel and the Palestinians?

Right now we've got the worst possible regional
dynamic, and we've got to change it. You cannot make
peace between the Israelis and Palestinians. I don't
care if the president of the United States sits there
in Gaza and forces the two sides to talk -- they
can't. The question of conflict is coming from
outside. You've got to get people in the Middle East
to say they don't want war. But unfortunately, we seem
to want it.

How about the question of Israel. Do you think Ariel
Sharon needs to be hemmed in?

Israel has a unique problem. It is beset by nations
that want to destroy it. Any nation that is under
attack has the right to self-defense. And the right to
self-defense is the right to strike pre-emptively to
disrupt the threat. Therefore I totally support
Israel's effort to go after these terrorists before
they can strike Israel. Israel must be willing to
participate in negotiations. But if it's going to ever
have its chance at the negotiating table, Israel also
has to show [its survival doesn't depend on making a
deal]. So, the process of building the fence
[separating the occupied territories from the rest of
the country] is very important. It says to the Arab
world, the clock is ticking, we're not prepared to
make unlimited concessions, we have our principles and
we will fight for them.

But that doesn't mean the U.S. should behave and
strike the way Israel does. Two entirely different
things. We can make Israel safer by not doing that. We
need to bring a council together like we did for the
Balkans: Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Syria and Iran.
And instead of telling them we're going to nuke them,
we've got to give them an incentive to want to
participate in preventing conflict in the Middle East.
The process has to be driven by optimism and hope, not
fear. We will be there for Israel, and they will
survive and be a great nation.

What about the Palestinians?

The Palestinians have always been used by the Arabs as
a weapon against Israel. The Palestinians are the most
educated, most Westernized, most enterprising, least
tribal of all the Middle Eastern groups. They were a
force for the modernization and economic development
in Middle Eastern countries. They were a source of
instability and insecurity for the ruling elite. So
they were pushed back and not given the rights of
citizenship, not given the opportunity to be
assimilated. All that's gotta be unwound. They're
human beings like everyone else, and they've gotta be
given a chance.

You recently announced that you are a Democrat. Was
that a hard choice?

I was worried about whether I could be a Democrat. A
lot of my friends were Democrats, and it follows that
I should be. This is the party that best reflects how
I feel about the issues, that best captures my
aspirations for mankind. But when you're a military
guy, you have to understand that there's always been
members of the Democratic Party who don't like the

Are you prepared for the toll that a campaign will
take on your personal life?

Last month, my wife and I rented a car and drove up
the coast of California to a place where cell phones
don't work. It was pretty nice. She said, "Don't you
understand that if you run and get elected, you'll
never have that again?"

I'm not an Eisenhower. I'm not publicly acclaimed.
When I walk down the street, people aren't stopping in
cabs and throwing open the doors and cheering. I'm
normal, like anybody else. Well, all of a sudden there
was this draft movement -- 30,000 people out there
demanding that I forget about myself and think about
my country. You know, I had the job Eisenhower set up
as the first supreme allied commander of NATO. I had
70,000 Americans under my command and eighty-nine
countries to worry about, from the Netherlands to
South Africa. When I went for a walk, I had
thirty-five bodyguards jumping around in trees behind
me to protect me. I was under threat from Al Qaeda and
the Serbs. In other words, it was a big government
job. My wife said, "Why do you want another one? Is
there something about you that likes to be

Let's talk about issues beyond the war. What's your
position on the environment?

People are going to look back in 100 years and ask,
"What did you leave behind in this country?" We will
leave two legacies. The first is the Constitution,
which implements the will of the majority while
protecting the minority. The second is the
environment. And if you want to protect it, you've got
to start now. Unfortunately, this administration has
rolled back the legacy we will leave for our children
and our grandchildren. I believe in clean air. They
believe in letting power plants modernize without
pollution controls. I believe in clean water and
preserving wetlands. They believe "shit happens." I
don't believe in opening up old-growth forests for
logging in the name of fire prevention. How would you
decrease our reliance on oil imported from the Middle

The easy, conventional way is to raise the price of
gasoline. But I don't want that. That's a regressive
tax -- the people who pay it the most are the people
who can afford it the least. There's people in my part
of the country, in Arkansas, who are traveling sixty
miles a day for a minimum-wage job. If you raise the
price of gas to three dollars a gallon, they can't pay
that. They're trying to save everything they can right
now. The president talks a lot about hydrogen being
the fuel of the future, but where are you going to get
your hydrogen from? You're probably going to get it
out of natural gas -- and a lot of that natural gas is
going to come from the Middle East. So I'd raise
average-mileage performance on automobiles. That's
something we can do right now that will decrease our
oil dependence - but it's something the administration
has dragged its feet on.

What about global warming?

If you want to deal with that issue, you've got to
start now. We should never have pulled out of the
Kyoto Accords. Instead, we should have worked to make
them better. We're the biggest polluter in the world
right now, but there's a huge brown cloud over China
that gets bigger every year. So we have to set an
example and work together on global warming. The most
important thing is to change our mind-set.

What do you think of the administration's tax cuts?

They're tax cuts for the wealthy, sprinkled with a few
cuts for the working class to make it seem like they
got something. A small cut of a few hundred dollars is
always welcome, but it's a far cry from what they
should get. The way the tax cuts were structured was
an inefficient way to stimulate demand in the economy.
When you give the money to higher-income people, they
don't necessarily spend it all, so you don't get the
full dollar-for-dollar boost to demand. What you get
is a big hole in the budget. Those cuts have taken us
from a ten-year surplus to a ten-year deficit. We're
borrowing money from our children to give tax cuts to
wealthy people today.

You are someone who has spent almost all of his adult
life in the military. The culture of the Army is
obviously quite different from civilian culture. How
will you translate military values into the civilian

You have to get people working. In the Army there are
two kinds of recruits. You get the A-minus or B-plus
student from a rural high school in the South who
comes from a pretty good family background but who
doesn't have enough money to go to college. Or you get
the C student from the South who kicks around for a
while looking for a job and meets a nice girl. He
wants to get married, but he realizes, "Hey, I could
work at 7-Eleven or Kmart, but I won't have health
insurance, I won't have the ability to really take
care of my family, I won't have a future ahead of me."
He just staggers into an Army recruiting office, and a
good sergeant puts a hammerlock on him and says, "Son,
let me tell you how well we can treat you in the
United States Army." You have to take those two groups
of people and you have to bring them along, because
everybody who's going to be a sergeant-major starts
out as a private. Everybody who's going to be a
general starts out as a lieutenant. And the only way
to do it is by developing individual potential. So my
wife and I spent our entire thirty-three years of
marriage in the U.S. Army helping soldiers and young
officers with families. We worked on improving
schools, housing, health care, transportation, post
safety, what brands were carried in the commissary,
where you get flowers -- we ran the whole gamut, and
we really believed in that. When I came out, though, I
discovered that many people in this country don't
quite get it. In this country, for some reason, we
don't help every American be all they can be. We're
leaving people behind.

The president is urging Congress to grant him wider
powers to wage war on terrorism at home.

Come on, give us a break. The Patriot Act, all 1,200
pages of it, was passed without any serious
congressional discussion. There was no public
accountability, and now he wants more? What does he
think this country is? We shouldn't do anything with
the Patriot Act until it's unwrapped. I'd like to see
what violations of privacy it entails, and whether
those violations are in any way justified by their
preventing terrorism in this country. And we need to
do it now before we take another step forward and pay
for that.

Is it disloyal for a retired general to criticize the
president during a time of war?

Look, I'm not going to let Tom DeLay or Dick Cheney or
those guys who've never served in uniform take away
from the right of men and women who served honorably
in this country's armed forces to criticize policy. If
soldiers' lives are at stake, the time to criticize
the policy is now, not when it's over. I think the
height of patriotism is to speak out. Even in wartime
in a democracy, you need a democracy. You need people
with the courage to stand up and voice their
opposition without being labeled unpatriotic. I've
always thought that the height of loyalty is to ask
questions and help sort things out.

(RS 933, October 16, 2003)

Correction: In an earlier version of this story,
Rolling Stone stated that General Wesley Clark lead a
batallion of Army Rangers into battle in Grenada in
October 1983. This statement is inaccurate. Clark did
not participate in the invasion of Grenada.

Posted by richard at September 29, 2003 10:28 AM