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Gen. Wesley Clark: A Call to Arms

Saturday, 23 August 2003 12:00 AM

In an exclusive interview with NewsMax.com, he acknowledges the attention is flattering and that he believes he has valuable experience to offer the nation in its war on terror.

The movement to draft him for one more assignment, the nation’s biggest, is “stunning,” he says.

The details, however, aren’t so riveting.

When NewsMax asks if he has even decided on a venue for the announcement, he says only, “I haven’t worked out anything.”

The West Pointer, top of the Class of 1967, is fresh back from a business meeting in Guadalajara, Mexico and having his shoes shined at Dallas International when NewsMax catches up with the retired four-star, who has so captured the imagination and support of a nationwide Draft Wesley Clark campaign.

The campaign, which lives and thrives on the Internet and in informal “meet-ups” of supporters, has been sorely frustrated by their hero’s reticence thus far.

“I know they'll be an explosion of support here if (when) the General does declare,” says one ardent supporter in a Yahoo group. “But until then, I'm wracking my brain trying to convince people that he's seriously considering it. It's ‘call me when he's running’ that I keep coming across.”

Clark says that when the magical moment comes for the thumbs-up or down on a run, he will give his supporters “appropriate recognition.”

When informed that much of the chatter in the draft-Clark Internet forums is about his lack of broad name recognition, Clark says, “I don’t do polling.”

He adds that an issue such as name recognition would not be “an inherent, intrinsic” factor in his decision.

Surely adding to the frustration of his rank-and-file troops, Clark is still playing coy about his party affiliation.

He says only that he has “been warmly welcomed by Democratic groups.” This past July, during an appearance on Fox News Channel’s “Hannity & Colmes,” Clark said that he had not ruled out running as a Republican.

As NewsMax’s Insider Report noted last week, the Bush White House is nervously tracking his plans. Republican strategist David Horowitz has said, “Clark worries me the most.”

When asked about the consequences of jumping into the crowded fray as just another face among the Democrat presidential wannabes, Clark advises, “If one considers moving ahead, one has to accept the political process.”

Meanwhile, he notes that veteran groups around the country have been “very supportive,” including his fellow alumni of the U.S. Military Academy.

Even before NewsMax asks about the inevitable comparison to Dwight Eisenhower, the Republican draftee in the last century, Clark brings up the subject himself: “With Eisenhower the people didn’t get the opportunity for a good look.”

He says that if he runs he wants the American public to get that good look.

Too much the gentleman from West Point to render much in the way of contrary opinions about those already in the race, he says that there are fine Democrat leaders in the contest.

How about Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., the only candidate with a distinguished war record in Vietnam, the recipient of the Silver Star for valor while serving with the Navy during the Vietnam War? Would Kerry be the next best alternative?

“Kerry would be a fine president,” Clark replies.

When switching the emphasis to foreign policy, however, he opens up.

A quote from one fan on an Internet forum is read: “I see terrorism as criminal acts of small groups of individuals. War just provides more fuel for the underlying social and political reasons that bring about terrorism but is not a solution. For Bush and the neo-cons, 9/11 was an opportunity to do things on a much larger scale than would otherwise have been possible. None of the things Bush has done have provided us with a more secure nation.”

“Does that resonate with you?” asks NewsMax. “Yes,” is the unqualified answer.

As for Iraq: “It is clear we need more boots on the ground. We can’t even secure the road from Amman to Baghdad.” He says that alone makes a “prima facie” case for more troops.

Clark is not Johnny come lately to the bash-Bush-on-Iraq that has emanated from many of the Democratic hopefuls after the fall of Baghdad. As a CNN commentator, Clark warned before and during Operation Iraqi Freedom that the U.S. was woefully undermanned for the operation.

Clark offers similar candor when it comes to the loaded issue of the administration’s justification, or lack thereof, for the invasion of Iraq:

“It never was WMD or regime change,” he stresses, noting that these were good things regardless. “The connection to the War on Terrorism was not shown.”

His theory for the invasion: “To get American troops on the ground” and illustrate that we as a nation had the fortitude to hang tough and were willing to do more than fire missiles or drop bombs.

In a breather from the policy dialogue, Clark is asked if he could delineate a defining moment in his long service to the country that drives him yet today.

He identifies his return from Vietnam when he was posted to the 623rd Armor at Fort Knox, Ky. Describing how those were arduous days when many were electing to depart service, he was nonetheless overwhelmed by the “incredible dedication” of his troops.

“I loved them. It kept me in,” he says reflectively after an uncharacteristic pause.

Continuing with policy matters, his pace picks up. As to Afghanistan and Iraq, he laments, “It’s all in the timing of the opportunity.” There’s a window of opportunity to make people change their minds, he notes. "That window was allowed to close."

He blames the continuing losses of troops in Iraq on poor planning. There was “premature celebration” over Iraq, he concludes about the conflict he envisions having three levels.

Clark’s swan-song war was, of course, Kosovo. At the time, he was Supreme Commander of NATO. Despite a victory that resulted in no U.S. deaths, he laments that after all was said and done, there was “no recognition of victory.”

Instead, he says, allies came away from that conflict with the feeling that they were “never going to let America dictate to us again.” In the end, “both sides pulled away – setting the stage” for the frustrations to follow in Iraq.

“NATO is inherently a problem solver,” he concludes. The justifications for the Iraq war presented by the U.S. were never enough to trigger NATO’s involvement, a process that starts with studies and leads to binding consensus.

After three years as a Supreme Commander, Wesley Clark is a retired general without an army.

But politics is war by other means, and there’s still so much “Duty, Honor, Country” to measure up to.

On the poignant subject of 9/11, Gen. Clark wistfully admits: “There’s lots of work to do to prevent another.”

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In an exclusive interview with NewsMax.com, he acknowledges the attention is flattering and that he believes he has valuable experience to offer the nation in its war on terror. The movement to draft him for one more assignment, the nation's biggest, is "stunning," he...
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Saturday, 23 August 2003 12:00 AM
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