The campaign Wesley Clark is currently waging for the Democratic presidential nomination has a disturbing, “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” sort of flavor to it. How else to explain a candidate who constantly makes speeches directly contradicting his previous on-the-record statements without blinking an eye? What but the absolute erasure of his former being could possibly explain his strident denial of having any complicity in the words and actions of his past?
It all began, of course, with General Clark’s sudden political rebirth as a Democrat challenging George W. Bush, despite his comments little more than a year earlier praising the very candidate he had decided to unseat. “President George Bush had the courage and the vision,” Clark said in May 2001, “and we will always be grateful to President George Bush for that tremendous leadership and statesmanship.”
During the months spent debating the military confrontation with Iraq, Clark continued to back Bush. He testified in front of Congress that there was “no question” Saddam Hussein was a threat to the United States and that military force to deal with him had to remain an option. Once the war was underway, Clark went even further writing an op-ed piece for the London Times in April 2003 praising the decision to invade. “President Bush and Tony Blair should be proud of their resolve in the face of so much doubt,” Clark wrote. “Can anything be more moving than the joyous throngs swarming the streets of Baghdad? Memories of the fall of the Berlin Wall, and the defeat of Milosevic in Belgrade flood back. Statues and images of Saddam are smashed and defiled.”
Nevertheless, five months later the old Clark had disappeared and the new Clark was a firm anti-war activist. “I have been very, very consistent on this,” Clark told ABC, ignoring all the evidence to the contrary. “This was a war we didn't have to fight. It was an elective war.” He even got chummy with self-described “peacenik” Michael Moore, choosing to overlook the fact that Moore’s Academy Award winning “documentary” Bowling for Columbine is fanatically critical of the 1999 NATO bombing campaign in Kosovo, which Clark, as Supreme Allied Commander, oversaw.
All of this makes it very difficult to believe Clark’s claim that there is nothing to recently released transcripts of his January 2000 interviews with a NATO historian that suggest the Clinton administration was willing to subvert the military effort in Kosovo for political reasons. “There were those in the White House who said: ‘Hey, look, you gotta finish the bombing before the Fourth of July weekend. That's the start of the next presidential campaign season, so stop it. It doesn't matter what you do, just turn it off. You don't have to win this thing, let it lie,’” Clark said.
“That's simply incorrect,” Clark told New York Times when the story broke. “There was never any politics involved in pressuring me to end the war prematurely or anything else. I had a very clear mandate to do, and I was very confident that the president and Sandy Berger would do whatever it took as long as it took to succeed in Kosovo.”
Clark’s statement seemed to throw everyone off guard. Think about it: The General was responding to his own account as if he was reacting to an vicious attack ad from a competing campaign. For all intents and purposes he was labeling himself a liar. Back peddling from this attack on himself, Clark explained that he just wasn’t thinking straight during his NATO interview. “I was trying to sort of take a stream of consciousness approach to all the things that happened during that period,” Clark said. “And then I took nine months and sorted it all out and it's all in the book. You have to read the book.”
“Stream of consciousness”? “Sorting” out the truth? Such a flippant attitude towards the honesty doesn’t bode well for the accuracy of the “official” history of NATO. But, considering Clark’s record on issues such as this, it’s unlikely there isn’t something to Clark’s charges against, er, himself. And where does that leave Bill Clinton, Al Gore, and the rest of the Democratic ruffians running around accusing George W. Bush of “playing politics” with 9/11 and the war in Iraq? According to one of their own faithful, the Clintonites were prepared to put a military venture they had deemed worthy enough to skirt the United Nations and act unilaterally over at risk to make sure Mr. Tennessee Lisp would be able to get elected.
And if the president of the United States could consider ending the Kosovo war for political reasons, it would seem that the threat posed by Kosovo must not have been that great. Indeed, war that could be abandoned for election season politics would seem to define an “elective war” quite well.
Further, Clark and Company’s rationale for and celebration of the Kosovo war seems to be at odds with their opposition to the Iraq war. Clark boasts that the bombing in Kosovo saved a million lives, but seems to have no interest in calculating the number of Iraqi lives saved by removing Saddam Hussein from power. According to Clark, the difference was that Saddam’s genocide was old news. “It was ten years ago that Saddam brutalized the Shiite Muslims in the south,” Clark told Fortune Magazine. “And he used chemical weapons 15 years ago.” Sure, but he didn’t stop of his own volition, a fact Clark should understand better than anyone. Or was Clark never briefed on continued Iraqi aggression towards coalition planes patrolling the “No-Fly” zones 12 years after the war. At least Iraq was a proud and open enemy of our country when we decided to go to war with them.
Without a doubt, the invasion of Iraq was not the most politically expedient thing Bush ever did. There is a political cost to be paid for undertaking the arduous process of turning the conglomeration of religious strife, violence and destroyed infrastructure that is Iraq into something resembling a democracy. It certainly will not be finished by November 2004, and the blood and treasure lost there is a tragedy Democratic candidates (even those who voted for the war) are eager to make into a major campaign issue. Would it not have been easier for Bush to have bombed the hell out of Iraq for a couple weeks so the weasel would go back into his hole again, as Clinton did in 1998? No, Bush opted to undertake the monumental task of solving the Iraqi problem. There is no going back. There is no moving on so he can focus on his presidential campaign.
Wesley Clark, at least according to what he told the NATO historian, used to have a problem with making a political issue out of national security. But that was his war, and this is George W. Bush’s. Clark wants Bush’s job, and that is enough for him to revoke his support for the war in Iraq while mean and women of the United States military continue to fight it. So tell us again, General, who is playing politics with the life and death decisions of war?
At least anti-war Republicans like Pat Buchanan are consistent in their opposition. And like Pat, Clark doesn’t stand a chance of being elected president.