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Sunday, November 16, 2003

Is Wesley Clark the Candidate?

This morning, I watched most of the Wesley Clark interview on "Meet the Press." Tim Russert confronted Clark with a lot of the "gotcha" stuff that has been noted in some media over the past weeks. However, Clark did a fairly good job of heading it off.

Sometimes he pointed out that the remarks were taken out of context or that his speeches, op-ed columns, and TV appearances had included a lot of nuance that would serve to condition his apparent past support of Bush policy and/or personnel.

He wasn't as good as Clinton in the famous 60 minutes interview (was that during the Super Bowl?), but it was direct and seemed sincere.

Quite early on in the interview, Russert asked Clark what he would say to President Bush if the latter asked for advice. This is his excellent reply:
"Mr. President, the first thing you've got to do is you've got to surrender exclusive U.S. control over this mission. You cannot build the kind of international support you need if we retain exclusive custody of the mission, and there's no point in it. Build an international organization like we did in the Balkans. We call it the Peace Implementation Committee there. Call this one the Iraqi reconstruction Development Authority. Bring in every nation that wants to contribute, give them a seat at the table, put a non-American in charge and the responsibilities are to assist the political and economic reconstruction of Iraq, and then go to the Iraqis and there's no reason to wait until June to give the Iraqis back their country. We should be transferring that authority tomorrow. They've already elected local councils. Let each local council send two people to a central location. Let that be a transitional central government. Give them staff and let them start forming up the kinds of committees they need to have visibility over and make decisions on what's being done in Iraq. Give the country back to the Iraqis. We're not there to occupy it; we're only there to help. So let's give them their country back."
Of course, as I noted yesterday, the Bush administration is already moving in this direction.

It was odd that Clark said the Iraq war was technically legal, but Kosova was technically illegal (though legitimate). I buy the latter, but this war was widely viewed as illegal by international lawyers -- and other states.

Since the American people probably don't want to think about their country acting against international law, this probably wasn't a bad answer. In any case, Clark was much stronger on operational questions. This was another good moment for the General:
I think we need to change the force mix in Iraq as rapidly as we can. I think we need a lighter, more mobile force, more agile, more intelligence-driven. We need to take those 1,400 people who are searching for weapons of mass destruction, pull them off the search, give that to the United Nations people, use them to help us track down Osama bin Laden in Pakistan and to help us find the people in Iraq who are attacking our soldiers. And then we need to start reducing the size of the U.S. force there. We may have to temporarily increase it, but we need to transform what it does. All these heavy forces have big logistics footprints. I mean, you have lots of logistics. You have lots of unarmored Humvees, you have lots of opportunities for ambush. We need to reduce those opportunities.
Let me post two more long answers. Here's how Clark defended his decision to oppose the $87 billion request:
I do support money for the men and women on the ground. I came out against this because to vote for this resolution, at that time, was to give the president of the United States a blank check, a blank check because he didn't have a strategy. And I think what the troops in Iraq need more than anything else is a strategy for success. Each day that they go forward without a strategy, the danger increases, and that's the responsibility of the president of the United States, to provide that strategy. He hadn't done so. And it was the duty of the Congress to press the administration to do it. They didn't. They gave him a blank check. Now, if they had pressed and said, "Mr. President, we're not going to give you this until your spokesmen come up here and you lay out a strategy. What are you trying to do there? What's going to happen in the region. Give us the vision, tell us your time lines. Give us your estimates." If he'd done that, then of course we would have supported -- I would have supported taking care of the troops. That wasn't done. And that was the duty of the United States Congress, to have the--”hold the executive branch accountable.
That's great stuff. Here's what he said to explain how Bush has weakened the fight versus al Qaeda and the Taliban in Afghanistan:
I was one of those, along with Senator Bob Graham, who believed at the outset that this was a distraction. This was a distraction from the more important war against al-Qaeda. And, in fact, it was a distraction, Tim.

When we went into Afghanistan in the fall of 2001, CENTCOM was already planning the operation in Iraq. Instead of planning how to get Osama bin Laden, instead of putting the U.S. troops on the ground in Afghanistan to finish the fight against al-Qaeda and bring back Osama bin Laden, dead or alive, we had our top leadership distracted in preparing what to do about Saddam Hussein. And then, when we could have put the U.S. troops in, we withheld them, because there was uncertainty as to how long we would be in Afghanistan and how soon we might need those troops to go into Iraq.

So we've stretched and we've accommodated the Afghanistan mission, we've done as little as possible. In military terms, it's been "economy of force." And the result is today that al-Qaeda and the Taliban are coming back in Afghanistan.
I was going to stop, but as I read the transcript, I do think Clark was great. Here's a direct challenge to the so-called "Bush Doctrine":
This administration made a fundamental choice early in the war on terror to go after states rather than to go after terrorists. They wanted to use the conventional power of the United States armed forces to take down states. And Don Rumsfeld's still talking about it, as though these old states are central to the problem of terrorism. The problem with that is they aren't, and when you take them down, you're left trying to pick up the pieces, as has happened in Iraq. Attacking Iraq has done almost nothing to help us deal with the problem of al-Qaeda.
I'd like to see Russert question Bush one-on-one for the better part of an hour, asking similar questions and playing old film footage. Later in the interview, Clark said the administration had framed one-sided intelligence about WMD to mislead the public. It was strong stuff and I'd like to see Bush answer it directly.

Clark even brought up one of my persistent beefs -- the failure to do anything about Rwanda. Unlike Bush, Clark regrets the US inaction.

Mid-December, by the way, Clark is going to Europe to testify against Milosevic. That will make for an interesting campaign moment. It would give him yet another way to frame the argument against Saddam Hussein. Done differently, the war in Iraq might have led to a trial of the Iraqi dictator.

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