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Monday, November 17, 2003

Lois and Clark; Beware of Hidden Kryptonite

Josh Marshall has recent links to two interesting stories. I think they are related, though Marshall doesn't tie them together in his blog. I will.

One link is to a story by Lois Romano in the Washington Post about changes in Wesley Clark's campaign. Marshall does a good job of highlighting the key paragraphs and explaining the apparent changes in Clark's New Hampshire strategy and in his advising team.

Since I blogged about Clark's "Meet the Press" interview yesterday, this story caught my eye for a different reason. Obviously, Clark is running a quite different campaign from Howard Dean. While Dean built his following (and cash reserves) by opposing the war on Iraq, Clark has been making nuanced security arguments -- recognizing the apparent need to take on WMD proliferation, al Qaeda and other security threats.

His New Hampshire strategy is going to emphasize his ideas and military background -- in an apparent attempt to highlight his contrast with Dean and perhaps to clear the field of other anti-Dean candidates (who do not have his foreign policy credentials). Romano notes that Clark hopes to make the primary contest a two-man race shortly after New Hampshire:
The Clark campaign's goal in the next few weeks is to demonstrate that it has both the resources to take on the former Vermont governor and a candidate whose military résumé makes him far more electable. "Our strategy is that Wesley Clark is the candidate to beat George Bush, and we have to make that clear to people," said Lara Bergthold, the political director.

"The Democratic Party is going to have to take a hard look at itself in the mirror and decide whether it can gamble on Dean when the stakes are so high," said Matt Bennett, Clark's director of communications.
Given what Clark said on MTP Sunday, I think this is a viable approach. Dean isn't really threatened by the other anti-war candidates, and Clark is trying to be both anti-war and focused on terror. He splits the difference, isolating Kerry, Lieberman, Gephardt and Edwards (who voted for the Iraq war resolution).

One potential problem for Clark's strategy? What if the Bush administration actually starts listening to Clark by internationalizing the Iraq occupation and calling in NATO? After all, the administation already announced its intent to hand over political control by June -- essentially caving to French/German demands.

Would such a shift completely undercut Clark's campaign strategy? I'm not suggesting this would be the administration's motive -- but if it were to occur, I think the General would have a difficult time highlighting his credentials. More cynical observers might conclude that Karl Rove could do this to assure a Bush-Dean race, which they might feel better about than Bush-Clark.

So back to Josh Marshall, who also linked to this story in the Independent today by Leonard Doyle and Stephen Castle. The paper is reporting that the US is not merely planning a political handoff to Iraq. It says the US is about to convert the troop command into an international force!
The United States accepts that to avoid humiliating failure in Iraq it needs to bring its forces quickly under international control and speed the handover of power, Javier Solana, the European Union foreign policy chief, has said. Decisions along these lines will be made in the "coming days", Mr Solana told The Independent.

The comments, signalling a major policy shift by the US, precede President George Bush's state visit this week to London, during which he and Tony Blair will discuss an exit strategy for forces in Iraq.

Mr Solana underlined the change of mood in Washington, saying: "Everybody has moved, including the United States, because the United States has a real problem and when you have a real problem you need help." There is a "growing consensus" that the transfer of power has to be accelerated, he said. "How fast can it be done? I would say the faster the better."

He added: "The forces will have to be there under aa different chapeau. The more the international community is incorporated under the international organisations [the better]. That is the lesson I think everyone is learning. Our American friends are learning that. We will see in the coming days decisions along these lines."
And the change might well mean a more active role for NATO.
Colin Powell, the US Secretary of State, arrives in Brussels tonight for talks with EU ministers, which he will combine with a meeting with the retiring Nato secretary general, Lord Robertson of Port Ellen. Diplomats say that Mr Powell is expected to "test the water" about the involvement of the transatlantic alliance in Iraq.
Obviously, this is all political whispering, but I cannot believe Solana (recall, Spain is part of the "coalition of the willing") would say these things unless he had some pretty strong indications of impending change.

Bush critics have been saying for a long time that the US would have little to lose by truly internationalizing the force structure. Maybe they are actually listening?

If this internationalization occurs, the "anti-Dean" candidate (whoever that turns out to be in the primaries) will be the one emphasizing the dangers of Bush's crony capitalism in Iraq.

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