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"As I went back through the Pentagon in November 2001, one of the senior military staff officers had time for a chat. Yes, we were still on track for going against Iraq, he said. But there was more. This was being discussed as part of a five-year campaign plan, he said, and there were a total of seven countries, beginning with Iraq, then Syria, Lebanon, Libya, Iran, Somalia, and Sudan… I left the Pentagon that afternoon deeply concerned." – Wesley Clark, page 130, Winning Modern Wars.

If Wesley Clark is to be believed, he kept this Pentagon conversation – and his deep concerns – to himself for nearly two years, going public only when it suited his purposes as a purveyor of books and newly-hatched Democratic candidate for President. There is something – no, there are many things – very, very wrong, here. 

Clark’s version of the truth is that he didn’t want to know the truth. “I moved the conversation away, for this was not something I wanted to hear,” he claims to recall. “And it was not something I wanted to see moving forward, either.”

Yet for at least a year Clark said and did nothing to indicate that his brain contained the dreadful knowledge of seven impending wars on the national horizon.  Instead, he shopped himself as the hero of Kosovo, telling everyone within elbow grabbing distance that he’d like to run for high office sometime soon, on some party’s ticket. Clark does not claim to have been conflicted by concerns to protect the confidences of his buddies at the Pentagon. “Nothing in this book is derived from classified material nor have I written anything that could compromise national security," reads the introduction to Winning Modern Wars, released in late September.  

In fact, the Bush men spent much of the summer of 2002 bragging about their plans to first, smash Saddam Hussein, then gloriously march on Damascus and Tehran – dreams they still cherish.  Clark now tells us that he knew then that the Bush men’s threats were understated; that guys like him were actively preparing a five-year military campaign to subdue great swaths of Africa and the Middle East.

Clark’s theater of the mind

Clark appears in his book as a Walter Mitty-like character: all of the drama, the angst, the torment, his anxieties for the future of his country, occurs in his head. In the almost two years separating the Pentagon revelation and publication of his book, Clark exhibited no outward signs of inner conflict.  But he was troubled, very troubled. As proof, Clark offers a narrative of his unchallengeable thoughts:

“I left the Pentagon that afternoon deeply concerned. I hoped the officer was wrong, or that whoever was pushing this [five-year war plan] would amend his approach.

“That did not happen. After the president delivered his 2002 State of the Union address, the policy was locked in concrete.”

Clark’s lips stayed locked shut, for at least a year. Finally, in 2003 Clark got his national podium as a military analyst for CNN. He had the microphone and the cameras, direct access to a swollen, global TV audience anticipating the onset of war. The Big One was about to begin, the rolling conflict that would consume parts of two continents in flame for the next five years. What would the hero of Kosovo do at such a moment?

Clark chose to cheer the war on like the rest of the media’s retired military consultants, occasionally seasoning his commentary with the barest hints of misgivings – nothing substantive enough to rate front page quotation.

When he had the opportunity and it might have made a difference, Clark failed to sound an alarm about an invasion he now claims to have known to be a prelude to even wider wars. As documented by Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR), September 16:

Clark explained on CNN (1/21/03) that if he had been in charge, "I probably wouldn't have made the moves that got us to this point. But just assuming that we're here at this point, then I think that the president is going to have to move ahead, despite the fact that the allies have reservations." As he later elaborated (CNN, 2/5/03): "The credibility of the United States is on the line, and Saddam Hussein has these weapons and so, you know, we're going to go ahead and do this and the rest of the world's got to get with us.... The U.N. has got to come in and belly up to the bar on this. But the president of the United States has put his credibility on the line, too. And so this is the time that these nations around the world, and the United Nations, are going to have to look at this evidence and decide who they line up with."  

Clark failed to oppose administration policy until long after the fact and in his own mind – skull-bound sound and fury, ultimately signifying nothing. We are expected to accept his published testimony to the inner turmoil he experienced, in direct contradiction to his actual words and actions at the critical junctures in the timeline of war.  

A deathly silence

There is a fundamental difference between the retired general’s claims and the pleadings of presidential candidates Rep. Dick Gephardt and Sen. John Kerry. Both now claim they did not intend that their votes for the War Powers Resolution in October, 2002 would lead to a unilateral U.S. invasion. Both charge Bush misled them, the nation and the world about the facts and rationale of the war.  

But in his book, Clark purports to have known all along (or at least since Bush’s “Axis of Evil” speech) that the Iraq invasion was “locked in concrete,” to be followed by wars against six additional nations that presented no imminent threat to the U.S. Far from being another victim of bamboozlement, Clark claims to have possessed an insider’s knowledge of multiple wars in the making.  

Did he scream to high heaven, Stop the madness? No, Clark assumed the pose of mildly skeptical CNN analyst, occasionally picking here and there at the edges of Bush policy, as if trying to fine-tune and perfect it.

Clark’s misgivings dissolved entirely on April 10. Drunk on “victory,” Clark gushed: “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. Liberation is at hand.”

Did he pause to warn the public that there were still six more wars to go? That Baghdad was just the first stopover in a five-year campaign of bloody Shock and Awe? No, that wouldn’t do. I’ll save it for my book, the general decided – after intense deliberation with himself.

Iraqi resisters have wrecked the master plan to which Clark was made privy and complicit in November, 2001. Amazingly, Clark now invites the reading public to step into the inner recesses of his mind. What we find there is cowardice in the face of power, boundless opportunism, and an infinite capacity for lying – a pathological mix. In sum, Wesley Clark is a dangerous loon, damned by his own words.

Clark can be stopped. The Democratic presidential candidate who has the courage to confront Clark with the insane logic of Winning Modern Wars, will do his nation and party a great service. This candidate must be willing to absorb the full wrath of Bill Clinton’s machine – the real power behind Clark’s campaign – and to abandon any hopes of becoming a vice-presidential nominee.  

Two names come to mind.



October 9, 2003
Issue 59

is published every Thursday.

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