Digby of Hullabaloo finds the document that should — but, given the quality of political journalism, probably won’t — put to rest the question of Wesley Clark’s alleged inconsistency over the relationship between Iraq and al-Qaeda. It’s the transcript of Clark’s House Armed Services Committee testimony. It’s almost exactly contemporary with the tape (apparently supplied by the Lieberman camp, according to one of Digby’s commenters) featured in the New York Times piece earlier this week, and it’s utterly consistent both with the facts as we know them and with what Clark has been saying more recently:
SAXTON (R-NJ): Mr. Perle, General Clark indicated a few minutes ago that he wasn’t sure — I’m sorry, I don’t want to mischaracterize what General Clark said but something to the effect that we don’t have information that Al Qaida and the Iraqi regime are connected. Is that a fair characterization, General Clark?
CLARK: I’m saying there hasn’t been any substantiation of the linkage of the Iraqi regime to the events of 9/11 or the fact that they are giving weapons of mass destruction capability to Al Qaida, yes sir.
I think there’s no question that … there have been such contacts. It’s normal. It’s natural. These are a lot of bad actors in the same region together. They are going to bump into each other. They are going to exchange information. They’re going to feel each other out and see whether there are opportunities to cooperate. That’s inevitable in this region, and I think it’s clear that regardless of whether or not such evidence is produced of these connections that Saddam Hussein is a threat.
To summarize: Clark says that of course there were ongoing contacts between Iraq and al-Qaeda, but that he doesn’t believe that Iraq was linked to 9/11 or has provided WMD to al-Qaeda. That, so far as we know, is entirely correct, and it’s exactly what he’s been saying more recently.
The only “inconsistency” is between Clark’s actual opinions, as expressed then and now, and an out-of-context quote taken from a press conference. Case closed.
The transcript has another gem, one that Digby didn’t notice. (Why should he have all the luck?)
Q. The one question I want to ask from your written statement, you have — there’s been a lot of effort put in on the resolution and the language. You state this one sentence: “The resolution need not at this point authorize the use of force but simply agree on the intent to authorize the use of force if other measures fail” and this to me is a key question because you know I want our president to feel like he’s got all the support of the American people he needs to work this out dealing with the international community.
But, I’m not I don’t think willing to vote at this time to say and here you’ve got my card to go to war six months, eight months down the line if in your mind it hasn’t worked out well. I think that’s a decision the American people want the Congress to make. What do you mean by that language?
CLARK: I think that what you have to do is first, the card has been laid on the table about the intent of the United States to take unilateral action, so we’ve moved past the point we were at in mid- August when there was a discussion and the president was saying he hadn’t made up his mind what to do and so forth.
So the president, our commander-in-chief, has committed himself. I think it’s wise to narrow the resolution that was submitted. I think it will be more effective and more useful and I think it’s more in keeping with the checks and balances that are the hallmark of the American government if that resolution is narrowed.
And on the other hand, I think you have to narrow it in such a way that you don’t remove the resort to force as a last option consideration in this case. So, not giving a blank check but expressing an intent to sign the check when all other alternatives are exhausted. I think in dealing with men like Slobodan Milosevic and Saddam Hussein that diplomacy has to be leveraged by discussions the threat, or in the last instance, the use of force.
I think it’s not time yet to use force against Iraq but it is certainly time to put that card on the table, to turn it face up and to wave it and the president is doing that and I think that the United States Congress has to indicate after due consideration and consulting our people and building our resolve that yes, this is a significant security problem for the United States of America and all options are on the table including the use of force as necessary to solve this problem because I think that’s what’s required to leverage any hope of solving this problem short of war.
Again, seems clear enough to me: Clark was against using force, or authorizing its use, at that point, but approved of threatening force, and authorizing its use later, if the threat failed to do its job.
Of course, that job was defined as forcing Saddam Hussein to get rid of WMD’s and WMD programs and submit to inspections verifying that, not forcing regime change. But equally of course, that was the officially the Administration line back then as well. It’s only subsequently that, in the wake of failure to find any WMDs, the real reason for the invasion — forcing regime change — has become the official reason.
Since I think the question of going to war with Iraq was a hard one, with good arguments on each side, it doesn’t bother me at all to be supporting a candidate whose view was different from the one I took, especially when he’s entitled to express an expert opinion and I’m not.
It would bother me to support a candidate whose views were incoherent, or inconsistent over time for no good reason, or who was misrepresenting now his earlier views. That is how Clark’s positions have been described, but this transcript reinforces my view that any such description is false-to-fact.