Wesley Clark has been honored by a combined sliming effort from right and left: Common Dreams reproduces Clark’s London Times article from the days immediately following the fall of Baghdad, under the sarcastic headline “Anti-War Candidate?” and Drudge links to it.
A Bushite friend writes triumphantly:
“Sure sounds like a hawk to me … Clark … is obligated to explain the discrepancy between what he said then and what he says now.”
Well…no. There’s no inconsistency whatsoever, except between Clark’s actual, serious, professional opinion and the silly hawk/dove polarity left over from Vietnam.
America had just won the war in Iraq. Clark is a soldier. Clark is a patriot. Therefore, Clark is happy that American had just won the war in Iraq.
Clark has his ego under better control than most politicians or journalists. Therefore Clark is happy that we just won the war in Iraq even though he had previously said we shouldn’t invade Iraq right then. But even amid his rejoicing, he is mindful of problems ahead (emphasis added):
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. Liberation the powerful balm that justifies painful sacrifice, erases lingering doubt and reinforces bold actions. Already the scent of victory is in the air.
It’s to the men and women who fought it out on the arid highways, teeming city streets and crowded skies that we owe the greatest gratitude. All volunteers, they risked their lives as free men and women, because they believed in their countries and answered their calls. They left families and friends behind for a mission uncertain. They didn’t do it for the glory or the pittance of combat pay. Sadly, some won’t return and they, most of all, need to be honored and remembered.
As for the diplomacy, the best that can be said is that strong convictions often carry a high price. Despite the virtually tireless energy of their Foreign Offices, Britain and the US have probably never been so isolated in recent times. Diplomacy got us into this campaign but didn’t pull together the kind of unity of purpose that marked the first Gulf War. Relationships, institutions and issues have virtually all been mortgaged to success in changing the regime in Baghdad. And in the Islamic world the war has been seen in a far different light than in the US and Britain. Much of the world saw this as a war of aggression. They were stunned by the implacable determination to use force, as well as by the sudden and lopsided outcome.
Now the bills must be paid, amid the hostile image created in many areas by the allied action. Surely the balm of military success will impact on the diplomacy to come effective power so clearly displayed always shocks and stuns. Many Gulf states will hustle to praise their liberation from a sense of insecurity they were previously loath even to express. Egypt and Saudi Arabia will move slightly but perceptibly towards Western standards of human rights.
Clark warns about the importance and the difficulty of getting the reconstruction task right.
And he concludes:
Is this victory? Certainly the soldiers and generals can claim success. And surely, for the Iraqis there is a new-found sense of freedom. But remember, this was all about weapons of mass destruction. They haven’t yet been found. It was to continue the struggle against terror, bring democracy to Iraq, and create change, positive change, in the Middle East. And none of that is begun, much less completed.
Let’s have those parades on the Mall and down Constitution Avenue but don’t demobilize yet. There’s a lot yet to be done, and not only by the diplomats.
Only if you think opposition to a particular war at a particular time is inconsistent with patriotism is Clark’s rejoicing in an American victory inconsistent with his doubt that the war should have been fought when and as it was.
Lots of people on the right say, and some people on the left feel, that being anti-war means rooting for the enemy. If that’s your ideal candidate, you don’t want to vote for Wesley Clark.
Those of us who support Clark are voting for a candidate who has the skill and courage to support war only when in his professional judgment it’s the best course, but who never, never, never doubts which flag he’s going to salute.
Update Roger Simon illustrates my point. He can’t imagine that someone could be “anti-war” and still rejoice in victory.
That capsulizes Clark’s political problem: He needs to convince both hawks and doves that it’s possible to be a patriot without being a warmonger. I’m not sure he can do it, but I’m sure he can do it better than anyone else now on the scene.