Vindication, a trifle late

Remember Wes Clark’s “Ross Perot-crazy” idea that Iraq was only the first step in a Bush White House plan to take out a series of unfriendly regimes? Tony Blair says that was exactly the plan, at least in Cheney’s mind.

Remember when Andrew Sullivan called Wesley Clark “Ross Perot-crazy” for claiming that, for Cheney & Co., the invasion of Iraq was just the first step in a campaign that would eventually try to take out Iran and Syria, among others?

Well, Tony Blair now says that Cheney planned exactly that. In his new book, he writes that Cheney

thought the world had to be made anew and … it had to be done by force and with urgency. … He would have worked through the whole lot, Iraq, Syria, Iran, dealing with all their surrogates in the course of it, Hezbollah, Hamas, etc.

The fact that Blair apparently still thinks that Cheney’s plan might have been sound makes it more likely that the underlying memory is accurate.

If I were Clark, I wouldn’t hold my breath waiting for apologies. And of course the damage is long since done. But there must be some satisfaction in having been right.

Wes Clark’s Disappearance: The Gay Angle

Really. Maybe this is a stretch, but maybe it is connecting the dots.

The chatter has now made it to Newsweek that Obama is considering appointing William White, chief operating officer of Manhattan’s Intrepid Museum Foundation, as the next Secretary of the Navy. White is openly gay, so placing him in the Navy Secretary’s job would be an enormous symbolic statement and substantive move. (Sec Navy is a civilian job, so don’t ask/don’t tell doesn’t apply.).

White has strong support among many former military leaders, most prominently retired Gen. Hugh Shelton, the Joint COS Chair from 1997 to 2001. Shelton has said that White “would be phenomenal,” and has praised White’s work as “legendary.”

White’s qualifications for the job include his work at the Intrepid, where he has accumulated extensive contacts in the armed forces, and his years as fundraiser for the Intrepid Museum Foundation. In 1996, he was awarded the Meritorious Public Service Award for his work with the Navy.

You’d have to figure that if Obama appoints White, having Shelton’s strong and public backing would be critical.

Shelton despises Clark, a point he made very clear in the New Yorker’s 2003 profile, which was rightfully denounced as an anti-Clark hit job:

Shelton has recently and famously said, in a public forum, that Clark’s firing “had to do with integrity and character issues,” adding that, for that reason, “Wes won’t get my vote.”

Now, Shelton has never spelled out what he meant by that, which probably means that there is nothing there at all: it’s an old-fashioned personality conflict (which Clark, to his credit, has never engaged in.).

So connecting the dots might yield: Obama appoints White, Shelton runs interference, and Clark is left out in the cold. As Mark is fond of saying: politics ain’t beanbag.

Why Has Wes Clark Disappeared?

Wes Clark’s disappearance might say something a little disturbing about the military brass.

I wondered the other day why Wes Clark has disappeared from the transition and from any role in the administration, even advisory.

Several readers have suggested that it stemmed from Clark’s interview in early July, which supposedly showed him to be gaffe-prone. I don’t buy that one for a second. First, as I argued then, Clark simply made no gaffe: the right-wing noise machine invented it and it was picked up by incompetent enablers like Mark Helperin. Second, Obama then chose Joe Biden as VP and Larry Summers as his chief economic advisor; compared to them, Clark might as well be a deaf mute.

But then one reader sent in this explanation, which rings true to me:

I suspect the diss is part of a perception within Obama’s circle that Clark is a pariah among active military brass, and the incoming administration is determined to win over the military support that normally goes unquestioned to the Reps.

My father was a career officer in the Air Force, so I’ve witnessed first hand the lifelong training to never question one’s commanding officer. Clark’s public opposition to the judgment of other generals prior to and after his appointment as Supreme Allied Commander Europe of NATO seems to have earned him an undying enmity from a few fellow generals. My father considers Clark a traitor, someone who put his own advancement ahead of his obligation to follow orders — an unforgivable sin. (Like Sweeney Todd, my father never forgives and never forgets.) . . . I’ve always sensed that Clark’s real crime in my father’s eyes and those of his military colleagues was speaking out at all.

Like the Warren selection for the inaugural invocation, presumably a calculated decision to shore up the evangelical base in support of Obama’s forthcoming actions to attack global warming, Obama’s (more than) oversight of Clark probably feeds into a strategy to gain the respect of active military leaders to implement plans that they might otherwise oppose in a knee-jerk way.

Obama is doubling, tripling, quadrupling down on getting military backing: keeping Gates on, hiring James Jones as NSA, appointing Shinseki at Veterans’ Affairs. If Clark is indeed such a pariah, then that would explain things.

What it would not do is say anything edifying about the military brass. This is a group that went into practically open revolt against Bill Clinton over don’t ask don’t tell, and consistently leaked stories negative about Clinton to the press. If my correspondent’s thoughtful speculations are true, apparently among the brass, loyalty only runs one way.

And if that’s true, Obama had better watch his back very carefully.

National Security: Obama’s Missing Man

Where in the world is Wes Clark?

Once again, a typically thoughtful, balanced, and constructive op-ed from Wes Clark appears in major paper, here the Washington Post. This one is on the Democrats and the military. Here’s a good excerpt:

Our military is a values-based institution. Don’t think of it as Republican or Democratic. Sure, occasionally someone will pop up, like the radio talk-show host I met while traveling in Arizona, who assured me that he had become a dues-paying Republican while serving as a Marine officer and thought that everyone else should, too. But most of us are uncomfortable with partisanship. True, many in the military, especially those who have served longer, lean toward the conservative end of the political spectrum. (What would you expect? The military must obey the orders of the commander in chief and follow the chain of command, which means giving up one’s own liberties and spending time in difficult and often very dangerous circumstances.) But the real military values aren’t partisan values; they’re service, loyalty, honesty, patriotism, respect, achievement and personal responsibility.

Which brings us to one more core military value, one that Democrats can easily embrace: fairness. Military leaders take care of their troops — and their unit’s families. They don’t take advantage of their authority. Captains eat after their troops do, not before. Good officers get to work earlier than their subordinates and leave later. I used to joke on the campaign trail that the Army was a socialist organization: The government owned the housing and all the equipment I worked with, everyone’s children went to the same schools and used the same hospitals, and the highest-ranking person (after more than 30 years in uniform) earned only about 10 or 12 times the salary of a raw recruit. In the military, we don’t like favoritism, show-boating or elitism.

As the saying goes, read the whole thing.

Question: with all this talk about Obama’s national security appointments, where in the world is Clark? Sure, he supported Clinton in the primaries, but then, so did, well, the Sec State-designate. So did Tom Vilsack. So did Larry Summers. So did Carol Browner. So did Nancy Sutley. I don’t recall Robert Gates and James Jones coming out for Obama, either.

Clark wasn’t even invited by the Obama people to the convention. I don’t know what’s going on here. But someone should find out: Clark has been working very hard for Democrats all over the country, and worked hard for Obama during the fall. He’s a real asset. This looks like a diss.

Maybe NATO Secretary-General? Just a thought.

Clark, McCain and the forms of courage

As the McCain-Clark dustup continues into its fourth day (mostly courtesy of McCain), it seems to me that there is one interesting way in which it reveals assumptions about Presidential qualifications.

One could make a fairly plausible point about how being a POW would prepare someone for the Presidency: in a word, courage. It was courageous for McCain to fly the missions he did, and courageous for him to refuse to confess, reveal information, become a tool of North Vietnamese propaganda, etc.

So one could quite easily reason: wouldn’t courage be an excellent trait in a President? He or she wouldn’t flinch from making tough or unpopular decisions. If you resist the temptation to avoid torture or even death, certainly you could handle some criticism in the press.

Except that it doesn’t seem to work that way. There is a profound difference between personal and political courage.

Exhibit Number One: John Fitzgerald Kennedy. No one can deny the vast personal courage that it took for him to become a war hero on PT-109. Yes, yes: he wanted to show he was a tough as his older brother, yadda yadda yadda. But volunteering for PT boat duty was an enormously courageous act.

Flash forward to his political career and the hero becomes the wimp. As a Senator and President, he was hardly a profile in courage. He managed to be out of Washington when the Senate censured Joe McCarthy, for example. He was AWOL on civil rights. He spent 14 years in Congress with virtually nothing to show for it. He regularly deferred to southern segregationists.

We could name lots of other examples of personal courage not translating into the political: George H.W. Bush comes to mind as well. Somehow the brain seems to compartmentalize facets of our life, so people can risk death but not Rush Limbaugh. I can’t explain it, but it does seem to be the case.

Piling on re Wes Clark on John McCain

Mark and Jonathan are entirely right about Wes Clark and John McCain. Clark’s criticism was not of the honor or veracity of McCain’s service record but of its relevance to his qualifications to be president. Clark in fact said McCain as a POW was a hero to him and millions of others.
On Capitol Hill, I can’t think of a lasting contribution McCain has made to defense or national security policy (other than the POW-MIA issue and normalization of relations with Vietnam), despite his powerful position. I invite readers to provide examples that I have missed.

The posts immediately below by Zasloff and Kleiman are correct on all counts. Let’s be clear that Wes Clark honored McCain’s service and said McCain was a hero to him and millions of other service members because of his time as a POW. Unlike the Swift Boat attacks, Clark did not attack McCain’s character or veracity, but only suggested that the conventional wisdom about the relevance of his record was wrong.

On the substance, I’ve been honestly wracking my brains to remember significant influences that McCain has had on foreign and defense policy. His role in supporting the surge in Iraq is well known, and seems to have come as much from the neocons Kristol and Kagan as from any independent judgment. Perhaps his advocacy in 2002 for action against Iraq as the “next front” should be better remembered. He deserves great credit for his role in tamping down and countering nutwing (if sincere) beliefs that many POW-MIAs were still being held by North Vietnam and its allies, and then played an important role in normalization of relations with Vietnam, but these were both intimately bound up with his own Vietnam experience. Recent coverage of his thesis written in a year at the National War College also showed that his time there — the only time in his military career when he was at all exposed to policy — was spent dwelling on his Vietnam experience.

More recently, he played a strong role in opposing a questionable tanker lease that Boeing had cooked up with the Air Force, and in that connection became such a foe of Boeing that he bears some responsibility for the granting of the $35 Billion contract to a European manufacturer fronted by Northrop Grumman — a decision that has now been effectively stopped by a Government Accountability Office review of a protest by Boeing. (The result of this has been to delay the rejuvenation of the tanker fleet by years and probably to cost the government billions of dollars.) McCain did break with many Republicans to more or less support the Clinton administration’s intervention in the Balkans, though he tended to view it through a Cold War lens of opposing Russian influence, which perhaps explains the apparent reversal from his opposition to the peacekeeping role of the Marines in Lebanon during the Reagan administration. On the other hand, when he was still in the House of Representatives, McCain voted against the Goldwater-Nichols reorganization of the Pentagon, that has been crucial to military successes achieved since then. He has supported missile defense in a sort of knee-jerk way, whether the systems work or not.

In other words, from what I can piece together from memory without doing independent research, McCain’s role on Capitol Hill — with the exception of the POW-MIA issue and normalization of relations with Vietnam — has been marginal. He enjoys hob-nobbing with the brass and especially going to international conferences (where his temper may or may not be on display) , but hasn’t produced much in the way of legislation or policy innovation. I can’t remember any special role he played in the rethinking of American national security policy following the demise of the Soviet Union, or again after 9/11. Instead, particular things grab his attention, he makes an issue of them one way or another, and history moves on without him having had a coherent impact. It is perhaps more important to him than he has taken an honorable stand than whether the stand is actually right–in this he may be dangerously similar to the Incumbent.

This is why the McCain camp had to respond so dramatically to Wes Clark’s reasoned discussion of the relevance of the McCain’s record — because there really isn’t much of a policy record for him to stand on. The mis-statements about who’s Sunni and who’s Shia are closer to the real John McCain. His judgment and the depth of his expertise are certainly open to question.

Let’s remember that McCain decided he wanted a political career during his time as Senate Navy Liaison, where, according to the New York Times, he was fondly remembered by Senators such as “monkey business” Gary Hart and soon-to-divorce Bill Cohen for taking them to events where “grounds for divorce were suspended” and for supplying John Tower (later denied confirmation as Secretary of Defense because of his drinking) with alcohol.

I invite readers to provide examples of McCain’s influence on defense and national security — positive as well as negative — that I have missed.

Update: Predictably NBC nightly news played the Wes Clark clip where he repeated Bob Shieffer’s phrase about “riding in a plane and getting shot down” not being a qualification to be president, and played it as a story of questioning McCain’s record or patriotism and whether the Obama campaign is on message. How stupid and lazy can reporting be?

Getting the General’s Back

As Talleyrand might say, the Obama campaign’s disavowal of Clark’s comments on McCain is worse than a crime: it’s a blunder. Josh sums it up well, although I think that there is a broader point, which Josh has made at other times. This is an example of what he calls “bitch-slap” politics: can a candidate defend himself and his people, and then move on to attack? Not a good answer today from the Obama campaign.

But you can tell the General that you’ve got his back, here. Give him the traditional $20.08. As Atrios would say: reward good behavior.

“Why terrorists aren’t soldiers”

Wes Clark and Kal Raustiala argue that treatment as “unlawful combatants” is better than the terrorists deserve.

Wes Clark and Kal Raustiala argue that the “unlawful combatant” status the Bush Administration has decided to assign to terrorists is better, legally, than the terrorists deserve, and that we should instead treat terrorists as criminals. I defer to others on the substantive merits of the issue; but you have to admire the sheer rhetorical jiu-jitsu embraced in the headline “Why Terrorists Aren’t Soldiers.”

Shooting for a C- in Iraq

Can we use our presence as leverage to make the Shi’a coalition ruling Iraq govern on a national, rather than an ethnic and sectarian, basis?

The discussion about Iran seemed to me the most exciting piece of Wes Clark’s discussion with bloggers in Los Angeles yesterday, but it wasn’t the focus of his presentation.

Mostly he talked about Iraq. He argued that all the chances to get an A in the course were behind us, and we had a choice now between going for a C- and accepting an F.

The C- solution involves using our capacity to help the Iraq government on the security and reconstruction side of things to convince the ruling Shi’a coalition to share political power &#8212 and, more significantly, leadership of the army, police, and interior ministry &#8212 with the Sunnis. The F alternatives are civil war, which Clark sees as the likely result if the security forces continue to be used as the instruments of Shi’a revenge on the Sunnis, and partition.

The artificiality of Iraq as a nation-state has led me, among many, to wonder whether partition would really be a bad thing, especially since Kurdistan might be both democratic and friendly to the U.S. But Clark pointed out that the intermingling of the populations would force large-scale “ethnic cleansing” as a side-effect of any partition.

Clark made what seemed to me a sensible case against phased withdrawal on a timetable. When we’re ready to go, either because we’ve gotten what we can get or because we’ve decided that we can’t get what we want, we should just pack up and go, quickly. Once we’ve announced a timetable, we’ve mostly lost our leverage.

Clark also made a political/operational point: it’s not reasonable to expect Democrats to coalesce around a single detailed road-map for handling the Iraqi mess. It should be enough for us to point out how badly the whole situation has been handled by the other guys.

A point Clark didn’t make, but Mike O’Hare did: Associating the Democrats with the “we’ve lost, so we should just get out” position has catastrophic political risks. The German Right rode to power in the 1930s on the “Dolchstoss” claim that the democrats and civilians who constituted the Weimar Republic in the 20s had stabbed the military – and therefore the nation – in the back by surrendering in WWI when a German victory was just around the corner. The American Right has gotten similar traction from a similar claim about Vietnam. (That’s what gave the Swift Boat nonsense its punch; to millions of people, Kerry the War Protester negated Kerry the War Hero.) So it would be better for Democrats to say “We should withdraw our troops from Iraq to punish the Shi’a for establishing a sectarian dictatorship” or “We should withdraw our troops from Iraq to increase our leverage with Iran” or “Democrats have a plan for snatching victory from the jaws of defeat in Iraq” rather than adopting the John Murtha line.

It seems to me that too many people on both sides are using the Iraq situation as a way of continuing their quarrel about Vietnam. That was then. This is now.