Clark’s complex consistency

Philosoraptor, commenting on the Wesley Clark victory op-ed in the Times of London that is being misrepresented as “pro-war,” has a good explanation of part of what’s going on here:

Clark has enough brains to understand, and enough integrity to acknowledge, the arguments in favor of courses of action which, on balance, he opposes. People who never ever admit that there is any disadvantage to what they’re for or any disadvantage to what they’re against — i.e., most politicians and journalists, including bloggers — think that if anyone says “Action X had advantage Y” and also says “I was against action X” that person is being inconsistent.

That, I think, is half of the apparent puzzle. The other half is the implicit belief that anyone who opposes a course of action then wants it to fail if tried, and that in particular anyone who opposed the war in Iraq wanted us to lose, or at least to be badly bloodied. From that presupposition, it seems strange that Clark could have opposed the decision to go to war when it was made, and still think in retrospect that it was a bad decision, but genuinely rejoice in victory. From Clark’s perspective, as a soldier and a patriot, it doesn’t seem puzzling at all.

As to the very marked difference in tone between Clark’s testimony the op-ed, what could be more natural? They were different documents, serving different purposes. The testimony was strictly analytical. The op-ed was largely celebratory. You wouldn’t expect a wedding toast and a job performance appraisal to sound the same, even if the person making the toast is also writing the performance appraisal.

Update: Glenn Reynolds notes that “the lefties at Common Dreams seem to think that Clark supported the war.” To me, that shows merely that the pro-war fanatics and the anti-war fanatics are alike in being unable to make sense of someone who isn’t a fanatic.

Mickey Kaus, unsurprisingly, is unable to comprehend the magnanimity that makes Clark capable of praising Bush and Blair for “resolve” in a cause of which Clark disapproved. When the ordinary decency that offers (restrained) praise to the President in celebrating a military victory is treated as evidence of sleaziness, you know the political/journalistic process is in very bad shape. But you knew that already, didn’t you now?

Kevin Drum is right: this whole controversy is Kafkaesque. The frightening thing is that it’s likely to work. The goon squad has now created a phony controversy about Clark’s inconsistency. They don’t have to make the charge stick; it’s enough for them that from now on news stories can say, “Clark, who has been accused of inconsistency…”


Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact: