Did Bill Clinton fire Wesley Clark?

Glenn Reynolds wants to know whether Bill Clinton fired Wesley Clark.

Here’s a hint: Four months after Hugh Shelton and William Cohen fooled Clinton into moving Clark out of his job as SACEUR and thus forcing him to retire, Clinton awarded Clark the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

Update: Reynolds updates, quoting one of his correspondents explaining the important difference between being “relieved of command” and being rotated out. Reynolds, having in effect called Clark a liar because Clark made a distinction Reynolds didn’t understand, doesn’t bother with anything like an apology. He just says “Clark’s angle still seems like spinning to me.”

For good measure, Reynolds then relays a disgusting bit of hysterical nonsense from — wait for it — Ann Coulter, writing in Front Page. (Note that in the passage Reynolds quotes, Coulter cites an anonymous assertion about something allegedly said by unnamed persons on Clark’s staff to support the claim that Clark himself lied about a combat disaster in which civilians were killed. In a passage Reynolds doesn’t quote — at the very beginning of her screed — Coulter calls Clark a “pacifist scaredy-cat.” She doesn’t mention Clark’s Silver Star, which the last time I checked was rarely awarded to cowards.)

Since, as Reynolds points out, Coulter is something less than impartial, and since her assertions aren’t even backed by the sources she cites, it’s not clear why Reynolds wants to waste his readers’ time by passing them on.

Second update Phil Carter weighs in learnedly, making it clear that Clark was not in fact “relieved” as that term is used in the military, but “rotated” out of his assignment. (It’s like the difference in academia between not getting tenure, which means you lose your job but which happens to lots of people and is no disgrace, and being fired, which means you got caught with your hand in the cookie jar.)

Carter concludes:

[Being relieved is] very rare, and it’s generally done in egregious circumstances (e.g. a negligent commander gets a soldier killed or loses a major piece of equipment). According to this definition, I don’t think Wes Clark was “relieved”. According to Wes Clark’s book, neither Secretary Cohen, General Shelton, nor President Clinton thought he was relieved either. What do you think?

Glenn Reynolds links to Carter, but repeats that Clark’s firing must have had something behind it. Of course it did: the hostility of Shelton and Cohen, and their willingness to deceive the President about the consequences of the orders they had him sign.

There’s no puzzle here at all, and no deception by Clark. Matthews asked him, in effect, “If Clinton liked you so much, why did he relieve you?” Clark pointed out that he hadn’t been “relieved,” and that Clinton hadn’t, in fact, intended to get rid of him. So his answer was completely accurate and responsive. Thus there’s no need to consult Ann Coulter for the solution to a nonexistent problem.

Case closed.

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: Markarkleiman-at-gmail.com