Josh Marshall Interviews Wesley Clark

Not bad at all, for a rookie. Marshall throws a high, hard one right off, and Clark hits it right back through the box, in a way that ought to put the “not really a Democrat” issue to rest:

TPM: Well let’s start with–there’s obviously a tradition in the officer corps of generals — all officers — having an apolitical stance when they’re in the service. But people who vote in primary elections are very political people. Obviously you were in the Army for 34 years and you said that you were non-partisan during that time and then you came out and started thinking about your views and so forth. I think, again, for people who vote in primaries, that’s a little hard to understand: You know, how can you be a man in your fifties and have put aside politics in that way? So how do you explain that? Again, for people who have really lived politics for most of their life and think about it a lot.

CLARK: I think it’s a wonderful thing that people have dedicated their lives to politics because without that we wouldn’t have a democracy. In our country, political parties perform an essential function. But for people in the military it’s very hard to participate in party politics because you’re always on the move and you don’t have the time, the energy, the opportunities — deployments and night maneuvers and so forth would screw up anybody. Sometimes some of the wives have been involved. But generally the men couldn’t be. And there’s also the Hatch Act, which says that you can’t participate in uniform. So you can give money to a party or to a candidate, if you want, as an officer, but you can’t do anything that indicates an official endorsement by people in uniform for someone in a political race.

It’s a good thing. Because we don’t want our military involved in partisan politics. Our military should be loyal to the commander-in-chief no matter who he is, no matter what party. Their job is to raise the professional military issues, and the big policy decisions ultimately have to be made by the people’s elected representatives or their appointed representatives. That’s civilian control of the military. It’s the essence of democracy.

The old military tradition was that people in the armed forces didn’t vote at all. Guys like George C. Marshall, they made a passion of not voting. The reason is, they said, “It’s really up to the people, the electorate, to choose the president. I’ll work for whoever, I don’t want to get involved in trying to pick sides. Whoever the president is, I support him.”

In the 1950s it became acceptable and expected — well I shouldn’t say expected because no one ever knew — but acceptable to vote. And there were efforts made to make sure that soldiers got to vote through absentee ballots. We know after Florida that a lot of these ballots probably were never counted. There’s no telling whether they were ever counted, and in most races they probably weren’t. For me, I had served under a Republican president as a White House fellow. I was in the Office of Management and Budget–

TPM: This was President Ford?

CLARK: Ford. And I knew Dick Cheney and Rumsfeld — I didn’t know them personally or well; I was 30 years old and they were very important people. I was just a sort of special assistant to the director of OMB. But I knew him, and Paul O’Neill and other people, and respected them. Then I worked around with the Clinton administration when I was the J5 on the Joint Staff. I knew people there, high level officials, and respected them. And when I got out, I went into business and obviously I voted.

I voted for Al Gore in the election of 2000. I had voted for Bill Clinton previously. For me, the issue was: make sure before you pick a party — you don’t have to pick a party in Arkansas to vote, you just vote, and I voted in the Democratic primary, but that didn’t mean becoming a member of the Democratic party. Before you pick a party, make sure you know why you’re picking a party. Make sure you understand what the partisan political process is in America. What does it commit you to? What does it mean? How does it affect the rest of your life? What is it all about? And so I thought I’d take a look at both parties.

I was fortunate. I was well-enough known that both parties invited me to consider them. The Republican party invited me to participate in a fundraiser and run for Congress. The Democratic party invited me to be their nominee for governor of the state of Arkansas. I was tremendously honored by that. And it was clear as I looked at the parties, looked at the culture, watched the dialogue, it wasn’t just that I had voted for Al Gore, I really believed in what the Democratic party stood for. And so when it came time to choose a political party, I chose the Democratic party.

Most of the discussion is about policy rather than politics. Clark strikes a very hawkish note on Islamic terrorism, and does it convincingly, at least to my ear. Substantively, I think he’s right, and I also think that the issue is a perfect platform for a run against Bush:

TPM: I noticed that Doug Feith, who’s obviously the Undersecretary of Defense for Policy, had a statement a while back saying that the connection between terrorist organizations and state sponsors was, I think he said, the principal strategic thought behind the administration’s policy.

CLARK: It’s the principal strategic mistake behind the administration’s policy. If you look at all the states that were named as the principal adversaries, they’re on the periphery of international terrorism today. Syria — OK, supporting Hezbollah and Hamas — yeah, they’re terrorist organizations. They’re focused on Israel. They’re getting support from Iran. It’s wrong. Shouldn’t be there. But they’re there. What about Saudi Arabia? There’s a source of the funding, the source of the ideology, the source of the recruits. What about Pakistan? With thousands of madrassas churning out ideologically-driven foot soldiers for the war on terror. Neither of those are at the front of the military operations.

TPM: Well, those are our allies, our supposed–

CLARK: Mentioning those two countries upsets the kind of nineteenth century geostrategy and the idea–this administration is not only playing that game, but they’re more or less settling scores against the Soviet surrogates in the Cold War in the Middle East.

TPM: That being Syria, Lebanon

CLARK: The proxy states, Syria, Lebanon, whatever. These states are not — they need to transform. But, why is it impossible to take an authoritarian regime in the Middle East and see it gradually transform into something democratic, as opposed to going in, knocking it off, ending up with hundreds of billions of dollars of expenses. And killing people. And in the meantime, leaving this real source of the problems — the states that were our putative allies during the Cold War — leaving them there. Egypt. Saudi Arabia. Pakistan.

Full text here. Worth reading the whole thing.

Update Josh follows up [*] with an account of the Sime Machine in action: you don’t just disagree with the person you’re trying to get, you try to make him look like a nut. Josh shows how the passage for which Clark is being attacked by Kristol and his ilk actually shows a sophistication about the Washington policy process which would be a huge asset for a President who might otherwise have to learn the hard way.

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

Comments are closed.