Clark to Dems: Get over Vietnam

Oh, and he’s running for President.

Just back from a fundraiser for Wesley Clark’s WesPac, with Clark himself as the main attraction.

Clark is running for President in 2008. He stopped just shy of a formal announcement, but left no one in doubt about his intentions. The crowd of about 150 seemed delighted.

The speech was, I thought, terrific (in stark contrast to the boring emails that have been going out under Clark’s name and the so-so website).

The message was straightforward: the Democrats are better able to keep the country secure than the Bushites, but they need to “get over Vietnam” and convince the voters of that fact. (Thoughts on that problem in this earlier post.) And they need to stop letting the GOP define “faith” and “patriotism” as partisan issues.

Clark urged his troops to get involved in Democratic Party organizations, something that’s already been happening in Los Angeles through Michael Webber’s LA Grassroots group.

This site rarely offers gambling advice, but the contract on Clark’s being the Democratic nominee is trading at 1.7 asked on Tradesports. At effective odds of 60:1, that sounds to me like a good bet.

As to a different sort of financial transaction, you can contribute to WesPac here.

Consider that my blegging activity for the quarter.

Update Prof. Bainbridge and Matt Yglesias point out that Clark’s military career won’t protect him from being called a coward and a traitor by his Republican opponents if he becomes the nominee, any more than John Kerry’s Silver Star protected him.

But it’s not Clark’s uniform I’m counting on; it’s his record and his persona. Kerry was a war hero, but Kerry was also a dove. That was what the Swifties couldn’t forgive, and the some otherwise Democratic voters couldn’t stomach.

Clark, by contrast, is a hawk, with owlish tendencies. More important, in addition to his thoughtfulness, he carries a strain of unreflecting flag-and-country patriotism that most post-Vietnam liberals find it hard to match.

Second update: Here’s a Quicktime video of Clark’s speech.

Obit for a worthy campaign

Wesley Clark is out of the race. That was the logical thing to do after finishing third twice in Southern states today.

Clark made some bad plays and hit some tough breaks. (Howard Dean’s collapse came just a week too early; otherwise, we might be writing today about how Clark’s brilliant strategy of skipping Iowa and letting Dean finish off Gephardt and Kerry had paid off.)

But he contributed to raising questions about Mr. Bush as a wartime leader and, more importantly, to the slow process of rescuing the Democratic Party from the instinctive and unreflective dovishness that has plagued it since Vietnam. I’m sorry that he didn’t win, but I don’t regret the time, the money, or the emotional commitment I invested, and encouraged other people to invest, in his campaign.

There’s no telling what the next chapter of this extraordinary life will be, but I predict that it will be good for the country, and will leave those of us who supported him feeling proud.

Did Clark insult the junior officers?

John F. Kerry and Wesley K. Clark were both war heroes as junior officers in Vietnam. Clark, gravely wounded in a firefight, stayed on his feet and rallied his troops to fight off the enemy. Kerry, commanding a small fleet of gunboats on the Mekong River, organized a daring and successful counterattack on ambushers who were firing on his vessels from the shore, and then personally ran after and shot one of the ambushers.

Each was awarded the Silver Star. Each had other moments of heroism: Kerry won a Bronze Star in Vietnam for rescuing a comrade at risk to himself, and Clark in Kosovo climbed 1000 feet down a dangerous hillside to try to rescue the occupants of a car that had run off the road.

After the Vietnam War, Kerry left the military, founded the Vietnam Veterans Against the War, and entered electoral politics. Clark stayed in the Army, formed part of the cadre of young Vietnam-veteran officers who rebuilt that institution into the fighting machine that won the Gulf War and the War and Iraq, rose to the rank of full (four-star) General, served as Supreme Allied Commander in Europe, and led a successful war.

That’s the background for the latest tempest in a teapot. Here’s the New York Times’s account of what what seems to me a totally unexceptional and unobjectionable exchange, published under the inflammatory and factually incorrect headline Clark Takes Aim at New Rival:

During an appearance on CNN’s “Larry King Live” as the Iowa results rolled in, former Senator Bob Dole said to General Clark that he thought the success of Mr. Kerry, also a decorated Vietnam War veteran, might have turned the general into a colonel.

“Well I don’t agree,” General Clark said. “Senator, with all due respect, he’s a lieutenant and I’m a general. You’ve got to get your facts right.”

Asked later about the exchange, General Clark acknowledged Senator Kerry’s military background. But, he added: “Nobody in the race has got the kind of background I’ve got. I’ve negotiated peace agreements. I’ve led a major alliance in war. It’s one thing to be a hero as a junior officer. He’s done that and I respect him for that. He’s been a good senator. But I’ve had the military leadership at the top as well as at the bottom.”

Well, right. Kerry was a hero, which establishes his personal physical courage and his patriotism, but doesn’t make him an expert on the military or on national security affairs. Clark was a hero, which establishes his personal physical courage and his patriotism, and then rose to be a four-star general, which does make him an expert on the military and on national security affairs.

Kerry has an edge in political experience, which Clark wouldn’t deny; Clark has the advantage in military experience, which no one in his right mind could deny.

Later, in New Hampshire, Clark said the following:

“I stayed with the military all the way through,” Clark told reporters after rallying volunteers at his headquarters. “I stayed with the United States Army through Vietnam. I was company commander there. I fought and I was hit by four rounds.”

“I’m only saying I stayed with the United States armed forces. I’m proud I did. Lots of us did,” said Clark, answering a question about his and Kerry’s military service.

A spokesman for the Kerry campaign tried to pretend that Clark somehow denigrated Kerry’s heroism. “We didn’t expect General Clark would question John Kerry’s courage and commitment to country given his record under fire.”

Well, I’m glad they didn’t expect it, because it didn’t happen. Clark said, without being prompted, that Kerry was a hero, and acknowledged his service in the Senate. (To be fair, it’s entirely possible that the reporter, playing “Let’s you and him fight,” somewhat misquoted Clark in asking the Kerry people to comment.)

Note that the Union-Leader, like the Times, has a headline that implies that Clark went after Kerry, when the text of the article makes it clear that the “contrast” was set up entirely in the reporter’s mind, and by the reporter’s own question.

Tacitus is echoing the Kerry line:

Am I reading this correctly? Is Wesley Clark really obliquely belitting John Kerry’s war service? Is he really denigrating mere junior officers as compared to exalted generals? Is he really implying that there’s some moral failing in not pursuing a lifetime mililtary career?

Answers: No, No, No, and No.

C’mon, Tacitus. Ask me a hard one!

Tacitus — who never bothers to acknowledge Clark’s own heroism, in Vietnam an then in the Balkans, has a comment directed at Clark, which he could better have kept for himself:


Instapundit echoes Tacitus, without bothering to check the original sources to verify the accuracy — or, as it turns out, the inaccuracy — of Tacitus’s account.

And naturally Rush Limbaugh weighs in.

Was George W. Bush a “deserter”?

Last week I criticized Wesley Clark for standing by and not protesting while Michael Moore called George W. Bush a “deserter.” As I read the law, Bush was not guilty of the extremely serious crime of “desertion,” but only of the less serious, though hardly trivial, offense of being Absent Without Leave (AWOL).

But I don’t know where Peter Jennings got the idea that the use of the term “deserter” was “a reckless charge, unsupported by the facts.” The facts amply support the AWOL charge, and a sufficiently nasty prosecutor could have tried to make out a case for desertion. (Whether the facts satisfy the elements fo that crime would depend on what it means to “intend” to remain permanently absent.)

Administratively, a servicemember AWOL for more than 30 days is posted as a “deserter,” though no one seems to know how that rule applies in the case of Guardsmen not on active duty. (Is that 30 calendar days from the first missed drill, or 30 cumulative days of missed drill?) So there might be a technical sense in which Bush was in fact a “deserter,” even if he wasn’t guilty of the crime of desertion.

I conclude that Moore was guilty of overstatement on a technical point of military law. His accusation was, however, far better supported by the facts than the silence of the mass media about Bush’s service record, or than Jennings’s dismissal of it as “reckless.”

As to Clark, his answer tonight seemed to me quite sensible: Moore is at liberty to say what he likes, and Clark doesn’t have to agree with him or disagree with him. Clark hasn’t looked into the facts and law of the case, and doesn’t intend to look into them, because he’s not running against George W. Bush’s service record but against his record as President.

Here’s how Clark put it:

I think Michael Moore has the right to say whatever he feels about this. I don’t know whether this is supported by the facts or not. I’ve never looked at it. I’ve seen this charge bandied about a lot. But to me it wasn’t material. This election is going to be about the future.

Clark has chosen, reasonably, to leave the investigation of Bush’s service record to the journalists who are paid to do the job. That we have instead journalists who assert that charges are baseless without investigating their basis really isn’t Clark’s fault, now is it?

The Clark campaign: now what?

Clark’s odds have clearly lengthened. The polls suggest that he was getting some votes as the perceived “anti-Dean” that are now going to Kerry and Edwards. Now we get to see whether Clark’s organization of 150,000 volunteers has staying power or not, and whether Kerry and Edwards can build finance and organization fast enough to compete.

The other factor to consider is negative press, which tends to follow the leader. Dean was shredded over the past month, partly fairly, largely not. The attempt to paint Clark as a weasel has had a fair measure of (as far as I can tell, entirely undeserved) success. Kerry got a good dose of Republican sliming last fall, but has largely escaped since. Edwards has been mostly spared so far, except for nasty comments about his boyish good looks.

The bad blood between Dean and the others — mostly, I would say, Dean’s fault — is probably a fixed point. But there’s no reason Kerry, Edwards, and Clark couldn’t form a non-aggression pact. So far, they’ve all been fairly well-behaved toward one another, and there’s actually not enough policy difference among the three of them to see with the naked eye. Any two, in either order, would make a strong ticket for November.

That means that each candidate ought to be thinking now of what he can do to help create and maintain such a non-aggression pact. If half of what’s said about Chris Lehane’s activities is true — I say, “if,” as I have no way of knowing — but if Lehane was involved, for example, in spreading the smear about Dean’s having covered up for a wife-beater, then Clark might want to consider Machiavelli’s account of how Caesare Borgia treated Remirro de Orco, whose cruelty as Borgia’s viceroy in the Romagna had made him thoroughly unpopular:

“He wished to show that if any cruelty had been committed, this came not from him but from the harsh nature of his minister. And having seized this opportunity, he had him placed one morning in the piazza at Cesena in two pieces, with a piece of wood and a bloody knife beside him. The ferocity of this spectacle left the people at once satisfied and stupefied.”

Nothing that happened this week shakes my confidence that Clark is likely to make both the strongest competitor against Bush and the best President among all the Democrats running. I wasn’t backing him as the anti-Dean, but as the anti-Bush.

I think that Edwards or Kerry would likely run better against Bush than Dean would have, but I still think there are millions of votes potentially available to Clark that aren’t available to the other two. And since I don’t do politics for a living, I’m not under personal pressure to get with the eventual winner early.

If the bulk of Clark’s organization consists of people who feel the way I do, then he won’t lose much organizational muscle as a result of the Iowa outcome. (I notice that he’s continuing to raise about $100,000 a day in contributions averaging $100 each; yesterday was actually a little better than the average of the previous week.) If he can keep his army together, he can stay competitive all the way to Boston.

Update I’m told the Clark volunteer count is now past 200,000. The pace of fundraising seems to have actually picked up since Monday night.

Foul, Clark, offense. Unnecessary roughness.

For the first time in this campaign, I’m disappointed in my candidate. He’s made some mistakes before, but this is the first time he’s done something actually wrong.

Michael Moore, at a Clark fundraiser, said that he looked forward to a debate between “the general and the deserter.”

Clark, asked about it later, said:

“I’ve heard those charges. I don’t know if they are true or not. He was never prosecuted for it,” and “I am not going to go into the issues of what George W. Bush did or didn’t do in the past,” and that holding Bush “accountable for his performance of duty as commander in chief” is “the issue is in this election.”

All of that is good enough, as far as it goes. Clark has, after all, heard those charges, they are legitimate matters of discussion, but Bush’s record as Commander-in-Chief is the more important issue. Exactly right.

But it doesn’t go far enough. Moore was simply wrong to use the word “deserter.” Clark, who surely knows that better than I do, should have corrected Moore’s very bad mistake when asked about it. Having failed to do so, he should do so now.

A soldier who fails to show up for duty is “Absent Without Official Leave”: AWOL. It could lead to some brig time, reduction and rank, and a Dishonorable Discharge.

Desertion is a much more serious matter. It means running away and intending not to come back. It’s a matter for a court-martial. Desertion in wartime used to be a capital offense. (Though I think that was only “desertion in the face of the enemy”: i.e., running away in battle.)

Bush’s military record is a legitimate issue, and his refusal to release his discharge papers is something the media should have been all over four years ago. His defenders continue to say that the issue has somehow been shown to be phony, without ever producing any evidence of Bush’s ever having shown up for Alabama ANG drills during the period when the Texas ANG gave him leave to work on the Senate campaign of a friend of his father’s.

But nothing Bush is described as having done even remotely approaches the military-legal definition of “desertion.” So it was completely inadequate for Clark to say that he had heard that Bush was a “deserter” but wasn’t sure whether it was true. He knows that Bush wasn’t a “deserter,” just as he has good reason to believe Bush was AWOL.

Now of course I’m not sure what Clark actually said, as opposed to what the reporter said he said, or why:

Maybe he did make the distinction, and Broder didn’t bother to report it because it would have complicated the story.

Or maybe Clark was reluctant to embarrass Michael Moore publicly for making that mistake, Moore just having done him a big favor.

Or maybe he thought, given the intolerance of political reporters for nuance, that if he said Bush’s service record wasn’t the issue, and then pointed out that the facts supported the very serious charge of having been AWOL but not the much more serious charge of having been a deserter, he would seem to be emphasizing Bush’s service record having just said that it wasn’t the issue, and (once again) unfairly be made to look inconsistent as a result of trying to make a reporter grasp a distinction.

But the bottom line is that Clark is now on record as being unsure about whether George W. Bush is guilty of a crime of which he is certainly innocent. That’s Bush-like behavior, not Clark-like behavior.

Clark needs to straighten this out.

Update This LA Times story indicates the thickness of Bush’s Teflon coating on this issue. It says that Bush had “a relatively safe posting” in the Texas ANG while Clark was getting shot up in Vietnam, but never mentions the well-documented charges that Bush was AWOL from his National Guard service, leaving the reader with the impression that Moore had just pulled the “deserter” charge out of thin air.

Second update A reader with Navy JAG experience writes to correct an error (now fixed above): a “general” court-martial is reserved for capital cases, which this couldn’t have been because the Vietnam period wasn’t technically “wartime.” Non-capital desertion is tried by a “special” court-martial.

He also reports that being AWOL for more than 30 days is often treated as showing intent to desert, so Michael Moore’s comment wasn’t completely off the wall. Still, in this case it’s obvious there was never actual intent to desert, so GWB wasn’t guilty of desertion.

Third update All the email, and the one link so far, says, more or less, “So what? Bush is a bad guy, and if he’s called a deserter when he was only an AWOL that’s not Clark’s lookout.”


Steve Sachs’s critique of Clark

Steve Sachs (via Instapundit) has a thoughtful post in which he compares Wesley Clark’s victory op-ed to his speech some months later criticizing the decision to go to war. He considers, but dismisses, the idea that Clark’s thought might be consistent, though complex. [Scroll down one item for more on that general issue.]

Sachs makes, I think, at least one plain error. He contrasts Clark’s later critique of the haste with which the war was started with his earlier praise for the decision to move on Baghdad in March rather than waiting until more ground troops were in place. But those weren’t at all the same decision.

It’s perfectly consistent to say that the war could and should have been postponed until the fall, but that, having started it in the winter, it was wise to take the enemy capital quickly rather than slowly.

Sachs also thinks it inconsistent for Clark to praise Bush and Blair for boldness and resolve, while criticizing the substance of their decision. He points out that Howard Dean, for example, would never praise Bush for his “resolve.” That’s right, of course. Dean wouldn’t. But that suggests to me merely that Clark is more generous in spirit than Dean, or than the average politician.

Perhaps that’s why Glenn Reynolds finds Clark “a hard guy to pin down.”

Magnanimity, combined with pugnacity, is not a bad thing in a leader. (See under “Churchill, Winston.”)

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…”