What Clark “flip-flop”?

It’s now the conventional wisdom that Wesley Clark “contradicted himself’ or “flip-flopped” or (in Michael Kinsely’s words) “couldn’t get his story straight” about the war in Iraq.

That claim, no how matter how often it’s repeated or how much damage it does to Clark’s campaign, remains untrue. His position, as I understand it, is clear and consistent, though perhaps too nuanced for the average political reporter.

He thought (as most of us did, and apparently incorrectly) that Saddam Hussein was in possession of substantial stocks of chemical and biological weapons and on track to acquire nuclear weapons. He thought that something needed to be done about that, and that given sufficient patience and diplomacy, the UN would eventually authorize doing something about it.

But he also thought that capturing Osama bin Laden and driving a stake through the heart of al-Qaeda deserved priority, because al-Qaeda posed a more direct and immediate threat to the U.S.

Therefore, he would have voted for the resolution authorizing the use of force, because failing to pas it would have deprived the President of essential bargaining leverage. However, if he had been the Senate and if the Senate had been asked (which, in fact, it was not) to vote on the question of actually invading Iraq in the late winter of 2003 he would have voted “No,” preferring to wait until al-Qaeda was well and truly squelched and until more countries were prepared to side with us on the necessity of invading.

You can criticize that viewpoint, but no one yet has pointed out any internal inconsistency in it.

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

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