Why Has Wes Clark Disappeared?

Wes Clark’s disappearance might say something a little disturbing about the military brass.

I wondered the other day why Wes Clark has disappeared from the transition and from any role in the administration, even advisory.

Several readers have suggested that it stemmed from Clark’s interview in early July, which supposedly showed him to be gaffe-prone. I don’t buy that one for a second. First, as I argued then, Clark simply made no gaffe: the right-wing noise machine invented it and it was picked up by incompetent enablers like Mark Helperin. Second, Obama then chose Joe Biden as VP and Larry Summers as his chief economic advisor; compared to them, Clark might as well be a deaf mute.

But then one reader sent in this explanation, which rings true to me:

I suspect the diss is part of a perception within Obama’s circle that Clark is a pariah among active military brass, and the incoming administration is determined to win over the military support that normally goes unquestioned to the Reps.

My father was a career officer in the Air Force, so I’ve witnessed first hand the lifelong training to never question one’s commanding officer. Clark’s public opposition to the judgment of other generals prior to and after his appointment as Supreme Allied Commander Europe of NATO seems to have earned him an undying enmity from a few fellow generals. My father considers Clark a traitor, someone who put his own advancement ahead of his obligation to follow orders — an unforgivable sin. (Like Sweeney Todd, my father never forgives and never forgets.) . . . I’ve always sensed that Clark’s real crime in my father’s eyes and those of his military colleagues was speaking out at all.

Like the Warren selection for the inaugural invocation, presumably a calculated decision to shore up the evangelical base in support of Obama’s forthcoming actions to attack global warming, Obama’s (more than) oversight of Clark probably feeds into a strategy to gain the respect of active military leaders to implement plans that they might otherwise oppose in a knee-jerk way.

Obama is doubling, tripling, quadrupling down on getting military backing: keeping Gates on, hiring James Jones as NSA, appointing Shinseki at Veterans’ Affairs. If Clark is indeed such a pariah, then that would explain things.

What it would not do is say anything edifying about the military brass. This is a group that went into practically open revolt against Bill Clinton over don’t ask don’t tell, and consistently leaked stories negative about Clinton to the press. If my correspondent’s thoughtful speculations are true, apparently among the brass, loyalty only runs one way.

And if that’s true, Obama had better watch his back very carefully.

Author: Jonathan Zasloff

Jonathan Zasloff teaches Torts, Land Use, Environmental Law, Comparative Urban Planning Law, Legal History, and Public Policy Clinic - Land Use, the Environment and Local Government. He grew up and still lives in the San Fernando Valley, about which he remains immensely proud (to the mystification of his friends and colleagues). After graduating from Yale Law School, and while clerking for a federal appeals court judge in Boston, he decided to return to Los Angeles shortly after the January 1994 Northridge earthquake, reasoning that he would gladly risk tremors in order to avoid the average New England wind chill temperature of negative 55 degrees. Professor Zasloff has a keen interest in world politics; he holds a PhD in the history of American foreign policy from Harvard and an M.Phil. in International Relations from Cambridge University. Much of his recent work concerns the influence of lawyers and legalism in US external relations, and has published articles on these subjects in the New York University Law Review and the Yale Law Journal. More generally, his recent interests focus on the response of public institutions to social problems, and the role of ideology in framing policy responses. Professor Zasloff has long been active in state and local politics and policy. He recently co-authored an article discussing the relationship of Proposition 13 (California's landmark tax limitation initiative) and school finance reform, and served for several years as a senior policy advisor to the Speaker of California Assembly. His practice background reflects these interests: for two years, he represented welfare recipients attempting to obtain child care benefits and microbusinesses in low income areas. He then practiced for two more years at one of Los Angeles' leading public interest environmental and land use firms, challenging poorly planned development and working to expand the network of the city's urban park system. He currently serves as a member of the boards of the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy (a state agency charged with purchasing and protecting open space), the Los Angeles Center for Law and Justice (the leading legal service firm for low-income clients in east Los Angeles), and Friends of Israel's Environment. Professor Zasloff's other major activity consists in explaining the Triangle Offense to his very patient wife, Kathy.