General Election




The dull hum surrounding the Democratic presidential contest has become a full-on buzz. As expected, Wesley Clark, ex-four-star general, is officially the tenth candidate — and his candidacy is giving both Democrats and Republicans pause.

Who is this guy? Truth is, in political terms, he’s an unknown quantity. Clark’s strategy (if any) until now has been to let his impressive military record speak for itself. He hasn’t said too much about his positions, but by military standards he comes across as pretty liberal. Right-wingers haven’t lost any time going after him. Here is a guy, they realize, who makes the commander in chief look like a weekend warrior.

Clark has a gold-plated resume: First in his class at West Point, NATO commander in Kosovo, and onetime head of the U.S. Southern Command. He’s also smart — a former Rhodes Scholar and an acute military strategist described by an army colleague as “almost infallible.”

Which isn’t to say he’s always and everywhere a hawk. Clark preaches multilateralism, and he didn’t like the war in Iraq. But given his Kosovo tour, Repulicans can’t say he’s wimpy on intervention. (In fact, he pushed hard for the use of ground troops there, over the objections of the Clinton administration.)

And the general has a certain charm — the Washington Post noted an example, at his announcement speech, of Clark’s snark:

“In echoes of wartime President Harry S. Truman, someone shouted to Clark, ‘Give ’em hell, General,’ as Clark was shaking hands with the crowd. He pumped his fist, smiled and replied, ‘We’re going to give them the truth, and they’ll think it’s hell.'”

Some Democrats are eyeing Clark, with his (they think) middle-of-the-road social views and national security bona fides, as the party’s best shot at regime change in the White House. Salon explains:

“Thanks to a new strain of pragmatism inside the Democratic Party, electability has become the mantra as an influential bloc of officials, activists and donors remain intent on using the election not to win the heart of the party, but to beat Bush.”

Scoobie Davis’ blog puts it more bluntly:

“I applaud Howard Dean for firing people up; however, we need a candidate who can kick George W. Bush’s illegitimate ass. That man is Wesley Clark.”

What else do we know about Clark? There’s what his supporters put together, as Liv Leader reported in an August article for Mother Jones.com:

“From Clark’s speeches and writings his advocates say they have determined that their main man is pro-choice, pro-affirmative action, pro-immigration, supports a progressive tax policy, is wary of the USA Patriot Act, doesn’t support drilling in the Alaskan Wildlife Refuge, and supports a broad social safety net.”

TomPaine.com reports that he may favor lifting the ban on gays in the military, and is “generally progressive on women’s issues.” Before he officially announced his candidacy, Clark had a group of online supporters running the DraftClark.com website, ranging from Women 4 Clark to Latinos for Clark to Environmentalists for Clark.

A solid contender, for sure. But he’s certainly not perfect. Clark is way behind in fund raising and has never served in any political office; and some who’ve worked closely with him find him a bit of a pill, as the Washington Post reports:

“‘There are an awful lot of people,’ [said] another retired four-star, who requested anonymity, ‘who believe Wes will tell anybody what they want to hear and tell somebody the exact opposite five minutes later. The people who have worked closely with him are the least complimentary, because he can be very abrasive, very domineering.'”

But Clark is a threat to the Bush camp, whether as a presidential contender or (quite likely) a vice-presidential candidate. So what is the Right going to do about him?

Counterspin predicted a barrage of criticism, blogging the top seven most likely attacks on Clark. Among them were his involvement in the Waco, Texas debacle, where he commanded the first cavalry division:

“The only issue debated by experts is whether Clark was at Waco in person to help direct the assault against the church compound in a scene remarkably similar to the incineration of villagers in a church by the British in Mel GibsonÕs movie ‘The Patriot.’

What happened at Waco was the death, mostly by fire, of at least 82 men, women and children, including two babies who died after being ‘fire aborted’ from the dying bodies of their pregnant mothers.

Planning for this final assault involved a meeting between Clinton Attorney General Janet Reno and two military officers who developed the tactical plan used but who have never been identified.

Some evidence and analysis suggests that Wesley Clark was one of these two who devised what happened at Waco.”

There’s also an attempt to attack Clark for claiming he got a phone call, right after 9/11, from “people around the White House” telling him to link the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center to Saddam Hussein. Conservatives aren’t buying it.

But the most telling criticism of Clark is FrontPage’s slap at his conduct of the Kosovo campaign in 1997:

“This war was largely fought from high altitude aircraft to minimize American casualties, an approach that increased civilian casualties on the ground. Clark soon acquired a reputation as someone who lied about such casualties, lies reported even by Time Magazine.”

Hmm. What was that about the pot and the kettle?