Saturday, November 19, 2005

Waiting for Wesley Clark

Angry words and personal insults erupted in Congress this week when a representative from Ohio with barely two-months tenure in the august body suggested Rep. John Murtha of Pennsylvania, a Marine decorated for combat duty in Vietnam, was a coward when he proposed that the war in Iraq was a failure. More of this acrimony should swirl around Dick Cheney, who took five deferments to dodge the draft during the Vietnam period. What else is here – the daily Kos, among the most influential of the blogs – has Wesley Clark desired by more that 34% of his readership, far more than any other contender for Democratic leadership. Clark’s stock will rise now in the party and in the country. Here is an essay I wrote about Wesley Clark in late August, 2005 for The Free Liberal. Murtha is wrong on the issue of withdrawal and General Clark is right. But what will bring Clark through is character – he is a warrior through and through.

The (Wes) Clark Campaign, Remembered

By Bernie Quigley

I remember first of all Wesley Clark’s silvery-grey hair and his great smile, almost ear to ear when he is among friends, as he was in Little Rock, standing at a podium and addressing a small group who had come out to hear him announce that he would be running for President of the United States. It is the smile of a man with a certain Southern innocence – a man seemingly incapable of duplicity; or at least incapable of intending to be duplicitous – a smile unbeknownst to us northernmost New Englanders who have to think before we smile. It is a smile that is an honest and spontaneous reaction to life that is characteristic of many Southerners. But behind the Southern General could be seen the strong, classical lines in the distinctively handsome Semitic face that came from his Chicago father. Somehow, right away, I was reminded of Anwar Sadat, who had the same innocence and fundamental joy of being, and instinctively bolted to soldier’s attention without a moment’s hesitation to receive the bullet in the chest that would take his life, with complete and solemn acceptance. Wes Clark would be a man like that. But that a man of such simple faith and honest patriotism could gain the Democratic nomination was a reach. That he would even try was curious, so maybe the crowd was less than convinced.

I was lucky enough to be in the crowd that greeted him a short while later when he first arrived in New Hampshire to enter the primary. There was not much interest at first, but then it started to grow. Clark was a natural in independent New Hampshire, but two of our neighbors – Howard Dean across the river, and John Kerry from Massachusetts below – would naturally draw attention as favorite sons.

Howard Dean was a local phenomenon. Deaniacs were everywhere . . . middle-aged urban types with orange hats, the Starbucks crowd and loads of college kids with great enthusiasm. Armies came to my door. Before the Iowa and New Hampshire primaries I invited them all in to warm before the wood stove during one of the coldest winters on record, and asked them who Dr. Dean should pick for vice president. Most often they said “Wesley Clark.” John Kerry seemed a nonentity until he suddenly emerged in Iowa. It was all Wes Clark and Howard Dean, and people in my town and neighborhood started talking about a Howard Dean/Wes Clark ticket like it was an accepted thing.

Then at one point General Clark said, “I’m not going to be Howard Dean’s Dick Cheney,” replying to the suggestion that Howard Dean had asked him to be Vice President if he won the nomination, and before Iowa for awhile it looked like he would. It was a brilliant reply as it pointed out to Dean supporters that what they were seeking in Dr. Dean was in fact a figurehead, as President Bush was seen to be an empty and symbolic figure while Dick Cheney ran the country.

But beneath that was an instinct related to the actual work that needed to be done, and there they saw Wesley Clark. I made phone calls and wrote letters for General Clark throughout the New Hampshire primary season and the same people that liked Howard Dean at the beginning genuinely liked General Clark as well.

But this was disturbing: they seemed afraid of him. They were afraid of him because although they could see that he was a gracious and gentle man, he was a Southern General. And he was a Southern General who spoke without duplicity. When George W. Bush said he would bring Osama Bin Laden back “dead or alive” it was the hubris, bluff and extended innocence of a man who had never truly served his country in uniform.

When General Clark, who had come back from Vietnam literally a basket of wounds and broken bones, said the same thing, it meant it would be his head on a pike. And people knew, we knew what had to be done, we were just not quite ready to do it yet.

Maybe we still aren’t ready. My thought during the presidential campaign was that there were two radical reactions to the invasion of Iraq that were largely psychological avoidances. The one was the “strong man” response – like the rise of the Superman comic in World War II, there was a desire to “get big” to fight a nefarious enemy. This brought the rapid rise of Arnold Schwarzenegger, matinee Big Man, to power. But the matinee Arnold was a caricature of power (which is unfortunate for Arnold the Governor because he appears to be in my estimation a good and quite competent governor, but now his fickle constituents want him out). The other was the Howard Dean response – like King Arthur’s to the French invaders and the Knights Who Say Nee: “Run away!” In fact, Dr. Dean had never taken a pacifist posture and during the campaign his approach to Iraq and Middle East terrorism was quite similar to Wesley Clark’s. But Dean, as governor of VermontAmerica’s Magic Mountain – was somehow perceived to be pacifist and was unconvincing as a warrior. These are denial responses that are characteristic in times of crisis and great change. It took two years of chaotic fighting in random surges and retreats before the North truly faced the situation in the Civil War. It took several years of conflict abroad and a direct attack on Pearl Harbor before America faced its fate in World War II. We faced a difficult situation after 9/11 and again after the invasion of Iraq. We face a difficult situation today.

When he signed the register to enter the New Hampshire primary, Clark held a news conference for the few reporters present and told them that he would engage the Saudis and seek their help in going after Osama bin Laden. He opposed the Bush administration’s invasion of Iraq at every turn, but accepted the new realities of America’s situation in the Middle East as the situation unfolded. Today, most Democrats are characteristically ambiguous about the situation in Iraq and in the Middle East, although John Edwards, through his wife Elizabeth, seems to be edging toward opposition and pulling out. Likewise, there is a movement among Republicans to cut and run.

Not so with Wes Clark. Recently he has been appearing on Sunday talk shows and has posted an op-ed in The Washington Post, expressing his position very clearly.

“In the old, familiar fashion, mounting US casualties in Iraq have mobilized increasing public doubts about the war,” he writes. “Now, more than half the American people believe that the invasion of Iraq was a mistake. They’re right. But it would also be a mistake now to pull out, start pulling out, or set a date to pull out. Instead we need a strategy to create a stable democratizing and peaceful state in Iraq – a strategy the administration has failed to develop and articulate.”

From the onset, he says, we needed a three-pronged strategy in Iraq - diplomatic, political and military. And we needed to engage Iraq’s neighbors to ensure that a stable, democratizing Iraq was not a threat to them. He gives a highly detailed approach to stabilizing Iraq, the kind of thing that often tested reporters looking for 30-second sound bites during his campaign in New Hampshire.

But as Iraq faces a descent into chaos if the Sunni’s fail to endorse the constitution upon which the Bush administration is staking their claim to victory, Clark takes a different approach. “The U.S. should tone down its raw rhetoric for U.S-style democracy as an answer to all problems and instead listen more carefully to the many voices within the region,” he says.

Clark calls for a public U.S. declaration forswearing permanent bases in Iraq which would also be helpful in engaging both regional and Iraqi support at this point. And in addition, he says the U.S. needs a legal mandate from the government to provide additional civil assistance and advice - along with additional U.S. civilian personnel aimed at strengthening the institutions of government. There will be continuing need for assistance in institutional development, leadership training and international monitoring for years to come and all of this must be made palatable to Iraqi sovereignty. Countries far away like Canada, France and Germany should be called in to assist and the Gulf States should also provide observers and technical assistance. Ten thousand Arab Americans with full language proficiency should be recruited to assist as interpreters and over time, American forces should be pulled back into reserve roles and phased out.

“The growing chorus of voices demanding a pull-out should seriously alarm the Bush Administration,” he writes. “For President Bush and his team are repeating the failure of Vietnam – failing to craft a realistic and effective policy, and in its place, simply demanding that the American people show resolve.”

General Clark, as he has shown in Vietnam and Kosovo, is nothing if not tenacious. And the issues he presents will not go away. His reemergence in the press may be a sign that we are beginning to face the mess we created when more than 75% of voters in our country approved of this mind-boggling fiasco in Iraq. It has been my feeling from the beginning that when we are ready to face the music we will turn to Wesley Clark.


KnightRider said...

I believe that voters (Americans) are realizing something even more important in Wes Clark, ... and that's leadership! It's been particularly lacking these past few years in Congress by both Democrats and Repubicans, and more tragically in George W. Bush. Americans are realizing that this country is in dire need of real leadership!

Wesley Clark's Political Action Committee (WesPAC - just sponsored a special series of strategy sessions earlier this week at the WesPAC Annual Meeting in DC. Wes Clark invited Senator Carl Levin (SASC), Rep Nancy Pelosi (Dem Majority Leader), Rep Rham Emanuel (DCCC) and other Congressional leaders who detailed the strategy and mission for the Democratic Party. Therefore, they did not only discuss the Iraq war and the war on terrorism; but importantly, the values, goals and mission of Democrats for the 2006 Congressional campaigns. It was clear that these senior leaders had only the highest regard for Wesley Clark - his leadership and his strategic vision, overall, for the Democratic Party.

Americans are in dire need of leadership in the US Presidency. George W. Bush has only demonstrated total incompetency, whereas Americans "can turn to Wes Clark", again, who has always proven his leadership for the country.

Anonymous said...

Wesley Clark can work this plan; Bush can't. Clark has recieved the highest awards from all the members of Nato for his wisdom and bravery in the Kosovo conflict. Bush has the reputation of a coward instead. Clark has the admiration of whole country of Muslims(The Kosovo conflict again) with his picture hung in their living rooms out of respect. Bush is hated by Muslims.
We have a case of night and day and our young men and women in uniform are paying the price.

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Anonymous said...

I spent a lot of time in New Hampshire also in early, cold 2004 campaigning for Clark. I like New Hampshire but if us armchair political pros learned anything that year it is that Iowa is first, and most important. Clark did have great momentum in New Hampshire but as soon as Kerry won Iowa, the air went out of the Clark Campaign like an untied baloon. It might be different next time, but I doubt it. Iowa is the Super Bowl, New Hampshire is the Pro Bowl.

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