Saturday, November 15, 2003


The November 17 issue of the New Yorker has a chilly portrait of Wesley Clark by Peter J. Boyer. It details Clark’s flip-flopping on the Iraq War, his near-disastrous misjudgments about how to handle the Kosovo conflict (for one example of many, here’s a defense expert’s evaluation of Clark’s plan for an invasion of Kosovo: “Gallipoli springs to mind”), and his knack for turning friends into enemies (former Secretary of Defense William Cohen, for instance, is said “to regard Clark’s hiring as one of the worst mistakes of his tenure”).

There is also this interesting irony:
After leaving the Army, in 2000, Clark . . . still had much to say about Kosovo, and, when he became a commentator on CNN and joined the lecture tour, that war was often the lens through which Clark viewed the contemporary world. He spoke of the “lessons of Kosovo,” and when he became a Presidential candidate his criticism of the Iraq war was framed by his Kosovo experience.

The Kosovo experience was also partly how George W. Bush defined himself when he was creating a national political profile in 2000. At the time, Bush scorned the use of America’s military in the cause of such adventures as the overturning of tyrants, and warned against the hubris of attempting to nation-build in places like Kosovo. In a way, Clark’s candidacy is an extension of that argument, with a stark reversal of roles. Now Bush is defending the untidy aftermath of the Iraq invasion, and, because no weapons of mass destruction have yet been found, Bush supporters increasingly justify the war as a humanitarian intervention. Clark, who led a war against a tyrant who brutalized his people, now finds himself opposing the war that overturned Saddam Hussein.
I happen to think that the case for nation-building as a main focus of U.S. foreign policy is stronger now, in the post-September 11 age, than it was during the Clinton years. Still, the ease and rapidity with which people like Clark on the one hand and the Bush camp on the other have exchanged their rhetorical clothes ought to give both sides pause.

“Ought to,” not “will,” of course.


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