I was invited to a small roundtable meeting with the General, to a subsequent speech, and to an event later that evening where I was able to ask him things that were on my mind. I was direct, and so was he...
Now let me just start by making one thing perfectly clear - General Clark is hell bent on the Democrats winning back at least one house of Congress - at stake he says - American democracy itself. `We all warned,' stated Clark `that if Bush won the presidency we would lose the court. Bush won. We lost the court. But if we lose in 2006, losing the courts will seem insignificant.' Democracy itself, freedom and liberty, our way of life, the very brotherhood that binds America together as a nation, that is what General Clark passionately urged those present to defend. That, he made crystal clear in somber tone, was on the verge of vanishing from the face of this earth; brought to this point by a power-crazed Republican leadership that seeks nothing less than total domination.
Now here's where the General earns his pension. I asked him straight up how the Democrats, prone to reason and debate, could compete with a Republican machine that exploits fear and crafts strategies to manipulate the instincts of our reptilian brain. I made the point that a proportion of the electorate was wired, through conditioning, so that any attack or threat to the nation would default them into the Republicans' hands. His response was quick, and deliberate: 'the Democrats need to get out there and engage the Republicans head to head on national security! We need to take the fight right to them! The Democrats need to make that the focus of their being; that the Republicans, who have so completely sacrificed the security of this nation through incompetence and willful indifference have not only failed to secure America, they have unified our enemies, depleted our resources and stretched our military to the brink. All before the watchful eyes of the world and our enemies. Enemies that will now see America as more vulnerable in the inability of our leadership to succeed.'
His passion was clear and real. `If the Democrats were in power,' he strenuously argued, `we would have gone after Bin Laden, we would never have wasted over $200 billion of the nation's wealth, we would never have ignored the threats of North Korea and Iran, we would never have ignored Putin's power grabs and suppression of Russian Democracy, we would never have completely ignored China's growing economic threat, and we would never have undertaken a policy of such ill repute that it creates more enemies in the world than friends. Only by directly engaging the Republicans on national security,' he stressed, `can the Democratic Party hope to win.'
He also made clear that the Democrats at large do not need to elaborate specific plans of action for specific aspects of the war in Iraq. Why? Because not having control of any part of the government, and facing a Republican Party that keeps all possible knowledge from the Democrats' purview, the Democrats have little or no knowledge of what is actually going on at the front lines of the battle. And with communication of the command structure clearly compromised and top-down only, even many in the Republican leadership are unaware of the details of the conflict. However, we certainly understand the political forces involved, the parties engaged, and the stakes at risk, and with that knowledge, we can and should argue a course of action to maximize the favorability of the outcome. In an evolution from previous statements, the General entertained an exit strategy predicated on `the ability to engage the Sunnis in the new government within a four month time frame'. He explained the necessity to `empower the Sunnis to prevent the fracturing of Iraq, which would precipitate massive ethnic cleansing, a Shia alignment with the militant factions of Iran, and the Peshmerga's withdrawal from Iraqi security forces to defend an independent Kurd movement eliminating the possibility of a unified nation.' The General suggested that an effort to emend the Iraqi constitution to increase the Sunni's role would yield what he deemed "the C- result." Anything less would be "an F" for it would precipitously lead to failure. He was not keen on failure, given that the possibility to avert disaster still existed, but for the immeasurable incompetence of the Bush administration.
Furthermore, he expounded the importance of the Democrats not sinking to the bitter and divisive political vitriol of the Republicans. That `we need to take a step back to a time of civility because any victory won by the Democratic party with such tactics would further poison American society to the point of irreconcilable divisions.' And that in itself `could alter the very nature of America enough to threaten the continuity of our democracy and the hope and prosperity of a stable nation.' The key was in winning on the issues, and there, we needed to extol the strengths our record demonstrates. We cannot back down in the interest of reconciliation or expediency. We must engage in this fight of ideas, illuminate the Republicans' failure of leadership and put forth the Democratic vision for America, a vision complete with the balance of power restored, and the focus of the government returned to the welfare of its people.
Later in the evening, he also personally expressed to me his concern about the integrity of the voting machines, the discrepancies of the optical tabulators, Republican led voter suppression, and complete awareness of county level irregularities. It's on his mind. Believe me. He knows what's at stake and he's not afraid to say it.
Over and over, he stated "country before party" alluding to the Republicans who have so recklessly put their party over America. A party with no low to which they are willing to sink. No vitriol, shame, or mean-spirited, divisive tactic they would be unwilling to employ in pursuit of power. He read from a memo that he surmised as the inner voice of the Republican Party. It delineated a willingness to engage in fear mongering, the discarding of diplomacy, and a preemptive attack on Iran within the next few months. An attack that would serve to rally the nation behind President Bush in time for the 2006 elections and make unnecessary the Congress and courts as a unitary executive rises to take total control of all in the name of security. The Democratic Party would never again see the light of day - it would simply cease to exist. He said this with measure and gravity. 'Fighting for American democracy doesn't start on the streets of Iraq or Iran. Fighting for American democracy starts right here - on Main Street America.'
Now many may understand this as the Republican endgame. Some, who probably prefer watching the Anna Nicole Show to Keith Olberman, might not see the signs - Alito, warrantless wiretaps, the Plame leak, fabricated terror alerts, indefinite detentions, withholding of counsel, Constitutional abandonment in the name of "security"... But never have I seen someone in the political realm articulate it with such clarity and conviction; with the concern of someone who served 34 years in the name of freedom, or the confidence of someone who has walked among the highest corridors of power. I also had the privilege of meeting General Clark a year ago at the California Democratic Convention. He was fresh off the campaign trail, and determined to engage the Republicans in their own back yard. But I have to say, what a difference a year has made! I knew he was intelligent then, though politically green at the time, but the past year has served him well. He has found his voice. He speaks in language with near universal appeal. He speaks as an American above all with ideas as his weapons and facts as his shield. And he now has a new determination, to preserve the very being of the country he loves.
Now there are some who may doubt the General's motivations, his political savvy, or his ability to play with the big boys of the party. I am not one of those. Not any more. I have seen most of the party leaders of the past few campaigns up close and personal. Met and greeted them, heard them talk live, looked into their eyes, and watched from afar on C-SPAN speech after speech after speech. I've seen Clinton, Gore, Kerry, Edwards, and Dean up close and personal - but I've never seen anything like Clark! Is he a politician - yes. But he's an American first, and the things he said today... with the exception of Al Gore's recent speeches, never before have I seen a politician with the guts to so lay it on the line.
It would take dozens of pages to expound on all that he said, idea after idea, from progressive education reform to single payer healthcare reform to empowering American research and innovation, especially American universities, to ways we can help disabled veterans, to countering the threat of Chinese and Indian economic growth through European and Latin American alliances, to South American political movements, to solutions to Middle East conflict in detail and nuance that I was truly amazed by. He expounded in detail the situation in Iran, that the United States must spend the next 30 days engaging the Iranian government in diplomacy, he predicted a possible 14 day bombing strike by the Bush administration and said it would serve only to elevate Ahmadinejad to Bin Laden status for bearing the bullying of what is perceived to be a Muslim hating America. I'm not going into further detail on the dozens of other topics he covered in the time I was there. For that, I suggest reading the diary of Hekebolos (who elaborated on some additional topics of discussion), and visiting http://www.securingamerica.com/ and reading General Clark's January 30th address to the New America Foundation titled "The Real State of the Union 2006."
To those who would argue that this is merely some kind of idol worship, I say this to you - I challenge you to meet General Clark in person and make the same judgment. Until you do this, until you've spent even an hour with this man, you cannot understand how serious he is about preserving America from the mortal threats within, the drive of his mission, and the incredible depth and expanse of his knowledge on all matters foreign and domestic. You cannot comprehend the sincerity of his convictions and genuineness of his character. There was no topic he was unwilling to discuss and he made no attempt to equivocate or evade any question.
Wesley Clark is a one man movement. A modern visionary with the rare capacity to envelop a world of complex issues and synthesize, codify, organize and deliver. His message was so powerful, so well thought out, so precisely articulated, and so heartfelt that even a singe drop could tinge a candidate like aniline die. To which I ask this: What is the point of all this if it should wither away in a vacuum? The point is that General Clark is willing to meet with Democratic candidates and engage them in the issues. He wants to do this! He is willing to spread the wealth of his knowledge and message, and it is a rich wealth to spread. I can guarantee you that any candidate at any level who has the opportunity to spend any time with General Clark, who is open-minded enough to keep their ears clear and their attention focused, will come away with an understanding of issues, framing of language, unity of message, and confidence in the Democratic Party's ability to go head to head on matters of national security like they have never had before.
I would implore anyone with any rapport with any Democratic candidate to reach out to General Clark, to hear his message, to consider his language, and to heed his warnings. In this, I cannot have any more conviction.