It seems that each time a diary is posted about General Clark, the same old out-of-context criticisms of him surface, trying to "prove" that he isn't/wasn't really against the Iraq War. For a ton of evidence that Wes was always against the Iraq War, see this diary. The goal of this diary is to put the out-of-context criticisms back into their original context, which, strangely enough, has been left out of most of the Wes-Clark-was-really-for-the-war "proofs."
Let me first start by saying that Wes is not a sound-bite guy. One reason why Wes can appeal to moderates is he develops a discussion, hitting upon the reasonable parts of opposing positions along the way, before concluding his argument. His style brings people on the edges of agreement along with him and makes them feel confident that he understands their point of view even if they disagree with his conclusions. Unfortunately, this style also makes cherry picking Wes’s statements very simple; all one has to do is quote some intermediate part of the discussion to make Wes sound like a waffler. We could argue whether that’s a weakness in the current environment, or maybe we could just start holding American voters to a higher standard and start expecting them to analyze more than a sentence at a time. But that discussion is for a different diary. In this diary, I just want to place into context the two most often dredged up and taken out of context Clark quotes.
- The most frequently misused Wes Clark article is an April 10, 2003, Times of London OpEd where Wes Clark wrote about the Iraq war. By cherry-picking sentences and eliminating critical information, some people have tried to make unsuspecting readers think that Wes "praised the war."
The OpEd is no longer available on the Times of London webpage, but thanks to people who like to criticize Wes, the complete article is available online here.
Time and time and time again, Clarkies have been forced to defend Wes against pieces cherry-picked from this article. Often, the beginning of the first paragraph will be quoted without the last sentence (emphasis added):
Can anything be more moving than the joyous throngs swarming the streets of Baghdad? Memories of the fall of the Berlin Wall, and the defeat of Milosevic in Belgrade flood back. Statues and images of Saddam are smashed and defiled. Liberation is at hand. Liberation — the powerful balm that justifies painful sacrifice, erases lingering doubt and reinforces bold actions. Already the scent of victory is in the air. Yet a bit more work and some careful reckoning need to be done before we take our triumph.
Please, read the whole thing, particularly the final paragraphs:
As for the political leaders themselves, President Bush and Tony Blair should be proud of their resolve in the face of so much doubt. And especially Mr Blair, who skillfully managed tough internal politics, an incredibly powerful and sometimes almost irrationally resolute ally, and concerns within Europe. Their opponents, those who questioned the necessity or wisdom of the operation, are temporarily silent, but probably unconvinced. And more tough questions remain to be answered.
Is this victory? Certainly the soldiers and generals can claim success. And surely, for the Iraqis there is a new-found sense of freedom. But remember, this was all about weapons of mass destruction. They haven’t yet been found. It was to continue the struggle against terror, bring democracy to Iraq, and create change, positive change, in the Middle East. And none of that is begun, much less completed.
Let’s have those parades on the Mall and down Constitution Avenue — but don’t demobilize yet. There’s a lot yet to be done, and not only by the diplomats.
I’ve noticed that the repeated attacks of Wes using this article as ammunition, stop quoting the piece after "As for the political leaders themselves, President Bush and Tony Blair should be proud of their resolve in the face of so much doubt." Of course those attacks stop quoting there. The rest of the article shows Wes’s true message. The first 2/3 of the article is context, and the last 1/3 is a giant BUT.
In context, the article is opposing the common feeling of the vast majority of Americans at the time, that we’d won the war. On April 10, 2003, we’d just toppled the statue of Saddam Hussein. We wanted to have parades. One had to acknowledge that in order to make an impression on the reader--yeah, you’re happy now, but you have no idea what you’re in for. And, guess what, Wes Clark was right! The war itself was easy to win, but the peace has been hell. As of the writing of this diary, it’s now February 2007, and Wes’s statement that the purpose of the war "was to continue the struggle against terror, bring democracy to Iraq, and create change, positive change, in the Middle East. And none of that is begun, much less completed," is just as true today as it was nearly 4 years ago.
In context, not only does this article not show that Wes was for the war as his detractors like to imply, but it also shows how Wes told us on April 10, 2003, exactly what we were in for.
- The second most frequently taken out of context conversation is the discussion General Clark had with reporters in the air on the first day of his 2004 campaign where he was quoted as saying he would have voted for the IWR. People like to quote this. They like to make it sound like Wes couldn’t decide on his position because he said many different things. The truth is, he was trying to explain his position on the war in detail while the reporters were looking for and planning to use only a few sentences. Wes talked about this particular interview in a June 2005 Salon interview, titled Get Moving. Of course, the whole Salon interview is interesting, but on the second page of the discussion, he talks about that day:
SALON: Your presidential campaign stumbled right out of the box when you were asked about the Iraq war resolution. Looking back now, do you think that was the defining moment for your campaign, that you were doomed from that point on?
WKC: Well, what I said in testimony repeatedly was that I believed that Congress should empower the president to go forward with a resolution to the United Nations. But I warned against giving him a blank check. I would never have supported the resolution as it ultimately emerged.
SALON: But you wavered on that over the course of that particular day.
WKC: On that particular day, I explained -- well, I tried to explain -- what my views were on the war. It was a conversation that was less than complete -- let's put it that way.
In context, Wes was trying to say he'd have supported the Levin amendment, which was not a blank check. But it didn't come out that way. So, yeah, Wes blew it that day talking to the press, but unless we want to lose respect for a person because he thought that he was having a complex conversation with the press about a knotty problem, the oft-quoted remark from that day is irrelevant.
General Clark graduated first in his class at West Point and was a Rhodes Scholar. He doesn’t speak in sound-bites. And I’m glad. He explains his point of view by touching upon opposing arguments along the way. That's the way he works through problems. I think we need more of that in this country even though it may make us vulnerable to out-of-context attacks.