Man Without Qualities

Thursday, September 25, 2003

Opportunism Knocks IV

Tom Maguire has more on the possible character and integrity issues that caused President Clinton to remove Wesley Clark from his NATO command. Maguire recounts a nasty incident appearing in TIME of alleged Clark duplicity in connection with the Southern Command.

The TIME magazine article is interesting but thoroughly suspect. As Maguire notes, it relies naively on Sandy Berger for "facts" relating to General Clark's removal. But Mr. Berger and TIME have a very problematic recent history. Delicately: Mr. Berger lied to TIME about important Clinton Administraion history when he said that Clinton Administration had secret plans to invade Afghanistan, and he shouldn't be trusted now. That TIME relies on Mr. Berger without pointing out the problems with his integrity and character taints the entire TIME effort.

The same characteristic Clinton/Berger spin drives the original New York Times implied slur against the Joint Chiefs, Defense Secretary Cohen and others:

In any case, General Clark was forced to retire early by Pentagon officials who, according to several accounts, tricked President Clinton.

Members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff told the White House that they had to find a spot for Joe Ralston, a popular Air Force general and right-hand man to William S. Cohen, the secretary of defense. General Ralston had been denied the promotion to chairman of the Joint Chiefs after admitting to adultery 10 years earlier while separated from his wife.

These members, according to several accounts, told President Clinton that General Clark's regular tour of duty as NATO supreme allied commander was up and that they wanted General Ralston to succeed him.

"Clinton signed on, apparently not realizing that he had been snookered," David Halberstam wrote in his book, "War in a Time of Peace: Bush, Clinton and the Generals" (Scribner, 2001).

"Clark was devastated by the news, a world-class slap in the face, a public rebuke of almost unparalleled proportions," Mr. Halberstam wrote. He added that Samuel Berger, Mr. Clinton's national security adviser, had told General Clark that the Pentagon had fooled the White House.

General Clark wrote that later, President Clinton had told him privately, "I had nothing to do with it."

But the Los Angeles Times reports that General Clark does not himself believe that he was removed to make way for Gen. Ralston:

A year later, in July 2000, Shelton, the Joint Chiefs chairman, called Clark, shocking him with the news that he would be pulled off the job three months ahead of schedule — and without the year's extension Clark was expecting. Officials insisted that the early departure was only to make way for a new commander, Air Force Gen. Joseph W. Ralston, who they said would otherwise have been forced to retire under Pentagon rules.

But "it didn't wash," Clark later wrote in his book. "Was this a way of easing me out, without admitting it?"

And it's not what General Shelton is saying. He's saying that Wesley Clark was removed on character and integrity grounds, and General Shelton (as head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff) is the person the Clinton/Clark camp is implicitly saying was a main "deceiver" of the President, although he is not named by the Times. Moreover, General Clark was expecting a one-year extension of his term. It's ridiculous to suggest that the President denied the requested one-year extension because he thought Wesley Clark's current term was then ending. The need for an extension was caused by the looming end of the term. Some "detractor" must have told the President why the President shouldn't grant General Clark his one year extension - and the President must have agreed with the "detractor." So even if the Clinton/Clark version is assumed, the question just becomes: Why did the President deny General Clark's expected one-year extension?

The Clinton/Clark camp story is inherently unlikely - almost absurd. Its asks us to believe that President Clinton didn't sign off on General Clark's early removal - a world-class slap in the face, a public rebuke of almost unparalleled proportions - at all. How likely is that? Defense Secretary Cohen would have been a necessary participant in the "conspiracy" - and nothing is adduced to suggest that the Secretary would lie to the President. Are we supposed to believe that Gen. Shelton would not have conveyed his misgivings to the President, but only lied about General Clark's term ending?

Further, the Times statement that President Clinton was apparently unaware that he was being deceived by Clark detractors is not fully consistent with the President simply thinking that General Clark's term was up. If The President was just told that Gen, Clark's term was up but not told any integrity and character issue, then there would have been no "detractors" involved, just liars.

The Times' assertion that the Pentagon fooled the President is "supported" in the Times only through General Clark himself. David Halberstam wasn't there - he's not a "source." Even Sandy Berger's spin is a statement reportedly made by Mr. Berger to Wesley Clark - not to David Halberstam. In other words, there is no cite, source or support for the Times article other than through Wesley Clark - and that's nothing at all. Although the Times says that its report is supported "according to several accounts," those accounts seem to be Wesley Clark's.

To which TIME now adds the direct "support" of the known fabulist Sandy Berger.

It is likely that the flaws in General Clark's character and integrity noted by General Shelton relate to Kosovo - but only if Clark was dismissed because of something that was reported to some substantial degree in the media. That is plausible, but not necessary. For example, it is unusual for a story like the interaction of two Generals vying for the Southern Command to be reflected in media coverage at all. That incident didn't cause the removal, but there may be other, more serious, unpublicized incidents that have never been reflected in media coverage. We just don't know. And such other incidents - if they exist - might involve Kosovo or not.

General Clark must have seriously irked Defense Secretary Cohen (who is said by TIME to be unwilling to discuss General Clark) and top brass. But mere grandstanding - which is what TIME and others suggest was the reason for the irritation of the brass, if not the actual removal of General Clark - is not itself a character and integrity issue. If grandstanding was what General Shelton was talking about, he chose his words poorly. I think he has something else in mind.

Wesley Clark had lots of connections in the Pentagon and the White House. It is very likely that he clearly knows why he was canned, and knows that it was not because the President was "fooled."

And pretending that he doesn't know why he was dismissed does not reflect well on his character, integrity or judgment.

UPDATE: This DRUDGE disclosure of Wesley Clark lavishly praising President Bush and his whole team two years ago seems amazing. Gen. Clark is reported to have said:

"And I'm very glad we've got the great team in office, men like Colin Powell, Don Rumsfeld, Dick Cheney, Condoleezza Rice, Paul O'Neill - people I know very well - our president George W. Bush. We need them there."

There's more:

"President George Bush had the courage and the vision... and we will always be grateful to President George Bush for that tremendous leadership and statesmanship."

And there's still a lot more.

It all seems amazing, since Gen. Clark is now attacking exactly those people - but it also seems to be just more of the same old stuff where Wesley Clark is involved.

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