Man Without Qualities

Saturday, January 24, 2004

Wesley Clark And Military Records

What is it about Wesley Clark that seems to stir up the most unpleasant and self-destructive comments on the military records of himself and others?

Retired General Hugh Shelton, former head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, reported that the reason Mr. Clark "came out of Europe early had to do with integrity and character issues ... Wes won't get my vote."

Then Mr. Clark himself bizarrely attempted to diminish Senator Kerry's undoubted Vietnam heroism. He did this after infamously stating that if anyone else criticized his military record he would "beat the s--- out of them." Clark was later forced to distance himself from his own remarks. But will he physically attack General Shelton - a prime offender - when next they meet?

Now there's the weird "deserter' flap. Michael Moore accused President Bush of being a deserter and welcomed a debate between the "General and the Deserter." Clark refused to distance himself from his bizarre supporter's comments, even though they were not new and had been discredited to the satisfaction of the vast majority of the media and the public.

What the heck is it with Wesley Clark and military records?

UPDATE: Still more claptrap on Clark's military record, this time from Newsweek, which follows up on General Shelton's remarks:

What really happened? According to a knowledgeable source, Clark ran afoul of Cohen and Shelton by being less than totally forthcoming in morning conference calls during the Kosovo war in the spring of 1999. From his NATO headquarters in Brussels, Clark wanted to wage the war more aggressively, but back in the Pentagon, Cohen and Shelton were more cautious. They would give Clark instructions on, for instance, the scale of the bombing campaign. "Clark would say, 'Uh-huh, gotcha'," says NEWSWEEK's source. But then he would pick up the phone and call [British Prime Minister] Tony Blair and [Secretary of State] Madeleine [Albright]." As Clark knew full well, Blair and Albright were more hawkish than Shelton and Cohen. After talking to the State Department and NATO allies, Clark would have a different set of marching orders, says the source, who has spoken about the matter with both Cohen and Clark. "Then, about 1 o'clock, the Defense Department would hear what Clark was up to, and Cohen and Shelton would be furious."

Was Clark going around them? Not really. As NATO commander, Clark told NEWSWEEK, "I wore two hats." He reported to Washington, but also to America's European allies. And within the U.S. government, he was within his authority to seek guidance from the State Department and certainly from the White House, as well as from his nominal bosses at the Pentagon.

No reasonable person will put any substantial faith in a report on this topic attributed only to "a knowledgeable source," and nobody at Newsweek should be so foolish as to believe otherwise. There are lots of people with actual knowledge of this matter - heck, even Wesley Clark himself is probably "a knowledgeable source" here. The problem is that all the known "knowledgeable sources" have personal interests in the story, which is a nice way of saying that they have an incentive to lie. Is the "knowledgeable source" Madeleine Albright or Sandy Berger? - two Clinton administration operatives who are almost certainly "knowledgeable sources" on this matter, but each of whom has a strong personal interest in how the matter is presented to and accepted by the public and each of whom has a serious record of prevaricating. Remember Knowledgeable Source Berger "remembering" to ever-credulous TIME magazine that the Clinton administration had left a secret plan with the incoming Bush people to invade Afghanistan? Now it seems Newsweek's turn to swallow whole a big piece of leftover Clintonian balloney - at least TIME named its absurdist source!.

The Newsweek story is nothing other than an attempt to discredit General Shelton's statement. At bottom, the story attempts to "explain" the severe language used by General Shelton in terms that portrait General Clark as acting entirely within his authority.

But the pattern Newsweek describes of General Clark juggling different constituencies does not amount to the "integrity and character issues" with which Shelton and Cohen charged Clark. And this pattern is definitely not the reasons tendered by General Shelton when he had Clark removed. That is, we may rest assured that General Shelton and Secretary Cohen did not call President Clinton and say something along the lines of:

"Mr. President, we have to remove Wesley Clark as head of NATO because in our morning conference calls with him he says 'uh-huh' and then phones your Secretary of State and our allies that he is supposed to talk to anyway, tells them what we want to do exactly as he is supposed to do, and then phones us back and tells us that they all want to be more aggressive. This just has to stop!"

Such a conversation never happened because nobody in his right mind could think such a conversation would actually result in the removal of the head of NATO. Since what Newsweek calls "what really happened" was not the proffered reason for Clark's removal, it seems that the "knowledgeable source" is planning to assert that this is what "really happened" in the sense that it was the true but undisclosed motivation of Messrs. Shelton and Cohen. How nicely unverifiable. Unless and until Newsweek wants to start naming its sources here we are all best advised to assume that General Clark - or someone working on his behalf - has a buddy at Newsweek and a friendly "knowledgeable source" from the detritus of the Clinton administration, who together were quite happy to create this ridiculous article just as Candidate Clark needed it.

I wonder what the called-in chip was? Where do I go to get some?

FURTHER UPDATE: God, it's worse than I thought. Clark's condition seems to be infectious. How else to explain this self-destructive and entirely unnecessary snap by Kerry:

"That's the first time I have heard a general be so dismissive of lieutenants, who bleed a lot in wars," Kerry told Ed Bradley in Sunday's interview. "I think the general is entitled to his feelings and opinions." .... "[Vietnam] is young people dying for the wrong reasons, because leaders don't do the things that they should to protect them."

And isn't Senator Kerry getting more than a little too cute when he says "I think the general is entitled to his feelings and opinions" where the point is exactly that General Clark is not entitled to these particular feelings and opinions because Senator Kerry thinks those feelings and opinions are insensitive, disrespectful, inappropriate and downright wrong?

But, most of all, why are these two men involved in this completely silly ongoing exchange?

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