Man Without Qualities

Monday, October 27, 2003

Max Frankel Does Wesley K. Clark

Sometimes a battle has an unambiguous victor - and in the case of this review of ''Winning Modern Wars'', it's Max Frankel over Wesley Clark:

''Winning Modern Wars'' turns out to be aptly wrapped. For its 200 pages, many of them updated just a month ago, are obviously designed to abet the swift transformation of a once embittered warrior and armchair television analyst into a hard-driving, platitudinous candidate for president. That jacket speaks louder than the coy words with which Clark denies any partisan purpose. He allows that while writing he heard ''continuing speculation about whether I might engage in some manner'' -- sic! -- ''in the 2004 election.'' But that ''looming decision had no bearing on my analysis.''

Uh, sure, Wesley.

But Mr. Frankel is just warming up. Towards the end of the review come the real fireworks:

It is a breathtaking vision. Besides sidling out of Iraq, a President Clark would strengthen ''and use'' international institutions, ''repair'' trans-Atlantic relations, ''resolve'' the nuclear challenges of North Korea and Iran, help settle ''disputes'' between India and Pakistan and Israel and the Palestinians, and help to ''ease the ongoing conflicts'' in Africa. He would increasingly employ ''the weapons of law enforcement rather than warfare in attacking terrorism,'' focus more on the ''root causes'' of Islamic terrorism and provide ''substantial economic and political development assistance'' to stimulate ''far-reaching reforms in critical societies in the Middle East.''

In America, too, he favors ''a fresh effort'' to balance private initiatives and public responsibilities to enlarge opportunity and strengthen the nation's competitiveness. That means protecting our air, water and resources, retaining a pluralistic democracy ''with institutional checks and balances,'' meeting ''30-year challenges'' in education and health care and ''smoothing out the business cycle'' with both monetary and fiscal tools.

Clark glibly lists these objectives, and many more, without suggesting any priorities of effort. And he makes no attempt to explain how any American leader could effectively reconcile so many conflicting ambitions and sovereignties. His self-confidence seems rooted in his experience as commander of the NATO forces that bombed and pacified Kosovo in 1999, a headstrong performance that enlarged his faith in international collaborations while it poisoned his relations with peers and superiors at the Pentagon.

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