Wes Clark on America 4 Years After 9/11

To begin, General Clark emphasized that his thoughts were currently focused on the Gulf Coast, the victims of Hurricane Katrina, and the heroic work of America’s “first responders” there. Pointedly, Clark asserted that “We don’t want to have to call on them in response to terrorism.” Unfortunately, Clark believes that such a day could come to pass, despite the fact that we have gone four years without another attack on American soil. In Clark’s words, it’s not time to “call it a day” or have a “victory parade.” Quite the contrary, “it’s not over, it’s not even clear who’s winning” the “war on terrorism,” especially given the fact that “the number of terrorist attacks has increased since 9/11.” In particular, Clark expressed grave concern that “precious little has been accomplished” on preventing the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.

Regarding Iraq, Clark was harshly critical of the Bush Administration. Calling Iraq a “recruiting magnet” and a “feedlot for terrorists” in terms of training opportunities for honing their killing skills, Clark stated point blank that “it is time to change the course.” Clark added that the American public has “a right to expect more than [its] leadership has delivered.” Clark’s five-pronged prescription for Iraq, and the “war on terrorism” in general, went as follows:

1) We need to correct our overdependence on use of the armed forces. Speaking powerfully and emotionally, Clark declared that “we can’t kill all the terrorists…this is not like World War II, this is not like the invasion of Iwo Jima.” In other words, we can’t win this war ONLY through military force, although it certainly is PART of the solution.

2) We have to win the “war on terror” ideologically. To do that, we have to understand exactly who we’re fighting, what their aims are, how they recruit, and why they are willing to kill themselves for their cause. We have to stop assuming that they are “irrational in the sense that they don’t have cause and effect.” We have to “remove the grievances that fuel the terrorist movements,” grievances like the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the Russia/Chechnya war (a “bleeding sore,” in Clark’s words). We also have to “support movement towards democracy” in the Muslim world. We need to make sure that torture is never allowed in our armed forces, and that “someone at the top…[is] held accountable” - not just some low-level grunt. The bottom line is that torture (and “renditions” of prisoners to countries that we know utilize torture) is wrong, “undercuts our legitimacy,” and must be stopped.

3) We need to “deal realistically with Iraq.” And realistically, in Clark’s view, right now “we are NOT winning.” Instead, the Bush Administration has fallen into the “same mistake as Vietnam,” with its “repeated claims of progress” and no “strategy for success.” As soon as possible, we need to bring in Iraq’s neighbors as part of the solution, as opposed to their being “part of the problem.” We need to “broker a compromise to hold Iraq together” and make sure that the country does not disintegrate. We need a strategy that effectively encompasses military, diplomatic, and political elements.

4) We need a “new global framework” for how we think about our own security. In Clark’s view, the U.S. military should be used as the LAST resort, not as the FIRST resort which the Bush Administration apparently prefers. Instead, we need to develop a “diplomatic and legal framework to advance our interests.”

5) We need to “rebuild our security structure here at home.” In Clark’s opinion, the pitiful response to Hurricane Katrina was “frightening to the rest of the world.” The question is whether or not this represents the “tip of the iceberg,” with the Department of Homeland Security possibly a failure as “the largest of all corporate mergers.” If so, what does this imply about the U.S. response to a terrorist attack, four years after 9/11?

Also regarding the home front, Clark spoke passionately about how “you cannot win the war on terror by sacrificing the rights and freedoms [at home] that we’re fighting to protect [abroad].” Clark added that “we still are a great people,” that “we still have the constitution” and that “we’re still the greatest nation on earth.” However, we definitely need to “change the course” as soon as possible.

In response to a question regarding whether or not we should pull out of Iraq immediately, Clark stated, point blank, “no.” The reason is that, if we did that, we’d face a “long and bloody retreat,” Al Qaeda claiming that “they drove us out,” people who cooperated with us in Iraq “running for their lives,” the political process coming apart, and a country that “will split apart” in a maelstrom of civil war and regional conflict. Basically, Clark is for a “middle ground” where we just don’t pull out suddenly but we don’t stay in forever.

The bottom line, in Clark’s view, is that we are currently at a “pivotal moment.” Most importantly, President Bush needs to recognize that he must “change the course of the American ship of state, and now’s the time!” For that, however, we will need leadership where “resolve…[is] balanced by wisdom and judgment.” We will need leadership that “pulls the country together” instead of “pull[ing] it apart.” And we will need a leader who says, as Harry Truman did, “The Buck Stops Here!”

Raising Kaine � Wes Clark on America 4 Years After 9/11


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