- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Moviegoers enjoying the critically acclaimed “Charlie Wilson’s War” — starring Tom Hanks as a freewheeling congressman who helped secure funding for anti-Soviet fighters in Afghanistan in the 1980s — might be missing out on the story of a man who played an even more important role in winning the Cold War.

William P. Clark Jr. is not quite as … well, not as “colorful” as Mr. Wilson. Whereas the Texas Democrat’s reputation as an unabashed womanizer and partygoer earned him the nickname “Good Time Charlie,” Mr. Clark is a devout Catholic and devoted to his wife, Joan, whom he married in 1955.

He also is a lifelong Republican, whose reputation conjures traits of honesty, efficiency, a capacity for hard work and, above all, humility. Mr. Clark is the only senior member of the Reagan administration who never wrote an account of his public service, but now someone else has done it for him.

To those such as author Paul Kengor who study the Cold War, however, Mr. Clark is a legend in his own right.

One of President Reagan’s closest confidants, Mr. Clark spent 22 months as national security adviser, a period marked by the completion of more than 100 national security decision directives (NSDDs) spelling out the policies by which the “Evil Empire” of Soviet communism was eventually consigned to “the ash heap of history.”

“More than any other adviser, Judge Clark helped Ronald Reagan win the Cold War — no question about it,” said Mr. Kengor, who co-authored “The Judge: William P. Clark, Ronald Reagan’s Top Hand” with Mr. Clark’s cousin, historian Patricia Clark Doerner.

It was while Mr. Clark headed the National Security Council (NSC) from January 1982 until October 1983 “that they laid out the administration’s formal strategy to undermine the Soviet Union,” said Mr. Kengor.

“When Clark left [NSC to become secretary of the interior] at the end of 1983, his job was finished,” he said. “The policy was in place that eventually led to the collapse of the Soviet empire.”

Now 76 and suffering from Parkinson’s disease, Mr. Clark lives on his central California ranch, “where he’s always wanted to be,” Mr. Kengor said.

Since the 2006 death of former Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger, Mr. Kengor noted, Mr. Clark “is one of the final torchbearers from the Reagan years” who served as aides to Mr. Reagan “from the governorship all the way to the presidency. With Cap Weinberger gone, it’s now just Judge Clark and [former Attorney General] Ed Meese.”

Mr. Kengor is a professor of political science at Grove City College in Pennsylvania and the author of two previous books about the Reagan era. He was an undergraduate at the University of Pittsburgh in 1989 when the Berlin Wall fell — a little more than two years after the Berlin speech in which Mr. Reagan famously declared, “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall.”

“All my liberal professors who had told me that Reagan was a nut when he said the Soviet Union would collapse were suddenly telling me that Reagan had nothing to do with the collapse of the Soviet Union,” Mr. Kengor said. “So I dedicated myself to researching Ronald Reagan and how the Cold War ended.”

It was that research that led him to study Mr. Clark.

“I was at the Reagan library a few years ago, doing research on Reagan and the Cold War and I was reading all these declassified NSDDs. I was blown away by the audacity and the magnitude of what they were seeking to do,” he said.

“Then, it struck me, ‘Wow, all of these were done in 1982 and 1983.’ And I said, ‘Who was the national security adviser?’ And it was Bill Clark,” Mr. Kengor said. “A number of people over the years told me, ‘You need to get Bill Clark to tell you his story. That’s the untold story of the Reagan years and the end of the Cold War.’ It’s a phenomenal story.”

Persuading Mr. Clark to tell his story wasn’t easy, Mr. Kengor said.

“He is an extraordinarily humble person, the most humble person I’ve ever met. If you need any proof of that, he never wrote a memoir. Some of these Reagan guys wrote two or three memoirs — enough already,” he said, laughing.

Mr. Clark’s humility and ability to keep confidential information confidential were major reasons why Mr. Reagan tapped Mr. Clark to head the NSC after he spent a year as deputy to Secretary of State Alexander Haig.

“Reagan in 1981 had the terrible problem with leakers in the White House, and people don’t remember how bad it was,” Mr. Kengor said.

Mr. Clark had been a trusted aide going back as far as Mr. Reagan’s governorship of California, and his service in Sacramento was rewarded with an appointment to the state’s Supreme Court. The two men had much in common, including their love of horses — Mr. Clark is a third-generation California rancher whose grandfather and father were sheriffs of Ventura County — and their abhorrence of communism.

“One of the reasons Reagan brought Bill Clark to the NSC was that he could have somebody to help protect sensitive information,” Mr. Kengor said. “Clark was always his troubleshooter, always his ally. He knew Bill Clark wouldn’t burn him.”

Administration officials often leaked information to the press as a way of settling scores, Mr. Kengor said.

“You would have a high-level administration official who’d lost an argument over policy. Instead of agreeing to disagree, that official would leak information to The Washington Post,” he said. “It’s childish. It’s bratty. … Clark’s character and temperament were such that he didn’t leak and back stab. If he disagreed with you, he felt a duty to discuss it in the open, like men. Men of character, they disagree, they shake hands and then they do their work.”

While some of Mr. Clark’s rivals within the administration “spent at least half their time padding their resume and thinking about their next important Washington job,” Mr. Kengor said, “Clark … always wanted to leave Washington. He wanted his next job to be at the corral, back at the ranch. Clark is one of the very few, along with Reagan himself, who left Washington after the Reagan presidency ended. He went home. In fact, he went home in 1985.”

Mr. Clark’s determination to return to California may itself have shaped history, Mr. Kengor said.

“Reagan, in my view, offered the Sandra Day O’Connor seat [on the Supreme Court] to Bill Clark in 1981,” he said. “Clark turned it down. How many people would turn down an offer to sit on the U.S. Supreme Court? But Clark didn’t want to die in Washington on the Supreme Court. If he had accepted that seat, Roe v. Wade probably would have been overturned by now. But instead of fighting the culture war, he fought the Cold War.”

It was a fight that Mr. Clark felt destined to wage. Though Mr. Reagan was a Protestant and Mr. Clark was Catholic, the two men “had the same sense of history, and of Providence” and “thought completely alike,” Mr. Kengor said, including their sense of Christian faith.

“They believed they had a spiritual obligation to defeat this evil, atheistic Soviet empire,” he said.

“They had a code word, the ‘DP’ — the Divine Plan. It was insider language. They’d go out riding horses, and Clark would say, ‘Part of the DP,’ and Reagan would say, ‘Yes, Bill, part of the DP.’ ”

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