- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 21, 2003

Wesley Clark hasn’t formally announced his run for the presidency, but he’s already talking in sound bites. Here’s what he says about the current president and commander in chief: “You’d be taking him to the Better Business Bureau if you bought a washing machine the way we went to war in Iraq.”

The general still speaks of the war in Iraq and the war on terror as if they were separate endeavors, rather than different fronts in the same war against a common ideological foe.

Speaking of the war in Iraq, Gen. Clark argues: “We haven’t made America safer by this. We’ve made America more engaged, more vulnerable, more committed, less able to respond. We’ve lost a tremendous amount of good will around the world by our actions and our continuing refusal to bring in international institutions.”

Ah, for the good old days when Saddam Hussein was still in power, the not-so-United Nations still dithered, and America was less engaged and committed. Like those halcyon years in the Balkans when we left the maintenance of peace to Europe and the United Nations. The result: Hundreds of thousands were killed and still more displaced before American air power was called in. (Wesley K. Clark, commanding general.)

You would think the general would have learned more from the days when we were still tolerating Slobodan Milosevic and his crimes. Namely, that the time to confront a clear and ever-growing threat is soon — before it becomes imminent. Wait until then to confront evil and we will have waited too long. As we all should have learned on September 11, 2001.

But an American general now seems about to base a presidential campaign on those 16 words the president and commander in chief has conceded should never have been allowed into one of his numerous speeches on the danger Saddam presented. Not to mention any number of other flaws in British and American intelligence. (That’s why they call it raw intelligence.)

It’s what went right, and the general strategic threat Saddam Hussein represented, that no one can deny, not convincingly. Would we really prefer a world in which Saddam was still in power?

As for Washington’s not seeking the support of international institutions for the war in Iraq, it would be more accurate to say that the United Nations declined to give it at the moment of truth — despite repeated American appeals. The Security Council has only now reluctantly begun supporting Allied attempts to reconstruct that country.

The moral of the story: If the peace of the world depends on the U.N., war is a sure thing. And so are terror and genocide. Which is what happened in the Balkans, where the North Atlantic alliance never got explicit approval from the U.N. Security Council for the campaign Gen. Clark commanded with such patience and perseverance. Even though he had to deal with scads of kibitzers and second-guessers — whose ranks he now seems to have joined.

If Wesley Clark is looking for some red meat for his presidential campaign, he might consider this piece of heated rhetoric served up to the American people before the war:

“If you allow someone like Saddam Hussein to get nuclear weapons, ballistic missiles, chemical weapons, how many people is he going to kill with such weapons? He has already demonstrated a willingness to use these weapons. He poison-gassed his own people. He used poison gas and other weapons of mass destruction against his neighbors. This man has no compunction about killing lots and lots of people.” — Al Gore, Dec. 16, 1998.

Shall we report Mr. Gore to the Better Business Bureau, too?

Even if Iraq’s dictator was forced to back off from time to time, and had to be regularly bombed and strafed into respecting his earlier agreements, there was in the end no disarming Iraq without deposing its despot. There was a time when both Democratic and Republican leaders recognized as much, but a long hard postwar is now upon us, and an election year beckons. Neither augurs well for bipartisan unity, or constancy of purpose. Day by day, American determination wears away, and with it American credibility.

There was a time, before he started sounding like a presidential candidate, when Wesley Clark put a lot of store by American credibility. See the conclusion of his fine book, “Waging Modern War.” It still makes a lot of sense. But these days the general sounds almost wistful for a disengaged and uncommitted America — for the America of Sept. 10, 2001, when the country appeared safer and less vulnerable. But, as we discovered the next day, only appeared to be.

Paul Greenberg is a nationally syndicated columnist.

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