- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 15, 2004

Congressional testimony by Wesley Clark in fall 2002 contradicts the early antiwar stance the candidate has promoted since entering the race last summer.

At a hearing of the House Armed Services Committee in September 2002, Mr. Clark expressed no misgivings about the imminent war with Iraq and called deposed dictator Saddam Hussein a credible threat to the United States. Since then, Mr. Clark has proclaimed his strong opposition to the war “from the beginning,” and has continued to state that position at debates and events nationwide.

“He is, as far as we know, actively pursuing nuclear capabilities, though he doesn’t have nuclear warheads yet. If he were to acquire nuclear weapons, I think our friends in the region would face greatly increased risks, as would we,” Mr. Clark said. A transcript of the testimony was posted early yesterday on the widely read Drudge Report on the Internet.

The retired NATO commander from Arkansas has been surging in public-opinion polls in New Hampshire. A poll released yesterday by the American Research Group showed Mr. Clark trailing former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean by five percentage points, 29 percent to 24 percent.

Mr. Dean has been hammered lately for “flip-flopping” on a number of issues, which has contributed to his slipping in polls in New Hampshire and Iowa. Mr. Clark’s contradictory statements may hurt him as well, Democratic strategists say.

In his House testimony, Mr. Clark told the committee he agreed with Richard Perle, the former assistant secretary of defense under President Reagan who has strongly endorsed the war in Iraq, that it was more than conceivable the Iraqi government had a relationship with al Qaeda, despite any direct proof.

“I think there’s no question that … there have been such contacts [between Iraq and al Qaeda],” Mr. Clark said.

“It’s normal. It’s natural. They are going to exchange information. They’re going to feel each other out and see whether there are opportunities to cooperate. That’s inevitable in this region, and I think it’s clear that regardless of whether or not such evidence is produced of these connections that Saddam Hussein is a threat.”

The Clark campaign issued a statement yesterday asserting that the testimony was not contradictory to Mr. Clark’s stance on the war. “The testimony that General Clark gave in September 2002 is entirely consistent with what he wrote in the book he published in August 2003,” campaign spokesman Matt Bennett said in the statement.

Mr. Bennett said his candidate was explaining the flawed rationale behind President Bush’s position that the war in Iraq was “preemptive.”

“Preemptive war means ‘taking action against others before they can harm’; since there was no imminent threat from Saddam Hussein, the war America fought was preventive, not preemptive,” the statement read, quoting an excerpt from a chapter in Mr. Clark’s book “Winning Modern Wars.”

Mr. Clark’s campaign blamed Republican Party Chairman Ed Gillespie and the “right-wing attack machine” for publicizing the testimony his rivals for the Democratic nomination quickly accused him of what they called hypocrisy on the war.

“It is no longer credible for Wesley Clark to assert that he has always had only one position on the war — being against it. His own testimony before Congress shows otherwise,” Sen. Joe Lieberman of Connecticut said. He noted that Mr. Clark scolded him for saying the retired general was two-faced on the war Tuesday on “Good Morning America.”

“He may think it is ‘old-style politics’ to point this out, but the only thing old here is a candidate not leveling with the American people,” Mr. Lieberman said.

Democratic strategists disagreed on whether they think Mr. Clark’s campaign will be damaged by the testimony. One strategist, who asked that his name not be used, said Mr. Clark’s comments early in his campaign were contradictory about the war.

“The reality is that the flip-flop Wes Clark did on the war would have destroyed any other candidate, but I think he got an extra pass because he was a general.”

Asked whether the testimony would hurt Mr. Clark so close to the primaries, “The answer is ‘yes’ and it goes to the universal issue of flip-flopping.”

Consultant Morris Reid said he did not think the dual position on the Iraq war would hurt Mr. Clark, at least not during the primary process. He said it would be a different story if he were the nominee.

But he was critical of Mr. Clark’s “spin” explanation of his testimony. “What the general should do is come out and be flat-out honest and say I thought this way at the time based on what I knew and what I saw, but after looking at it further I changed my mind. This is a problem with politicians trying to turn things and spin things, it turns people off of politics.”

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