Retired Gen. Wesley Clark is concerned by Iran’s nuclear ambitions and cautioned the Islamic republic to take U.S. warnings “very, very seriously.”
In a private conversation with this reporter, the former warrior-turned-politician at the same time admitted being worried by the Bush administration’s strong-arm policies in the Middle East.
“I’m concerned,” said Mr. Clark, a former NATO Supreme Allied Commander Europe — SACEUR — (1997-2000) and a potential Democratic presidential candidate in the 2008 race for the White House. Mr. Clark, who commanded Operation Allied Force in the Kosovo War, worries that the rising tension between the United States and Iran could escalate to a point of no return. As a former soldier who has seen his share of action from Vietnam to Kosovo, Mr. Clark does not scare easily.
But the Iranians, too, have reason to be concerned, says Mr. Clark. Speaking to United Press International Friday after addressing a meeting of the Democratic National Committee in Washington, Mr. Clark said that the Iranians should take “very, very seriously the prospect of air strikes and missile strikes as well as other operations directed against Iran’s nuclear capacities and all other elements of their military power.”
When it comes to war, Mr. Clark has an advantage over other presidential candidates. He has tasted the ugliness of war; he knows firsthand what it means seeing men — sometimes boys hardly old enough to shave — killed in battle.
“I know what it is to plan and prepare for war and to send the cream of our youth on a mission from which they may not return,” Mr. Clark told the group of assembled Democrats a short while earlier. “I know firsthand the struggles of domestic politics and international diplomacy to accomplish a difficult peace after the shooting stops.”
For many people who have lived through the hell called combat, war is the last resort they want to turn to. So how would Wes Clark’s policies be different were he elected president? How would he stop the war in Iraq, for example? “I would use diplomacy first… I would find common ground,” said the former soldier. Isn’t this a tad oversimplifying an overcomplicated issue? What if the political track fails?
Mr. Clark insists the political track will not fail. “You have to force them or induce them into the political track,” said Mr. Clark. “You have to use ‘carrots and sticks.’ ”
And how do you accomplish this?
By including all countries in the region in accepting a “statement of principles” that would guarantee the security of each, taking into account their needs for secure borders, while promoting and opening the region to commerce, trade and tourism.
Does “all countries” in the region include Syria and Iran? Would Mr. Clark, as president, establish dialogue with Damascus and Tehran? “Yes,” he says.
“As I look at the discussions ongoing inside Iran as best I can follow them from here, it’s clear that there are different sectors of opinion in the leadership and I think the leadership needs to understand that it is seriously at risk,” said Mr. Clark.
“Don’t be fooled by the appearance of dissent or disunity inside Iran’s super-sophisticated, apparently disjointed political system,” cautioned Clare Lopez, a former CIA operations officer who worked briefly with the Iran Policy Committee. “Iran’s democratic facade is just that, a veneer and nothing more,” said Miss Lopez. “The Majlis or local and municipal councils can do or say what they like, it matters not to the Shi’ite clergy and IRGC that actually run the country.
“The diplomatic track that is now the flavor of the week is just checking the box, one last-ditch effort to make this work, maybe with Sunni Arab support,” says Miss Lopez. “Iran will blow that off, just like they’ve blown off the IAEA [International Atomic Energy Agency] and the [United Nations] Security Council. These mullahs know that their window of opportunity is closing fast and that without a nuclear weapon, they cannot possibly hope to hang on to power for very much longer, much less expand throughout the region as they wish to.”
In reply to a recent column where I mentioned there were two schools of thought in dealing with Iran — diplomacy and force — Raymond Tanter, a professor at Georgetown and an active IPC member says: “Please recall a third option. Removing the main Iranian opposition from Western terrorist lists to threaten the Iranian regime’s survival and provide it an incentive to negotiate on the nuclear file, subversion of Iraq, and the destabilization of Lebanon,” said Mr. Tanter. By “main opposition” Mr. Tanter means the MeK, or Mujahedeen-e-Khalq.
“Opening up a third option not only reinforces diplomacy, the third alternative also keeps the U.S. military strike option available for future contingencies,” Mr. Tanter added. Said Mr. Clark: “I speak to you today as the only person who will take this podium before you having actually done the things we need to do to succeed in Iraq, Afghanistan and throughout the world.
“Good Morning. I’m Wes Clark. I’m a soldier, and I’m fighting for my country.” And although he didn’t quite come out and say it, Wes Clark could just as well have added, “And I want to be the next president of the United States.”
Claude Salhani is international editor for United Press International.