Sunday, June 29, 2008

Wes "I promise I won't start WW3, honest" Clark attacks John McCain's military record?

It looks like the first of the big-time Hillary surrogates, retired General Wesley Clark, has packed his rucksack and headed over to Firebase Barack:

Gen. Wesley Clark, acting as a surrogate for Barack Obama’s campaign, invoked John McCain’s military service against him in one of the more personal attacks on the Republican presidential nominee this election cycle.

Clark said that McCain lacked the executive experience necessary to be president, calling him “untested and untried” on CBS’ “Face the Nation.” And in saying so, he took a few swipes at McCain’s military service.

“He has been a voice on the Senate Armed Services Committee. And he has traveled all over the world. But he hasn't held executive responsibility. That large squadron in the Navy that he commanded — that wasn't a wartime squadron,” Clark said.

“I don’t think getting in a fighter plane and getting shot down is a qualification to become president.”

Aside from the fact that the last comment is one of the sleazier to issue from the mouth of an Obama surrogate in the past few weeks, there is a larger issue in play.

For Clark, who has been little more than a Democratic PAC fundraiser since he was forcibly retired by--of all people--Bill Clinton--to start questioning anybody else's military judgment is potential evidence of just how worried the Obama folks are about the strength of McCain on national security issues.

Especially since the general consensus of most military analysts is that Clinton retired him because he damn near started World War 3 with the Russians in Kosovo. The best coverage, ironically, was posted in The Nation back when Clark entered the 2004 Presidential race (I'll warn you that this is a long excerpt, but it's worth it):

Call it Clark's "High Noon" showdown. It's an incident that deserves scrutiny because Clark's claim to be an experienced leader in national security matters is tied, in significant part, to his record in the Balkans.

On June 12, 1999, in the immediate aftermath of NATO's air war against Yugoslavia, a small contingent of Russian troops dashed to occupy the Pristina airfield in Kosovo. Clark was so anxious to stop the Russians that he ordered an airborne assault to confront these units--an order which could have unleashed the most frightening showdown with Moscow since the end of the Cold War. Hyperbole? You can decide. But British General Michael Jackson, the three-star general and commander of K-FOR, the international force organized and commanded by NATO to enforce an agreement in Kosovo, told Clark: "Sir, I'm not starting world war three for you," when refusing to accept his order to prevent Russian forces from taking over the airport. (Jackson was rightly worried that any precipitous NATO action could risk a confrontation with a nuclear- armed Russia and upset the NATO-led peacekeeping plan just getting underway with the withdrawal of Serbian forces from Kosovo.)

After being rebuffed by Jackson, Clark, according to various media reports at the time, then ordered Admiral James Ellis, the American in charge of NATO's southern command, to use Apache helicopters to occupy the airfield. Ellis didn't comply--replying that British General Jackson would oppose such a move. Had Clark's orders been followed, the subsequent NATO- negotiated compromise with the Russians--a positive element in the roller- coaster relationship between Moscow and Washington, which eventually incorporated Russian troops into peacekeeping operations--might well have been undermined.

In the end, Russian reinforcements were stopped when Washington persuaded Hungary, a new NATO member, to refuse to allow Russian aircraft to fly over its territory. Meanwhile, Jackson was appealing to senior British authorities, who persuaded Clinton Administration officials--some of whom had previously favored occupying the airport--to drop support for Clark's hotheaded plan. As a result, when Clark appealed to Washington, he was rebuffed at the highest levels. His virtually unprecedented showdown with a subordinate subsequently prompted hearings by the Armed Forces Services Committee, which raised sharp questions about NATO's chain of command.

As a Guardian article said at the time, "The episode triggers reminscences of the Korean War. Then, General Douglas MacArthur, commander of the UN force, wanted to invade, even nuke, China, until he was brought to heel by President Truman." Of course, the comparison is inexact. The stakes were not as high in the Balkans, but Clark's hip-shooting willingness to engage Russian troops in a risky military showdown at the end of the war is instructive nonetheless.

Indeed, it is believed in military circles that Clark's Pristina incident was the final straw that led the Pentagon to relieve him of his duties (actually retire him earlier). Clark had also angered the Pentagon brass--and Secretary of Defense William Cohen in particular--with his numerous media appearances and repeated public requests for more weapons and for more freedom to wage the Kosovo war the way he wanted (with ground troops). At one point, according to media reports, Defense Secretary Cohen, through Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Hugh Shelton, told Clark to "get your fucking face off of TV."

I have always maintained that Barack Obama is vulnerable as the poster child for defense/industrial complex lobbyists, as being dangerously inexperienced in foreign policy, and as unwilling to give up the doctrine of preemptive war (although McCain shares that obvious delusion with him).

Eventually, even some of Senator Obama's supporters are going to figure out that his opposition to the invasion of Iraq was driven by ideology rather than sound policy judgment, and that with a fifty-fifty chance in an up or down vote anybody can get lucky.

The only thing that trotting Wesley Clark out now does is highlight just how much of a novice Senator Obama really is, if he expects this nutcase to gain him anything by attacking McCain's war record.

Unless it was really a rehearsal to see how Clark would go over as a Veep....

And that's truly frightening.

1 comment:

David said...

Wow, excellent post-- solid reporting.