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2003-09-18

General Wesley Clark: The Anti War Warrior?

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General Wesley Clark — the former Supreme Allied Commander of NATO and the man who led the 78-day bombing of Yugoslavia in 1999 — announced his candidacy for president yesterday, bringing to 10 the number of Democratic candidates. Clark is the first four-star general in history to run for President as a Democrat. [Includes transcript]

  • John Hlinko, Co-Founder, DraftWesleyClark.com.
  • Steve Rendall, Senior Analyst, Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting.
  • Zoltan Grossman, Professor of Geography at the University of Wisconsin Eau Claire.
  • Robert Fisk, Middle East correspondent for the London Independent. Speaking from Baghdad.

TRANSCRIPT

AMY GOODMAN: Today we’re going to be taking a look at the USA Patriot Act, we’re going to be talking about John Ashcroft’s comments that people who criticized USA Patriot Act are hysterical. We’ll speak with the former head of the American Library Association and we’re also going to be looking at the candidacy of General Wesley Clark.

But first, we’re going to go to Robert Fisk. Robert Fisk, in Iraq. We’re trying to get him on the phone now we just had him, we lost him, we can have some trouble on the satellite phones. I believe instead we’re going to start with general Wesley Clark and his candidacy.

We’re going to begin by listening to an excerpt of the speech of General Wesley Clark that he gave yesterday in Arkansas. General Wesley Clark is the first four-star general to run for president as a democrat. This is general Wesley Clark.

GENERAL WESLEY CLARK: Now I warn you, we’ll ask the tough questions as we move forward and we’ll hold this administration accountable.

Why has America lost 2.7 million jobs? Why has America lost the prospect of a five trillion dollar surplus and turned it into a $5 trillion deficit that deepens every day? Why has our country lost our sense of security and feels the shadow of fear? Why has America lost the respect of so many people around the world?

That’s the questions we’re going to be asking and one more, why are so many here in America hesitant to speak out and ask questions?

AMY GOODMAN: General Wesley Clark announcing yesterday in Arkansas, the former supreme Allied Commander of NATO and the man who led the 78-day bombing of Yugoslavia in 1999.

He announces his candidacy yesterday bringing to ten the number of democratic contenders hoping to unseat President Bush in next year’s election. Again Clark the first four-star general in history to run for president as a democrat.

The question is, is he an antiwar warrior, as he has been billed. We are going to talk to Robert Fisk in Baghdad about this, also member of the founder of the Draft Wesley Clark for President committee and Steve Rendall, of Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting. We’re going to begin Steve Rendall in the studio.

I was surprised hear not that Wesley Clark was running, Steve, but that he is being cast as antiwar. Because in the lead up to war, in the lead up to the invasion and during I listened to Wesley Clark every day, watched him on CNN, and I did not get that feeling.

STEVE RENDALL: Well, Amy, I had to study the transcripts we did. Some of the listeners may know that we did study of the first three weeks of the war and we looked at six nightly newscasts including CNN. As you know, Wesley Clark was a hired analyst on CNN. And when we started hearing him in this sort of furious speculation about whether or not he was going to run, especially in the last few weeks we kept hearing him cast as antiwar candidate. Well, I hadn’t seen much of that.

If I could give you couple of sites here the Boston Globe described him as a 'former NATO commander who also happens to have opposed the war'.

Michael Wolf writing a in New York magazine said 'Face it, the only antiwar candidate America is ever going to elect is one who is a four-star general.' Which I guess means the only legitimate antiwar person is a four-star general.

Newsweek’s Howard Fineman said, Clark 'is as anti-war as Dean'. Washington Post described Clark and Dean, 'both opposed to the war in Iraq, and both are generating excitement on the Internet with grassroots activists'.

Now a couple of months ago, still well after the war, in an interview with Paula Zahn on CNN, some people might have mistaken Clark as having opposed the war when he said 'from the beginning I have had my doubts about this mission, Paula, and I have shared them previously on CNN'.

But a review of his statements during, before and after shows that he never made any definitive statement against the war at any time. What criticisms he had were criticisms of the logistics, tactics, criticisms meant to increase the effectiveness of the fighting force there. What we were able to find I think..

JUAN GONZALEZ: What about the claims that he was at least espousing the United States not act without United Nations.

STEVE RENDALL: This was another sort of tactical thing. If we can get all our ducks in a war that’s fine.

AMY GOODMAN: Let’s turn to John Hlinko, who the cofounder of the DraftWesleyClark.com campaign. Can you talk about Wesley Clark for president? JOHN

JOHN HLINKO: Yeah, sure, I can tell what you we saw from the draft movement’s perspective, that we saw someone that we felt could be not only president in a wartime but president in peace.

What we saw in General Clark was someone who looked at making our nation a safer place and didn’t equate with it the number of bombs we dropped but equated it with steps designed to make our nation a safer place. It seems logical, but unfortunately I don’t think it’s something that we have in the current administration.

JUAN GONZALEZ: What about this portrayal of him in the last few weeks as an antiwar alternative to President Bush.

JOHN HLINKO: I think a lot of what we saw, and it could just be from the draft movement’s perspective, is we saw someone who seemed to have a more sensible approach to Iraq. He described the operation as, 'elective surgery', in other words, this is something that, yeah, perhaps there were reasons but when you had Al Qaeda and Osama bin Laden, there were more pressing priorities.

I can’t speak specifically for the general, I can just tell what you we saw from the draft movement’s perspective, but it certainly seemed to be a much more enlightened and sensible approach than what we were seeing in the current administration.

AMY GOODMAN: Your response.

STEVE RENDALL: Well, I’m here as sort of like the correcting-the-record guy, I’m not here to debate what somebody from what Wesley Clark’s campaign. But to point out at a time, back in January, when millions of people leading up to one of the biggest demonstrations worldwide that’s ever happened, Clark said on CNN 'I probably wouldn't have made the moves that got us to this point. But just assuming that we’re here at this point, then I think that the President is going to have to move ahead, despite the fact that the allies have reservations.’

A little later, this was in early February, remember the huge demonstrations around the world, and I believe that was on February 12th, Clark said on CNN 'the credibility of the United States is on the line, and Saddam Hussein has the weapons, and so you know we're going to go ahead and do this, and the rest of the world has got to get with us. The U.N. has got to come in and belly up to the bar on this.’

These are hardly the words, when millions of people just week later would be in the streets demonstrating against the war, these are hardly the words of an antiwar candidate.

AMY GOODMAN: John Hlinko?

JOHN HLINKO: Well, that doesn’t seem inconsistent at all to me. What the general was saying, again I can speak only from the draft movement’s perspective, that in al lot of what we saw was a pretty reasoned approach. The idea that well, no, this is not something that made sense to do.

But once you’re there, once you’re on the verge of battle or engaged in battle, then becomes a different matter. Once you have no choice and the President has already moved ahead, then at a certain point the question doesn’t become 'are we going to be engaged or not'. We already are engaged, what do you do at that point to minimize the damage.

AMY GOODMAN: Zoltan Grossman is on the phone as well. He’s professor of geography at the University of Wisconsin, Eau Claire. You followed extensively the bombing of Yugoslavia. Your response to the announcement of the 10th democrat to enter the presidential race, General Wesley Clark, the Supreme Allied Commander of NATO during the bombing.

ZOLTAN GROSSMAN: Well, I think General Clark rightly criticized President Bush for being unprepared for the postwar for the aftermath of the Iraq invasion.

But if you look at his record in the 1999 war against Yugoslavia, you see four different aspects of the general being completely unprepared for the event that spiraled out of control once NATO bombs started dropping on Serbia.

There are actually four different aspects to this. One is, there was a civil war prior to the NATO bombing in which about 2,000 civilians died. The C.I.A. had actually warned General Clark that NATO bombing could provoke even worse ethnic cleansing by the government of Slobodan Milosevic.

And that’s exactly what happened — massive ethnic cleansing that took place after the bombing started, not before the bombing started. And afterwards General Clark had to admit that this was entirely predictable but defended the war as coercive diplomacy.

Second aspect was alienation of Serbian civilians who hated Slobodan Milosevic, much like many Iraqis who oppose both Saddam and U.S. occupation. Many Serbs in cities that voted against Milosevic were bombed, not just bombed by NATO but with cluster bombs with trains, with depleted uranium munitions, civilian infrastructure, trains, buses, TV stations, hospitals, power plants, water plants were all hit.

The third aspect is what happened after the NATO troops entered Kosovo, after the Russians put pressure on Slobodan Milosevic to withdraw from Kosovo. There immediately started a reverse ethnic cleansing by the Kosovo Liberation Army, the Albanian ethnic militia, against any non-Albanians, Serbs, Romas, gypsies, Jews, who were expelled from Kosovo, many of them killed–not to the same numerical level as what had happened to them. But I think in the end, Kosovo was actually more ethnically pure, and I think this is the goal of all of these ethnic militias in Bosnia or Kosovo, the purity of their territory.

AMY GOODMAN: That was Zoltan Grossman, speaking to us from Eau Claire, Wisconsin University there. John Hlinko, I’ll just get your response of the DraftWesleyClark.com campaign.

JOHN HLINKO: I can just tell what you we saw from our perspective. War is a terrible thing, no two ways about it. I guess when we looked at what had happened in Kosovo, we looked what was going on now in the two wars of the Bush administration. Slobodan Milosevic right now is on trial. The ethnic cleansing has for all practical purposes has ceased, as much as possible.

You can try to compare that to what is happening in Afghanistan and Iraq, and is any policy perfect, no. of course not. But when you say, which one had a better outcome, and who would you trust more if such a war is forced upon us in the future, we look at General Clark, and the choice was clear as to what the more capable commander-in-chief would be.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, John Hlinko, we have just reached Robert Fisk in Baghdad. We want to thank you for being with us, cofounder of the DraftWesleyClark.com campaign. Zoltan Grossman, thanks for being with us from the University of Wisconsin.

We’re going not to the break right now, which we usually do, but because we have Robert Fisk on his satellite phone at this moment. we want to go directly to him.

Robert Fisk, we’ll get your comment at the beginning, hearing that Wesley Clark is now running for president as the antiwar warrior. Then we’d like to get your observations of what’s happening right now on the ground in Iraq.

ROBERT FISK: I have to say first of all about General Clark, that I was on the ground in Serbia in Kosovo when he ran the war there. He didn’t seem to be very antiwar at the time. I had as one of my tasks to go out over and over again to look at the civilian casualties of that have war.

At one point NATO bombed the hospital in which Yugoslav soldiers, against the rules of war, were hiding along with the patients and almost all the patients were killed.

This was the war, remember, where the first attack was made on a radio station, the Serb Radio and Television building. Since then we’ve had attacks twice on the Al Jazeera television station. First of all in Afghanistan in 2001, then killing their chief correspondent, and again in Baghdad, this year.

This was a general who I remember bombed series of bridges, in one of which an aircraft bombed the train and after, he’d seen the train and had come to a stop, the pilot bombed the bridge again.

I saw one occasion when a plane came in, bombed a bridge over a river in Serbia proper, as we like to call it, and after about 12 minutes when rescuers arrived, a bridge too narrow even for tanks, bombed the rescuers.

I remember General Clark telling us that more than 100 Yugoslav tanks had been destroyed in the weeks of that war. And when the war came to an end, we discovered number of Yugoslav tanks destroyed were 11. 100 indeed.

So this was not a man, frankly whom, if I were an American, would vote for, but not being an American, I don’t have to.

AMY GOODMAN: Robert Fisk speaking to us in Iraq. And then you have the time that the British general, Michael Jackson, Wesley Clark had told him to get his British troops to the airport before the Russians got there, so it wouldn’t be perceived that the Russians were liberating and General Michael Jackson responded to him, ’I’m not going to start World War III’.

ROBERT FISK: Yes. Jackson did indeed say that. One member of Jackson’s staff confirmed to me that the quote is true. I think the words—I think the verb is wrong, but World War III is correct.

It was a very strange atmosphere to that war, over and over again when NATO has bombed the target, it was clearly illegitimate. Or when they killed large number of civilians, they were either silenced, or they lied.

We had the very famous occasion, infamous occasion when American aircraft bombed an Albanian refugee convoy in Kosovo, claimed later or NATO claimed later it was probably Serb aircraft. It was only when we got there and found the NATO markings on the bomb, that NATO fessed up admitted that they had done it themselves and had been confused.

When I went to the scene months later and tracked down the survivors, it turned out that although they were confused, NATO aircraft had gone on bombing that convoy for 35 minutes even though there were civilians there, because mixed in among them, most cruelly, this was an act of Milosevic’s regime, were military vehicles as well.

We shouldn’t be romantic about the Serb military or the Serb security police they were killers and murderers. But NATO, in its war against the Serbs, committed a number of acts which I think are very close to war crimes, and General Clark was the commander. So this is a man who wants to be the president, democratic president of the United States of America. Well I don’t interest myself in what he thinks about the last war in Iraq. I watched it first hand and had my own opinions. But I sure as hell know what it was like to be under the bombs of his war in Serbia.

AMY GOODMAN: Robert Fisk, I want to ask you about General Powell’s visit, Secretary of State General Powell’s visit to Baghdad. But we still have Steve Rendall in the studio who is leaving in one minute as we listen to this description of what’s happening in Iraq. We were wrapping up the discussion of Wesley Clark whether or not he was for this war. Your final comments, Steve?

STEVE RENDALL: I’d like to just say that politicians would like to be all things to all people. Our problem is not with Wesley Clark’s campaign, it’s with the media’s portrayal of him.

One point I’d like to say, your listeners should go look at the daily column that Clark wrote for the Times of London, right around the time of the fall of Baghdad. He wrote there, for instance, the day after the fall of Baghdad he wrote "Liberation is at hand. Liberation, the powerful bomb that justifies painful sacrifices, erases lingering doubts and reinforces bold actions." He also wrote that George W. Bush and prime minister Tony Blair "should be proud of their resolve in the face of so much doubt".

This is the day after, this is on April 10, the day after the so called fall of Baghdad. He was cheering this event, and it’s very hard for us to see reporters casting him as antiwar candidate.

AMY GOODMAN: Steve Rendall, Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting. Robert Fisk, nothing succeeds like success. It sounds like people who didn’t know how it was going to turn out wanted to make sure they were on the side of the winning forces, which makes me think of the piece you wrote where you said that Thomas Friedman was in Iraq, he asked a U.S. soldier, he was looking for something, for directions and they said to him, ’that’s on the enemy side of the bridge’.

ROBERT FISK: You have to be reality wise, Amy. Here in Baghdad, American troops are attacked I’m told up to 60 times a day, just in Baghdad, and they’re losing an average of a man a day. If you’re an American soldier, you’re 20 years old, you didn’t think it was going to work out like this, you were conned into believing the war was a great thing for democracy and liberation, and you’re being shot every day, you regard an Iraqi as a potential enemy. So of course the guy said 'enemy side of the bridge'. That’s a very telltale remark, because it shows how terribly wrong everything has gone for military, for the U.S. administration, our own prime minister Tony Blair.

But individually you find American soldiers here who can be very sympathetic and who realize it’s gone wrong. I talked to U.S. troops in the streets of Baghdad, and they do not want to vote for the Republican party, if they ever did before in the next election in the United States.

You also find soldiers who behaving very badly with lack of fire discipline, lack of discipline of every kind. I was town in Fallujah a few weeks ago where American soldiers saw a man sitting in a chair in the street said, 'you get up and I'll break your fucking neck’. Well, that is not the kind of language that is going to win hearts and minds. When I complained to his sergeant about the way he had spoken, he made excuses and said 'well the guy got up at 3:00 this morning, he's been shot at every day, he’s been here since March or whatever’. So I said well, you know, I understand all that. One has to have sympathy as a human being for another human being in a predicament. But it was your country that wanted to invade this place. You were desperate to come in, you didn’t want the arms inspectors, you haven’t found any weapons of mass destruction. Now you’re here, and you don’t like it.

And this is the big problem over and over again, I’m finding soldiers who say, 'yes, we believe we can help the Iraqi people'. Then you find many, many officers below that who say, 'I want to go home'. And this is an Army that is tired, low morale, low fire discipline, low discipline all around. The number of shootings of civilians is skyrocketing. I’ve just been talking to you about today. If you go into the hospitals here in the afternoon..

JUAN GONZALEZ: Robert, I want to ask you about the issue of low morale. Those of us who remember the Vietnam War understand that the major turning point was when those soldiers there realized that they were not engaged in a war of liberation, they gradually began to build up resistance and enormous morale problems with soldiers going AWOL and shooting their own officers at times. Are you seeing any signs that this demoralization among the troops may possibly even lead to resistance within the ranks of the soldiers?

ROBERT FISK: Well, I’d say we haven’t reached Vietnam stage yet. No one is fragging their own officers. There was one incident, I think it was in Kuwait, where a grenade was thrown by a U.S. soldier at other U.S. soldiers.

We haven’t reached the Vietnam point, and after all America was losing thousands of troops in Vietnam. And it’s only in the hundreds in Iraq since the war began. As I say when I talk to ordinary soldiers, there’s a great difference, for example, between units that were here during the war and haven’t left and actually fought in the war, lost quite a few people for them anyway, and are still here and feel that they have been lied to because they were supposed to have gone home after the victorious, wonderful war in which they were liberating people.

And the newly arrived troops, for example the 101st Airborne up in Mosul whose morale seems to be a lot higher, although frankly, their attitude to house raids, breaking down doors and screaming at people doesn’t seem to be much better than say, the Third Infantry division, who clearly don’t have the same morale problems. But we’re not at the Vietnam stage, and we shouldn’t pretend that we are. What we should compare it to is Lebanon in 1982, when it was six months before anyone threw a stone at an American soldier. But now within six months they killed scores of American soldiers here in Iraq. And what has happened is that there is a real guerilla army working increasingly sophisticated. I was very interested to note, when I met the U.S. general who was in charge of prisoners of war at the former prison outside Baghdad three days ago, she actually referred to a resistance force. She didn’t talk about terrorists. not once did it cross her lips.

What you find is that the real soldiers, I’m talking about non-reservists, full time U.S. soldiers, they know they’re involved in a guerilla war. They know it’s not working. They know the place is falling to bits. What they tell me is when it gets up to the generals on your side of the lake, they don’t want to admit it.

I have colleague of mine on the State Department Press Corps, which arrived with Colin Powell, I was present at Powell’s very strange press conference here. And my colleague told me they still don’t realize in Washington how bad it is. That’s the impression I get on the ground here.

AMY GOODMAN: Why was it strange? We only have 30 seconds, your phone probably has less, but I just want to get to Fallujah, to the U.S. soldiers who apparently came a day before, who killed something like eight Iraqi policeman and a Jordanian guard this month.

ROBERT FISK: I went down there. What obviously happened is the policemen, once they were on under fire screamed 'we are the police, we're the police’, and the shooting went on. They then fled into the Jordanian Army hospital compound, and the Americans then opened fire at the compound for up to 30 minutes, setting several of the buildings on fire. This is a hospital run by America’s Jordanian allies. These were soldiers without fire discipline.

You told me for the first time, I haven’t learned this here, that they just arrived in Iraq. Well clearly have a lot to learn, don’t they.

AMY GOODMAN: The report is American soldiers just arrived in Fallujah, the day before. But finally, the Powell press conference.

ROBERT FISK: The extraordinary thing was, Powell presented everything as upbeat. He suggested that journalists were concentrating on negative things. He wasn’t trying, he said, to persuade us how we should tell our stories or what our agenda should be, but we should concentrate on all the goodwill towards the occupation forces or the C.P.A., the coalition.

Ambassador Bremer, the pro-counsel here, the American pro-counsel stepped forward to say there were more than 1,600,000 barrels of oil produced the previous day. That doesn’t change the fact that Iraqi is still importing oil, even though it’s one of the richest oil countries in the world. But you simply couldn’t get Powell in any question to talk about the fact that so many things are going wrong. You wondered had he brought the fantasy from Washington, or was he being fed the fantasy here in Baghdad by Bremer and his staff at the C.P.A.

A fact is that months after the war was officially supposed to be over, there were hundreds of people dying in this country every week by violence. I’m just watching two Apache helicopters as I speak to you now just flying over the buildings in front of me, on 'antiterrorist patrol', as it’s called. There is a real guerilla war underway here, and when you are on the ground you realize it’s moving out of control. Washington is still trying to present this as a success story and it’s not, anymore than Afghanistan.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, I want to thank I very much, Robert Fisk for being with us. Robert Fisk is correspondent for the Independent newspaper based in Beirut right now in Iraq. returning as he has so many times.

Thank you for joining us. You are listening to Democracy Now!


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