Jewish World Review Sept. 22, 2003/ 25 Elul, 5763
Here comes General Clark, his policies will follow shortly
He is a handsome man in an unnerving kind of way. He never blinks, presumably because long ago some adviser told him that not blinking projects strength or some such. So instead he just stares intensely directly into the camera. If you've ever sat opposite the serial killer on the last Tube to Morden, you'll know the look.
Anyway, night after night, Bill Clinton's old Arkansas pal and the Kollossus of Kosovo has been telling interviewers that he has not yet made up his mind whether to run for President or, indeed, whether he's even a Democrat.
Most of us figured this was the usual apple sauce and that the famously arrogant Clark was just waiting for the right moment. Last week was definitely the right moment. Howard Dean, the insurgent Leftie from Vermont whose metaphorical battle cry of "Give me ideological purity or give me death" has so roused the party faithful, has successfully killed off all the other viable candidates, mainly by driving them nuts and dragging them far farther to the Left than any sane man would want to be.
Last week, though, Hurricane Howard appeared to have temporarily run out of puff.
So in jumped Gen Clark. Brilliant timing. As if to underline that it is now Dean vs Clark, Senator John Edwards, the pretty-boy trial lawyer from North Carolina, officially launched his campaign the day before the General, and nobody noticed.
The media trampled him into the asphalt as they stampeded on to Arkansas to coo over the Democrats' new "white knight". And here's the thing: Clark was terrible. I assumed all the time that he was on CNN claiming to be wrestling with his decision that he had a campaign platform in the freezer all ready to warm up once he gave the signal. But it seems he genuinely hadn't made up his mind.
Judging from his initial appearances, he still hasn't. He is running for President because he thinks he is the best man for the job. Why? Well, no tricky follow-up questions, please: he'll get back to you later on that.
At his first campaign stop at a Florida restaurant, The Washington Post reported that "Clark said he has few specific policy ideas to offer voters right now . . . Voters need to give him time to think things through."
I sympathize, up to a point. Political candidates are supposed to have plans for things most of us never give a thought to, like a prescription drug plan for the elderly.
I don't have a prescription drug plan for the elderly, and I wouldn't want to improvise one in a Florida diner. But surely there's a couple of issues the White Knight's had time to think through. For example, I don't know whether you heard about it but there was a war in Iraq a couple of months back. It was in all the papers. So what's General Clark's position on that?
Here he is on Thursday: "General Wesley K Clark said today that he would have supported the Congressional resolution that authorized the United States to invade Iraq." Here he is on Friday: " 'Let's make one thing real clear, I would never have voted for this war,' Clark said before a speech at the University of Iowa." Got that? Everybody else on the planet knows what his or her position on Iraq is except General Clark.
A Democratic strategist told me that, well, Clark's got into the race late, so it is hardly surprising he is not quite, as the phrase has it, ready for primetime. Au contraire, primetime seems to be the only thing he is ready for: he spent the run-up to it, the war itself and the aftermath in television studios across the continent pointing out everything that Bush was doing wrong without ever acquiring a coherent position of his own.
What Clark's media-boosters like is that he's sophisticated, he's nuanced, he doesn't see everything as "yes" or "no". As he told The New York Times when asked whether he'd have voted to authorize war or not: "I think that's too simple a question." Unfortunately, most questions are: you have to vote yea or nay; and the general seems to feel that sort of thing's beneath him.
What we do know, though, is that, if he had been President these last three years, the Taliban and Saddam would still be in power.
His response to September 11, as argued in a weirdly narcissistic essay, would have been to have "helped the United Nations create an International Criminal Tribunal on International Terrorism" - no doubt chaired by a distinguished former chief justice of Libya or Syria. A team of Hague lawyers would be in Kabul today making solid progress with Mullah Omar on a plea-bargain from Osama. That's the stuff.
Why did General Clark on Friday stage the world's fastest retreat from his position on Thursday? Because his "supporters" were outraged to hear he would have backed the war. On 99 per cent of domestic issues, Clark is in bland unthinking compliance with party orthodoxy, with not an idea in his pretty little head.
The only rationale for his candidacy is that he is the soldier for the party that doesn't like soldiering. He supposedly neutralizes the Democrats' national security problem: they can say, hey, sure, we're anti-war, but that's because our guy is a four-star general who knows a thing or two about it . . . That's all they need him for: cover. It is not going to work. All General Jello does is remind voters of what they dislike about the Dems on this war: their weaselly evasive oppositionism. All his military background does is keep military matters at the forefront of the campaign.
He will be asked why he got fired from the Nato job, why his buddy Bill Clinton declined to save him, why neither his civilian nor uniformed bosses - Bill Cohen, the Defense Secretary, and General Shelton, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs - attended his retirement ceremony, a huge public snub for a four-star general.
It is hard to argue that Iraq was a disaster when, in the crappy little war you, General Clark, presided over, the most powerful military on the planet took 78 days of aerial bombardment to destroy just over a dozen tanks; hard to argue that our boys shouldn't be getting picked off on the ground in Iraq when in your war they stayed up at 15,000 feet, nights only, bombing hospitals, commuter trains, refugee convoys, the Chinese embassy, etc; hard to argue that Iraq wasn't worth it when, by most accounts, there's more ethnic cleansing (Muslims against Christians) going on in "liberated" Kosovo than there was in Slobo's day.
If General Clark's the candidate, he'll be the embodiment of ineffectual Clintonian warmongering.
If I were a Democrat, I would go with Howard Dean, the loopy peacenik who doesn't know a thing about war and doesn't care who knows it. On Iraq, he sounds passionate and angry, not shifty and equivocal. And on health, schools and the stuff Democrats and media really care about, Dean can yak away for hours so glibly there'll be no time left to talk about peripheral trivia like terrorism and national security.
If the objective is to squash Bush's war advantage, vote Dean and move on to domestic policy. Vote for the general and you're stuck talking war till next November with a candidate who is not up to it.
Unless, of course, there's a third scenario, which, given last week's lamentable performance, makes a strange kind of sense. General Clark is merely an unwitting "stalking horse", designed to weaken both Dean and Bush just enough to enable the Democrats' real white knight to jump in: waiting in the wings, Hillary Rodham Clinton.
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JWR contributor Mark Steyn is North American Editor of The (London) Spectator and the author, most recently, of "The Face of the Tiger," a new book on the world post-Sept. 11. (Sales help fund JWR). Comment by clicking here.
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