Jewish World Review Oct. 7, 2003 / 11 Tishrei, 5764

Jack Kelly

Jack Kelly
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Clark is apolitical. No, really! | His friends and his detractors agree that Wesley Clark is a brilliant man, and a brave one. Clark was first in his class at West Point and a Rhodes scholar, irrefutable proof of his intellect. His four wounds and three decorations for valor in Vietnam are irrefutable proof of his courage.

But intelligence is not the same as good judgment, and courage is not the same as character.

At a forum on the war on terror in Los Altos, California Sept. 12, retired Gen. Henry Shelton, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff during the Kosovo war, was asked by the moderator: "What do you think of General Wesley Clark and would you support him as a presidential candidate?"

Shelton paused, and took a long drink of water. "I noticed you took a drink on that one!" the moderator said.

"That question makes me wish it were vodka," Shelton replied. "I've known Wes for a long time. I will tell you the reason why he came out of Europe early had to do with integrity and character issues, things that are very near and dear to my heart. I'm not going to say whether I'm a Republican or a Democrat. I'll just say Wes won't get my vote."

"To say Clark was unpopular among his fellow officers in the military is an understatement," wrote Evan Thomas in Newsweek's Sep. 29 issue. "As he rapidly rose through the ranks, he was widely regarded as a champion brown-noser and know-it-all."

"The guy is brilliant," a retired four star general told the Washington Post's Vernon Loeb. "He's very articulate, he's extremely charming, he has the best strategic sense of anybody I've ever met. But the simple fact is, a lot of people just don't trust his ability" as a commander.

"There are an awful lot of people who believe Wes will tell anybody what they want to hear and tell somebody the exact opposite five minutes later," another retired general told Loeb. "The people who have worked closely with him are the least complimentary, because he can be very abrasive, very domineering."

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Former subordinates are more harsh. "I worked for Clark in 1984/85 when he was a colonel," one told me in an email. "My considered opinion of him is that he is a lying gutless weasel...The officers at the National Training Center hated him. Not one of us had any respect for Clark."

It's impressive to be a four star general, even if you have to kiss every pair of buttocks in the Pentagon and the White House in order to obtain the promotions. Clark faced retirement as a lieutenant general until Clinton Defense Secretary William Perry selected him to head U.S. Southern Command over an officer the Army thought was more qualified.

But ultimately, a general has to be judged by his performance in command. I mentioned some of Clark's shortcomings as NATO military chief in an earlier column. Clark supporters upbraided me for this, pointing out that the Kosovo war was won. That's true. But victory in Kosovo doesn't rank up there with Vicksburg and Guadalcanal. If Penn State beats the Little Sisters of the Poor in a football game, that isn't news. But if it's the middle of the fourth quarter, and the score is only 10-7, maybe the quarterback isn't so hot.

Clark's support for war in Kosovo and his opposition to it in Iraq illustrate his flexibility of principle. He was against war with Iraq because it wasn't sanctioned by the UN. But neither was Kosovo. He was for war in Kosovo because Serb dictator Slobodan Milosevic was a vicious tyrant. But Milosevic is a choirboy compared to Saddam Hussein.

The emergence of a videotape from 2001 in which Clark praised Bush, Defense Secretary Don Rumsfeld and National Security Adviser Condoleeza Rice has some of his rivals questioning the depth of Clark's allegiance to the Democratic Party. "He was a Republican until 25 days ago," Howard Dean said on CBS's Face the Nation Sep. 28.

Clark, I suspect, is neither a Democrat or a Republican. He is a Clarkocrat or a Clarklican, depending on which posture most advances the personal fortunes of Wesley K. Clark.

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JWR contributor Jack Kelly, a former Marine and Green Beret, was a deputy assistant secretary of the Air Force in the Reagan administration. Comment by clicking here.

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