Friday, September 26, 2003

On the cover of the Rolling Stone...

Okay, the Man in Black is actually on the cover. Wesley Clark is inside.

Why have you criticized the president for the war in Iraq?

It was a tough decision to become involved in partisan politics. I went to West Point when I was seventeen years old. I believed in this country. I served in the White House under Gerald Ford. To come out and oppose the commander in chief has been enormously painful. But after September 11th, I watched as the administration's policy diverged step by step from where it should have been. I went to the Pentagon nine days after the attacks and called on a man with three stars who used to work for me. He said, "Sir, I have to ask you, have you heard the joke going through the halls?" I said, "No, what is it?" He said, "It goes like this: If Saddam Hussein didn't do 9/11, too bad. He should have, 'cause we're going to get him anyway." He looked at me, and I looked at him, and we both knew that it would be a classic mistake if we did that.

I was relieved when we attacked Afghanistan, but I went back to the Pentagon as that war was going on, and this same guy said to me, "Oh, yes, sir, not only is it Afghanistan. There's a list of countries. We're not that good at fighting terrorists, so we're going after states: Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Libya, Somalia and Iran. There's a five-year plan." From that moment on, I couldn't believe anymore that I was just a retired general of the United States Army. I saw something wrong, but I couldn't get anyone to listen, so I started to speak out last September in a vocal way.

Why was going into Iraq a mistake?

We made a historic strategic blunder. We attacked a state rather than going after a terrorist. Iraq had no connection to the war on terror. Of all the states in the Middle East to give chemical, biological or nuclear weapons to terrorists, least likely was Iraq. Saddam's a control artist. He wouldn't have given bioweapons to Osama bin Laden unless Osama's mother, four wives and fifteen children were in one of his prisons so he could rip their hearts out if Osama screwed up. But we didn't want to face the tough task of going after bin Laden, so we did a bait-and-switch and went after Saddam instead. And now, look at the headline on today's New York Times: bin Laden seen with aide on tape. We're less secure now than we were before. Spending $80 billion and putting half the U.S. Army in Iraq has provided a supercharger to Al Qaeda recruiters.

We helped bin Laden. The only thing we could have done that would have helped him more is if we had invaded Saudi Arabia and captured Mecca. We've also squandered the support that brought 200,000 Germans out after 9/11 two years ago. They're not coming back out again -- not for this administration. You won't get any support out of the Germans and the French until you get a regime change in Washington.

When you were in the Army, you had a lot of contact with various White House staffs. Did you ever have any dealings with some of the people who now serve in the Bush administration?

When I was a thirty-year-old Army major, I was sent to Washington, where they put me in the Ford White House. This was 1974. Nixon had just resigned. They said, "How would you like to be staff secretary to this executive committee -- it'll have Henry Kissinger," who was then secretary of state; James Schlesinger, the secretary of defense; the director of the CIA and the counsel to the president. Well, for someone who'd just come to Washington, you can imagine how I felt. Pretty impressive, right? What I discovered was that the White House was full of paranoia and suspicion -- a real Watergate mentality. I'd bring something up, and they'd say, "Wes, if you ask a question like that, you can't work here." The reason the White House was that way was not only because of Watergate but because of the two guys in charge: Donald Rumsfeld, who was Gerald Ford's chief of staff, and Dick Cheney, who was his assistant.

Today you've got the same people in there running things, trying to close down access to government. Rumsfeld and Cheney are patriotic men, and I know they are doing the best they can. It's just that I disagree with them. I don't believe that government is made better by secrecy and restraint. It's made better by transparency, by being open and honest. If you're right, you're right. If not, you take your licks.

You call the war in Iraq unjustified. So why was the campaign you led in Kosovo justified?

Kosovo was OK because Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic was engaged in ethnic cleansing that was destabilizing the entire region. By intervening, NATO could stop the killing. We tried every means to resolve it, and we ended up using force only as a last resort. But there was no imminent threat in Iraq. If Saddam Hussein did all these bad things, we should have indicted him for war crimes, held an international tribunal and ordered him to surrender. That's what we did with Milosevic. In Iraq, we just invaded a country ten years after the crimes happened, in violation of international law, without charging him with anything. It just doesn't work that way.

What would you do in Iraq now that we're there?

What we're going to have to do is change the regional dynamic. I know this is hard for some people to understand, but if you threaten people, you make them mad. And if you make them mad, then they want to fight you. That's the way the world works. If what we want is to persuade countries in that region that the democratization of Iraq is not a threat, we should not be out there saying, "Your day will come!" What do you expect them to do?

…I also found out that if you want a fight, you're gonna fight -- in a bar in Colorado, or in the Middle East. Of course, that makes some people in the administration happy.

You recently announced that you are a Democrat. Was that a hard choice?

I was worried about whether I could be a Democrat. A lot of my friends were Democrats, and it follows that I should be. This is the party that best reflects how I feel about the issues, that best captures my aspirations for mankind. But when you're a military guy, you have to understand that there's always been members of the Democratic Party who don't like the military.

Let's talk about issues beyond the war. What's your position on the environment?

… I believe in clean air. They believe in letting power plants modernize without pollution controls. I believe in clean water and preserving wetlands. They believe "shit happens." I don't believe in opening up old-growth forests for logging in the name of fire prevention.

How would you decrease our reliance on oil imported from the Middle East?

… I'd raise average-mileage performance on automobiles. That's something we can do right now that will decrease our oil dependence - but it's something the administration has dragged its feet on.

What about global warming?

If you want to deal with that issue, you've got to start now. We should never have pulled out of the Kyoto Accords. Instead, we should have worked to make them better. We're the biggest polluter in the world right now, but there's a huge brown cloud over China that gets bigger every year. So we have to set an example and work together on global warming. The most important thing is to change our mind-set.

What do you think of the administration's tax cuts?

They're tax cuts for the wealthy, sprinkled with a few cuts for the working class to make it seem like they got something. …We're borrowing money from our children to give tax cuts to wealthy people today.

The president is urging Congress to grant him wider powers to wage war on terrorism at home.

Come on, give us a break. The Patriot Act, all 1,200 pages of it, was passed without any serious congressional discussion. There was no public accountability, and now he wants more? What does he think this country is? We shouldn't do anything with the Patriot Act until it's unwrapped. …

Is it disloyal for a retired general to criticize the president during a time of war?

Look, I'm not going to let Tom DeLay or Dick Cheney or those guys who've never served in uniform take away from the right of men and women who served honorably in this country's armed forces to criticize policy. If soldiers' lives are at stake, the time to criticize the policy is now, not when it's over. I think the height of patriotism is to speak out. …

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