Wesley Clark & Howard Dean


Enthusiastic
support for front- running Democratic presidential contenders Wesley
Clark and Howard Dean from liberals and some progressives reveals
the dismal state of oppositional politics in the U.S. 

Decades
of unremitting right- wing assaults on every sphere of U.S. life
has so jerked the political landscape to the right that instead
of clamoring for sweeping or even revolutionary changes, as in days
long past, the main battle cry coming from “the left”
is “anybody but Bush.” Have our standards so declined
that we get weak in the knees when business-as-usual candidates
like Clark and Dean somersault over a low hurdle? 

Four-star
general Wesley Clark first came to public attention as the Supreme
Allied Commander of NATO during the U.S. war on Serbia in 1999,
and was, until recently, a CNN military analyst. Early this year,
a grassroots campaign to draft Clark for the presidency formed and,
mostly through the Internet, garnered many signatures. Their efforts
received an unlikely boost in the form of a letter from left-liberal
author and filmmaker Michael Moore urging Clark to run. Moore claims
that his article/letter helped generate 30,000 letters to the Draft
Clark campaign and, sure enough, a few days later Clark declared
his candidacy. 

It’s
often said that Clark is “our best hope” to beat Bush
because he’s a general and no one can tarnish his anti-Bush
positions on Persian Gulf Slaughter II, the Patriot Act, and other
reactionary policies with the charge that he’s an “unpatriotic,”
“anti-American” loon (as Dean is sometimes categorized).
It’s a rather strange assertion considering there have only
been six generals elected as president in U.S. history, Eisenhower
being the most recent, Andrew Jackson being the last Democrat. Generals
who’ve been elected were major war heroes like George Washington
and Ike. Nobody thinks Clark inhabits that pantheon. 

Clark’s
decision to run as a Democrat is a recent development and his allegiance
to the Party is questionable at best. Clark’s first presidential
vote was for Richard Nixon. He subsequently voted twice for Ronald
Reagan and then for George Bush the Elder. Until two years ago,
Clark was delivering speeches at GOP fundraisers in his home state
of Arkansas, fueling speculation he was considering a run for the
Oval Office as a Republican. In his speech at a fundraiser for the
Pulaski County Republican Party on May 11, 2001, Clark praised Ronald
Reagan’s Cold War actions and Bush Sr.’s foreign policy.
He also singled out the current Administration’s hyper-unilater-
alist national security team: “We’re going to be active,
we’re going to be forward engaged. But if you look around the
world, there’s a lot of work to be done. And I’m very
glad we’ve got the great team in office: men like Colin Powell,
Don Rumsfeld, Dick Cheney, Condo- leezza Rice, Paul O’Neill—people
I know very well—our president, George W. Bush. We need them
there, because we’ve got some tough challenges ahead in Europe.” 

Clark
only declared as a Democrat this past August. Why the decision to
run as a Democrat? A hint can be found in a recent Newsweek
article. After 9/11, Clark had expected the Bush administration
to enlist him in their “war on terror.” “After all,
he’d been NATO commander…and the investment firm he now
worked for had strong Bush ties. But when GOP friends inquired,
they were told: forget it. Word was that Karl Rove, the president’s
political mastermind, had blocked the idea. Clark was furious. [Clark]
happened to chat with two prominent Republicans, Colorado Gov. Bill
Owens and Marc Holtzman….‘I would have been a Republican,’
Clark told them, ‘if Karl Rove had returned my phone calls.’
Soon thereafter, in fact, Clark quit his day job and began seriously
planning to enter the presidential race—as a Democrat. Clark
 insisted the remark was a ‘humorous tweak.’ The
two others said it was anything but. ‘He went into detail about
his grievances,’ Holtzman said. ‘Clark wasn’t joking.
We were really shocked” (Newsweek, September 29, 2003).

So
why are liberals and progressives so star struck over Clark? One
reason is the widespread perception that, as Michael Moore writes
in his aforementioned letter, Clark “oppose[s] war.” As
the media watchdog group FAIR reveals in a review of statements
made by Clark before, during, and after the Iraq war, if Clark is
“anti-war” then the term has been gutted of any meaning.
 

  • In
    an article published in the London Times, April 10, Clark
    savors the U.S.’s great “victory” over Iraq: “Liberation
    is at hand. Liberation—the powerful balm that justifies painful
    sacrifice, erases lingering doubt and reinforces bold actions.
    Already the scent of victory is in the air. Yet a bit more work
    and some careful reckoning need to be done before we take our
    triumph…. President Bush and Tony Blair should be proud of their
    resolve in the face of so much doubt.”  
  • As the U.S.
    and its client Israel are presently focusing the crosshairs on
    Syria and Iran, we have Clark writing in the same article: “But
    the operation in Iraq will also serve as a launching pad for further
    diplomatic overtures, pressures and even military actions against
    others in the region who have supported terrorism and garnered
    weapons of mass destruction. Don’t look for stability as
    a Western goal. Governments in Syria and Iran will be put on notice—indeed,
    may have been already—that they are ‘next’ if they
    fail to comply with Washington’s concerns.” 

The
above sounds straight out of the neo-conservative Project for a
New American Century playbook. 

Many
Clark supporters were stunned when he told the New York Times
on September 19 that he would have voted for the congressional resolution
authorizing Bush to attack Iraq: “At the time, I probably would
have voted for it, but I think that’s too simple a question.”
After pausing to consider his statement, Clark repeated: “I
don’t know if I would have or not. I’ve said it both ways
because when you get into this, what happens is you have to put
yourself in a position—on balance, I probably would have voted
for it.” 

In
response to the shocked reaction among supporters to the “antiwar”
candidate’s statement, Clark backpedaled the next day: “Let’s
make one thing real clear, I would never have voted for this war.
I’ve gotten a very consistent record on this. There was no
imminent threat. This was not a case of pre-emptive war. I would
have voted for the right kind of leverage to get a diplomatic solution,
an international solution to the challenge of Saddam Hussein.” 

Clark’s
claim to having a consistent record is simply false. In October
2002, Clark traveled to New Hampshire to endorse Katrina Swett’s
run for Congress. The Union Leader newspaper reported, “Clark,
who supports a congressional resolution that would give President
Bush authority to use military force against Iraq, said if Swett
were in Congress this week, he would advise her to vote for the
resolution, but only after vigorous debate” (October 10, 2002). 

Clark’s
oft-repeated claim that the U.S. should act in concert with the
international community to reach a diplomatic solution on Iraq is
belied by statements he made on CNN before the war: 

  • “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….”
    (January 21, 2003). 
  • “The credibility
    of the United States is on the line, and Saddam Hussein has these
    weapons and so, you know, we’re going to go ahead and do
    this and the rest of the world’s got to get with us…. The
    U.N. has got to come in and belly up to the bar on this. But the
    president of the United States has put his credibility on the
    line, too. And so this is the time that these nations around the
    world, and the United Nations, are going to have to look at this
    evidence and decide who they line up with” (February 5, 2003). 

Let’s
not forget that as Supreme Commander of NATO, Clark led an undeclared
war against Serbia that was never approved by the UN. Before the
Kosovo War began in March 1999, Clark repeatedly called for U.S.
air strikes against Serbia. 

During
the Kosovo War, as Supreme Allied Commander of NATO, Clark waged
a brutal air war against Serbia that brought death and destruction
mostly to civilians and the infrastructure that was their life support
but, by most post-war accounts, left the Serbian military relatively
unscathed. “We’re going to systematically and progressively
attack, disrupt, degrade, devastate and ultimately, unless President
Milosevic complies with the demands of the international community,
we’re going to destroy his forces and their facilities and
support.” 

It’s
clear that Clark included as legitimate targets schools, bridges,
hospitals, electrical facilities, market places, trains, refugee
convoys, and media outlets. Clark bombed Serbia with “an almost
sadistic fanaticism” (William Blum), making profligate use
of deadly cluster bombs and depleted uranium shells, of the sort
used to ravage Iraq. The Washington Post reports Clark “would
rise out of his seat and slap the table. ‘I’ve got to
get the maximum violence out of this campaign now’!”

Independent
estimates of the civilian death toll in the Kosovo War range from
500-2,000, yet Clark, in testimony to Congress, said there were
between 20 and 30 instances of “collateral damage.” 

Clark’s
attempts to cover up instances of intentional NATO bombings of civilian
targets have been exposed, though not properly publicized. In one
case, 14 people were killed in Grdenicka, Serbia on April 12, 1999
when a U.S. jet bombed a passenger train crossing a bridge. Clark
claimed the atrocity was a tragic mistake, as the pilot was firing
on the bridge and the train only came into view after the bombs
had been dropped. He showed two video films shot from the nose of
the remote control-guided bombs to support his claim, which were
later found to have been doctored. In fact, the train could be seen
on the bridge when the pilot bombed it and he turned around to make
a second sweep on the burning bridge, dropping a bomb directly on
the carriage. This is the anti-war, anti- unilateralist candidate? 

The
former governor of Vermont, Howard Dean, has rallied progressives
with his populist rhetoric and media hounds have praised him from
coast to coast. Howard Dean catapulted onto the national stage when
he announced his position opposing Bush’s unilateral attack
on Iraq. He was the first Democrat to enter the race for the White
House and therefore the first presidential candidate to speak out
in opposition to Bush’s dubious war. However, he was never
wholeheartedly opposed to dethroning Saddam. Like Wesley Clark,
he’s swapped positions more than once. 

Dean
announced in September 2002 that if Saddam didn’t comply with
UN demands, the U.S. reserved the right to “go into Iraq.”
Dean claimed he would have gladly endorsed a multilateral effort
aimed at destroying Saddam’s regime. On CBS’s “Meet
the Press” last July, he said that the United States must increase
its pressure on Saudi Arabia and Iran. “We have to be very,
very careful of Iran,” he said, Bush “is too beholden
to the Saudis and the Iranians.” 

As
the quagmire in Iraq thickens, Dean boasted to the Washington
Post
that he had no intentions of bringing U.S. troops home.
Later Dean flip-flopped, stating in a New York primary debate, “We
need more troops. They’re going to be foreign troops [in Iraq],
not more American troops, as they should have been in the first
place. Ours need to come home.” 

When
drilled during that same debate about Bush’s $87 billion dollar
Iraq package, Dean said that he would support it and “we have
no choice…we have to support our troops.” So do we support
our troops by bringing them home or by financing the occupation?
He hasn’t clarified. 

More
recently, in an October issue of the Jewish Week, Dean was
quoted as saying that he has been very clear in his support for
“targeted assassinations” of Palestinian terror suspects.
He believes these men are “enemy combatants in a war”
and added, “Israel has every right to shoot them before they
can shoot Israelis.” 

Dean’s
campaign fundraiser, Steven Grossman, is the ex-director of the
American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), the most influential
Israeli lobbying force in the United States—ranked number 4
on Forbes top 25 most giving organizations in Washington.
AIPAC’s unwavering ideology includes defending Ariel Sharon
at every mishap. Grossman spent many nights in the Clinton White
House and it’s certain he would be doing the same during a
Dean tenure. 

In
an interview with the Forward, Dean admitted that his position
on Israel was “closer to AIPAC’s” than Palestinian
advocates. He has also announced his support for the wall now separating
Palestinians from their homeland, as well as championing Israel
for taking their battles over the border into Syria. “If Israel
has to defend itself by striking terrorists elsewhere, it’s
going to have to do that,” Dean said in a CNN interview with
Judy Woodruff, “Terrorism has no place in bringing peace in
the Middle East…nations have the right to defend themselves
just as we defended ourselves by going into Afghanistan to get rid
of Al Qaeda.” 

Dean
is also opposed to curtailing any of Israel’s loan guarantees
from the United States. Even though he’s claimed he’ll
take an “even-handed” approach to the bloody conflict,
Dean has made it clear he’ll support the billion dollar U.S.
loan guarantees to Israel. His campaign website exclaims that the
United States should “maintain its historic special relationship
with the state of Israel, providing a guarantee of its long-term
defense and security.” 

So
how did Dean get labeled a progressive antiwar candidate? Dean wonders,
“(I’m) out here talking about a balanced budget and a
healthcare system run by the private sector,” Dean said in
a New York Times article, “It’s pathetic I’m
considered the most progressive candidate.” He’s even
remarked that he doesn’t “think the Democrats are going
to be able to beat the president with the equivalent of Bush-Lite.”
So why isn’t he offering us a clear alternative? 

Dean
is unlikely he’ll be hailing the progressives in the Democratic
Primaries—Dennis Kucinich and Al Sharpton—anytime soon.
Why would he point his supporters to their camps? Dean’s generous
patrons have anteed up over $10.5 million in small donations since
his campaign’s inception. 

Looking
at Dean’s hawkish foreign policy positions, it’s difficult
to see what all the hype is about. The right wing has so controlled
the political landscape, that Dean and Clark look decent to some
progressives. Even if one of them manages to unseat Bush, the left
still won’t be victorious. 

It’s
hard to imagine that either Dean or Clark would be monumentally
different than George W. Bush. Our struggles must continue well
beyond the 2004 elections. The Democrats may save us from Bush,
but, with the likes of Dean and Clark leading the opposition, it’s
apparent the Democrats won’t be able to save us from themselves.


Sunil K. Sharma
is the editor of
Dissident Voice, a radical on-line
newsletter (www.dissidentvoice. org). Josh Frank is a writer/activist
living in New York City.