Politics & Policy

General Recklessness

Wesley Clark on the trail.

‘I don’t think riding in a fighter plane and getting shot down is a qualification to be president,” former NATO Supreme Allied Commander Wesley Clark told Face the Nation on Sunday.

Clark explained: “In the matters of national security policy making, it’s a matter of understanding risk.” The Hillary-Clinton-turned-Barack-Obama-supporter continued: “It’s a matter of gauging your opponents and it’s a matter of being held accountable. John McCain’s never done any of that in his official positions. I certainly honor his service as a prisoner of war. He was a hero to me and to hundreds of thousands and millions of others in the armed forces, as a prisoner of war.”

Clark went on to say: “That large squadron in the Navy that he commanded — that wasn’t a wartime squadron.”

If this is a serious strategy on the Left for defeating McCain, Republicans may yet surprise in November.

But although others have tried hitting McCain’s military-service record, this Face the Nation story may be more about Democrats finally facing the reality that is the fringe recklessness of Wesley Clark.

Clark’s attacks on McCain yesterday do not mark the first or last silly thing General Clark has or will say. In March, Clark also argued that McCain’s military service was irrelevant and that Hillary Clinton’s experience as First Lady was somehow a more relevant presidential leadership credential.

But none of this should come as a surprise. Remember Clark’s failed presidential campaign? It was a feast for the reckless. As Jay Nordlinger relayed in his National Review 2004 campaign obit:

[Clark’s] campaign began with a bang. He told an enthusiastic audience, “We are going to ask, ‘Why are we engaged in Iraq, Mr. President? Tell the truth! Why, Mr. President? Was it because Saddam Hussein was assisting the hijackers? Was it because Saddam Hussein had a nuclear weapon that might bring a nuclear cloud?’ ” Of course, Bush had stated many, many times his reasons for war. You might have scorned these reasons, but he undoubtedly had them. And as Clark was asking why we had entered Iraq, his audience shouted out, “Oil!” Then “Halliburton!” And the general responded, “We don’t know. And that’s the truth. And we have to ask that question.”

How responsible, General.

But it actually got worse: “I think they came into office looking for the opportunity, not quite sure how to get it. And 9/11 — presto. Perfect opportunity.” It’s all about “his father’s war.”

This isn’t Dennis Kucinich or Ron Paul talking. This is Wesley Clark — the man who represents the Obama campaign’s foreign-policy credentials.

George Bush may have gone to war for Halliburton and or his daddy but at least he wasn’t getting us attacked in New York and Washington again. During the 2004 campaign, Clark explained that President Bush “was focused single-mindedly on missile defense, the centerpiece of his foreign policy.” And so: “George Bush was sworn in in January 2001– a full nine months before the attacks. That day he took the oath that every commander-in-chief of our nation has taken: to defend our nation and to protect the lives of the American people. But for nine months he did not live up to that oath.”

According to Clark: “They [the administration] disregarded the warnings of the intelligence community and the Clinton administration on what the greatest threat to America was. They marched to their own drumbeat and they got caught out of step and it cost 3,000 people their lives in this country.”

It does beg the question of what exactly the Democrats who were in the White House before Bush did to prevent 9/11. But that would suggest Clark should be held accountable for his words, something the U.S. media hasn’t bothered to do. If we did, Clark would not be an Obama foreign-policy adviser, he would have never been on Face the Nation as an Obama surrogate, he would have never been a Hillary adviser ridiculously arguing that Clinton’s experience exceeds McCain’s.

Conservatives should not let this Clark moment pass. Barack Obama should distance himself from efforts to dishonor McCain’s military service. Obama should be disappointed and saddened. This is not the Wesley Clark he knew. And he should drop Wesley Clark as an adviser. That would be general progress away from the paranoid style of American politics.

Kathryn Jean Lopez is the editor of National Review Online.

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