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General Wesley Clark Talks About Intersection of Military Power and Diplomatic Power


The United States is facing the challenge of two simultaneous wars – in Iraq and Afghanistan – plus a constant terrorist threat. The results of last year’s congressional election indicated that the American public wants a change in the course set by the current administration, and recent polls suggest that about two-thirds of the U.S. electorate is critical of the conduct of the war in Iraq.

In a new book, A Time to Lead: For Duty, Honor, and Country, the four-star general who formerly served as NATO’s Supreme Allied Commander, Europe, offers his lessons in “leadership that works” at this critical juncture in U.S. history. General Wesley Clark says that, as a cadet at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, he learned that you have to “follow orders before you give them.” Speaking with host Judith Latham of VOA News Now’s Press Conference USA and with VOA correspondent Meredith Buel, General Clark says that leadership is about duty, “not letting people down,” following through on your obligations, being “on time and on message,” and being prepared.

While on patrol as a company commander in the jungles of Vietnam, where his book opens, Wesley Clark retells the story of how a draftee soldier, Mike McClintock, saved his life. General Clark says that in Iraq the United States “junked much of what it had learned in Vietnam,” especially in the area of counter-insurgency. For example, he explains, you have to deprive the insurgents of their base of operation by “winning the hearts and minds” of the population. He says the current administration “fumbled away years.” First, it should not have invaded Iraq, but having done so, it should have had a plan for what came next and it should have “put enough resources in.” He says America has lost 4,000 troops in Iraq in a “mostly futile effort to impose a democracy on people who weren’t really ready for it.” Meanwhile, he observes, Iran is “all over the country,” and he says there won’t be a solution to Iraq “without dealing with Iran.” But most important, General Clark says, the administration has neglected the other, non-military, elements of America’s power, especially “regional diplomacy” and the protection of “America’s legitimacy, which we have badly squandered.”

In the Balkans in the 1990’s, General Clark says he had an opportunity to “combine military force with diplomacy,” especially in his dealings with former Serbian president Slobodan Milosevic. That came to fruition in 1995 with the negotiations for the Dayton agreement, which ended the war in Bosnia, and again during the war in Kosovo when, as NATO’s Supreme Allied Commander, Europe, he told Mr. Milosevic that, if he did not obey the U.N. Security Council resolution, Serbia would be bombed. General Clark says Slobodan Milosevic looked at him as someone whom he could trust, whereas he looked at the former Serbian president as a “dictator whom we couldn’t trust.” Over the course of the campaign in Kosovo, General Clark says he was able to “break his will and force his surrender by ratcheting up the military pressure while offering him a diplomatic means of escape.”

But General Clark says there can be a high price for addressing policy matters, “even if you are later proven right.” In the American system, civilian presidential appointees run the military, which means high-ranking military officers are responsible for giving their professional advice while “educating the people [they] work for.” And, as he observes, sometimes they “don’t like to be educated” and they resent military advice. Nonetheless, in 2000, Wesley Clark received the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Clinton, who commended him for his “expertise as a strategist, soldier, and statesman.”

General Clark says that, if he were to be involved in formulating U.S. policy on Iraq, he would recommend pulling some brigades out to “get the attention of the Iraqi leadership” and then embarking on a “robust diplomatic initiative in the region.”

For full audio of the program Press Conference USA click here.

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