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Retired General Wesley Clark Mulls Presidential Bid - 2003-06-16

The crowded field of Democrats seeking to challenge President George W. Bush next year could grow further in the weeks ahead.

The latest possible entrant into the 2004 presidential sweepstakes is former NATO Commander and retired U.S. Army General Wesley Clark.

General Clark told NBC television's Meet the Press program on Sunday he is strongly considering a run for the White House next year as a Democrat and will decide whether to join the Democratic primary field sometime in the next few months.

"Well, in many respects, I would like a chance to help this country. And I do not know if that means being president or doing something else. But I have spent my entire life in public service except for the last three years and it is very hard not to think in terms of the welfare of the country. And when you see the country in trouble, being challenged, yes, you would like to pitch in and help," Mr. Clark said.

General Clark spent 33 years in the U.S. Army and rose to the rank of four-star general. His final assignment was as NATO's Supreme Allied Commander, where he led the allied effort in Kosovo in 1998 and 1999.

General Clark clashed with Clinton administration officials during the Kosovo campaign, and is untested as a political candidate. But two separate groups are trying to draft him to run in the Democratic primaries next year and one of them is running radio advertisements urging him to run in the early primary state of New Hampshire.

General Clark is critical of the Bush administration's foreign policy. He said the administration should do more to pressure potential adversaries like North Korea and Iran, and he said the president is too quick to use military force.

"I think the problem with military action in all of these cases is it should be a last resort, because when you take military action you have a lot of consequences that can not be foreseen. And if the goal is to go after the weapons, then let us go after the weapons in the most direct way; inspections and pressure and visibility. You always have the military card behind at the end and that is very clear. But not the first card to be played," he said.

Several other Democrats running for president have voiced similar concerns about the Bush foreign policy.

Bush administration officials respond that the world has changed since the 2001 terrorist attacks in New York and Washington and that the United States will not hesitate to use military force in a pre-emptive fashion to remove potential threats.

Nine Democrats are already running for their party's presidential nomination next year. In addition to General Clark, the top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Senator Joe Biden of Delaware, said recently he might make a run for the White House as well.