The Candidate vs. the General

Talk about insufficient research: Candidate Wesley Clark has written a book that ignores an earlier book by Gen. Wesley Clark.

In spring 2001, a few years after his stint as commander of NATO forces in Kosovo, Gen. Clark brought out Waging Modern War, in which he outlined the frustrations of trying to serve every other country in the NATO alliance and his own. He wrote about not getting permission to fight a ground campaign, about not managing to persuade the U.S. Army to use Apache helicopters, about working through constant flak from Allied officers and, not least, from Washington and Brussels.

It was, apparently, a maddening assignment, a product of the kind of coalition and alliance warfare that, for some reason, Candidate Clark feels the need to recommend in his new book, Winning Modern Wars (PublicAffairs, 200 pages, $25). You could make the argument that the Bush administration, in Afghanistan and Iraq, remembered the frustrations of Gen. Clark much better than Candidate Clark does.

But we needn't rely on Gen. Clark alone for the contrast. In "Winning Ugly," a 2000 Brookings Institution study, Ivo Daalder and Michael O'Hanlon starkly outlined the failures of the Kosovo campaign: "The United States and its allies succeeded only after much suffering on the ground by ethnic Albanian people. They prevailed only after committing a number of major mistakes, which future interventions must seek to avoid. In fact, NATO's mistakes were so serious that its victory was anything but preordained."

Mere Hubris

The lesson was not lost on President Bush, Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld and Gen. Tommy Franks. They knew that the model Gen. Clark had followed in Kosovo would have guaranteed defeat in Afghanistan and Iraq. Gen. Clark spent 78 days bombing Serbia and Kosovo. Gen. Franks intervened in Iraq with ground forces at the fore, understanding that, otherwise, Saddam would have set the oil fields on fire and attempted to destroy the economic future of Iraq.

And they knew that America had to act as necessary, even without balking allies and the endorsement of the United Nations. Candidate Clark sees this as mere hubris. "Coming to power in a disputed election," he writes disapprovingly, "the Bush administration acted unambiguously to put a more unilateralist, balance-of-power stamp on U.S. foreign policy." We withdrew from the Kyoto Treaty, he notes; we pursued missile defense and rejected dialogue with North Korea. In short, U.S. foreign policy "became not only unilateralist but moralistic," intimating a "New American Empire" while ignoring "rising unemployment and the soaring budget deficit." Candidate Clark claims that such "aggressive unilateralism" was sure to "hamper counterterror efforts" and "turn upside-down five decades of work to establish an international system to help reduce conflict."

But Sept. 11 was a murderous reminder that the international system had failed to reduce at least one major conflict: the terror war on the West. And it was not at all clear that the major players in that system were ready to act. They seemed to favor a protracted, multilateral and legalistic approach to international affairs. And now Candidate Clark, who at one time was supportive of the Bush administration's response to 9/11, favors such an approach, too.

That approach infects the history lessons in Winning Modern Wars. Candidate Clark claims that the assertive foreign policy of the Reagan era--the 1982 "evil empire" speech, the "star wars" defense initiative, the anticommunist efforts in Central America, the bombing raid on Libya in 1986--was the product of a culture war at home that "merged with a fierce nostalgia for visible battlefield success abroad." He goes on to claim that George H.W. Bush also attempted to "[transform] frustration at home into action abroad." And, naturally, George W. Bush's administration has "tapped the same source of power as its predecessors," wrongly abandoning a "more humble" foreign policy.

A similar spirit comes into play in Candidate Clark's discussion of the Middle East. Referring to a moment in early 2002, he asserts that "the ongoing conflict between the Israelis and the Palestinians suddenly exploded with Israeli military incursions into several West Bank Palestinian areas . . . outrage and a wave of protests in the Arab world." No Palestinian propagandist could have written a more one-sided version of history. At no point does he note the deliberate bombing of civilians by terrorists as a prelude to Israeli actions.

Worries

As for the war on terror at the moment: On one hand Candidate Clark says the Army is overextended; on the other, he would double the number of soldiers in Iraq. The result, of course, would simply be more American targets and more Iraqi resentment. (What we need in Iraq is a rapid buildup of Iraqi security forces so that Iraqis are able to govern themselves.) At home, Candidate Clark worries about terror-war prisoners being held in an American system that "might provide inappropriate defendants' rights." He wants to seek "the greater force of international law" and implies that such a concession would force the Europeans to change their behavior toward Iran and other states--an unlikely scenario if ever there was one.

For those who believe lawyers can replace soldiers and courts can replace battlefields in defeating terrorists and dictators, they have found their candidate. For those who believe that Kosovo was a greater success than Afghanistan and Iraq, they have found their candidate. For those who believe that, instead of invading, we should have spent several years arguing with France and Germany to create a coalition that would have bombed Iraq endlessly while Saddam set about destroying the oil fields, they have found their candidate. Finally, for those who believe Israel is the aggressor and the terrorist bombings can be ignored, they have found their candidate.

Winning Modern Wars will prove to be a useful book, but probably more to Karl Rove and the Bush-Cheney campaign than to its author's presidential ambition.

Newt Gingrich is a former speaker of the House and a senior fellow at AEI.

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