by John Chuckman
October 4, 2003
I don't know how many times I've seen articles about Wesley Clark making a formidable opponent for George Bush. And I agree, he likely would, but so what?
I too am sick of the sound of Bush's voice. My radio dial is turned five words into any sound clip from this dangerous half-wit with a speech impediment, but what can be gained by replacing him with Clark?
For people in high positions, criticizing Bush now on Iraq is cheap talk. The idiotic, destructive war is done. Americans must live with its consequences and responsibilities no matter who is President. A decent alternative to Bush demands more than a few cheap words of criticism.
You might think the people writing these pieces see Clark as the embodiment of America's silly myths about citizen-soldiers, a kind of television-age Cincinnatus, who could defeat one of the most lamentable, wrong-headed President in American history.
Clark is not a citizen soldier. He is a professional, a lifetime paid killer. And he has done a good deal of killing. His record just in the very brief and relatively small conflict in Serbia is filled with dead non-combatants, from busloads of cremated civilians to people blown apart at a downtown television station. I understand his thinking in doing these things. I just totally disagree with it.
His record there is marked also with unbelievably poor judgment. The attack he ordered against a large Russian force was deranged. Thank God, a tough old British general dared to disobey the order. Even the bombing of the Chinese embassy was never satisfactorily explained. His documented fraternization with a vicious war criminal appalled many Europeans.
Generals of any kind rarely make good democratic leaders. They have lived their entire adult lives barking orders at folks trained to respond to barking, basic military training having great similarities to obedience school for dogs. The entire purpose of much of this training is to efface individual will and initiative.
That's why generals come from places like West Point. They are imbued with an ideology not intended for enlisted men, an ideology of officers' class, privilege, and authority.
Any military organization functions a great deal like a Soviet-style government. Direction comes from above, the Pentagon representing the quintessence of a centrally-planned economy. Waste and inefficiency come on a colossal scale. The waste goes largely unquestioned, because patriotism covers a many evils or, at any rate, intimidates a multitude of critics.
Civilian government simply does not work that way. There is more than a tinge of wishful thinking that people who bark orders can "make the trains run on time." It rarely turns out that way.
General-President Eisenhower, one of the better of a bad lot in American history, despite his personal charm and common-sense words, displayed many dangerous qualities. He worked with the appalling Dulles brothers, gentlemen whose thinking perhaps more closely resembled their Soviet counterparts than any democratic officials. The Bay of Pigs invasion was planned and organized under Eisenhower's stewardship. He took many risks with the Soviet Union, including the disastrous flight of a U-2, shot down just before an important summit. A number of democratically-elected governments were toppled by Eisenhower's government. Men like the Shah of Iran, torturer of countless thousands, were put into power over democratically elected officials. He kept the eerie, pathological Richard Nixon on the ticket when there was a sound excuse to drop him.
What most Americans recall about Eisenhower was that the nation grew in the postwar period, that he was affable, and that he had a cute nickname. Some recall his powerful words on the military-industrial complex, a fair warning that has been utterly ignored.
What do we know about Clark? He discovered what party he belonged to in a kind of epiphany at about sixty years of age. This suggests either retardation or lying, and I'm pretty sure he is a bright fellow. What a silly nonsense to believe this. Has he never voted in elections or contributed to a party? Of course, what has really happened is that only the Democrats offer Clark the opportunity to rise to Commander-in-Chief.
Clark senses Bush is increasingly vulnerable, and I believe he is right. Bush's vulnerability will increase as the staggering costs of invading and occupying Iraq become apparent and as months of melodramatic reports of ambushed Americans continue.
What will America get for its treasure and blood? A more stable Middle East? Look at the disastrous situation of the Palestinians today and say that with a straight face. Sharon has been supported through a relentless campaign of state-terror in the name of fighting terror. The very economy of Israel is at risk owing to its trying to behave like a world power on the pocket book of a moderate-size American state. And peace remains further away than at any time in recent memory, a new poll showing Israelis voicing despair, something the Palestinians have lived with for decades.
Consider the festering resentments of tens of thousands of Iraqis bitterly suffering for years under the impact of Bush's delusions. Crime and murder have risen to unprecedented levels in Iraq, increased by thousands of percent over what they were before Bush smashed public order. Many discontents, uncertainties, and internal rivalries have been released, and new enemies are in the making.
In Afghanistan, a costly mess remains. The figurehead president of the country, who has little reason to cause Bush grief, himself admits it will take years to gain stability. The production of opium poppies has exploded since the Taliban were pushed aside. Perhaps, American soldiers will come home as they did from Vietnam, addicted to drugs. That was, after all, one of the hidden costs of America's insane Vietnam crusade: farm boys from every corner of America returned home using drugs they never had heard of before.
On top of all this, the American economy is sour, and I don't mean just current GDP growth. Longer-term matters are at stake. Clinton's surpluses have been squandered, deficits in trade and expenditure have reached intimidating levels, and the economy is under the shadow of unknowably-vast obligations abroad, including everything from billions in bribes for foreign support in Iraq to open-ended contracts for associates of Bush and Cheney.
Bush officials are shown daily to be remarkably petty and corrupt. Imagine a neocon outing a CIA agent? It's the kind of act for which they would have nailed Clinton to a cross. But these nasty people's lust for vengeance and getting even drives them to do about anything.
The national-security apparatus they have put into place is horrible and dangerous and can only increasingly be seen to be so as it operates.
Yes, Bush will be vulnerable. So why waste the opportunity on Clark? There have to be better people.
Unfortunately, American national politics are about as agile as the Pentagon's bloated bulk. An American presidential campaign takes forever, often coming to resemble in cost and duration preparations for the landing at Normandy. The actual conditions at the time of the election can only be guessed at in such a lengthy process. It is one of the more foolish and costly parts of American politics, but it is the reality people must work under. So, a handsome general with no political baggage who criticizes the President about Iraq a little bit looks like a good bet.
And that is how America is run, and those who dream of something else only hope against hope.
John Chuckman lives in Canada and is former chief economist for a large Canadian oil company. He writes frequently for Yellow Times.org and other publications.