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Wesley Clark

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Stating — and Rejecting — the Obvious.

“‘As he’s said many times before, Senator Obama honors and respects Senator McCain’s service, and of course he rejects yesterday’s statement by General Clark,’ Obama spokesman Bill Burton said in a statement.” So…I guess Wes Clark won’t be the veep. For some ill-defined reason, the Obama campaign sees fit to throw the general under the bus because Clark, a guy I run hot and cold on, simply stated the obvious. Getting shot down over Vietnam, however ostensibly character-building, in no way constitutes executive experience: “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. And he has traveled all over the world. But he hasn’t held executive responsibility…I don’t think riding in a fighter plane and getting shot down is a qualification to be president.”

Said Obama in Independence today: “McCain had ‘endured physical torment in service to our country’ and ‘no one should ever devalue that service, especially for the sake of a political campaign, and that goes for supporters on both sides.’” Fair enough, but that wasn’t at all what Clark was doing. McCain’s basically getting away with the same sort of resume inflation as Sen. Clinton did in the primaries, and Clark — a five-star general who knows what he’s talking about — called him on it.

One could argue that there’s a method to this move by the Obama campaign, but even that theory suggests a certain ugly political opportunism at work. (One could also argue karma had some part to play in all this, since Clark earlier jumped all over Samantha Powers’ gaffe during the primaries.) Nonetheless, between this, the Senator’s switchback on telecom immunity (which I discussed in the comments here), and various other recent triangulations, the Obama campaign has had a pretty lousy week. I don’t know if it’s the recent influx of “veteran” hands, an attempt to beat back the National Journal liberal label, or just an early-summer malaise, but that sickly-sweet smell of Old-School Dem Politics is lingering in the air. Get it together, y’all. I know the polls look good, but this defensive-minded playing-not-to-lose is assuredly not the way to go.

Update: “I’ve said this for some weeks now, they’ve been repeated many times.” Clark sticks to his guns, and Webb has his back. Meanwhile, Salon‘s Glenn Greenwald makes the case against Obama’s last two weeks: “There is no question, at least to me, that having Obama beat McCain is vitally important…[but] his election is less likely, not more likely, the more homage he pays to these these tired, status-quo-perpetuating Beltway pieties.

Update II: Obama clarifies on Clark: “I don’t think that General Clark you know had the same intent as the swift boat ads that we saw four years ago, I reject that analogy…I think in at least one publication was reported that my comments yesterday about Senator McCain were in a response to General Clark. I think my staff will confirm that that was in a draft of that speech that I had written two months ago.

Update III: Fred Kaplan has a theory about Clark v. McCain: Grunts are from Mars, Flyboys are from Venus.

Power Games.

Ugh. Another day of pettiness from Hillary Clinton and her crew — we have to sit through seven more weeks of this, just because pundits are bad at math? Sigh…anyway, after referring to Hillary Clinton somewhat off-the-record as a “monster,” (while promoting a book in England, and not speaking for the Obama campaign), author, journalist and genocide expert Samantha Power resigns as an Obama foreign policy advisor. This is mainly because the Clinton campaign called for her head (less than a day after Wolfson’s Ken Starr analogy, mind you) and apparently deemed her original apology not sufficient.

To put things into perspective, when SNL’s Tina Fey called Clinton a “bitch” several times over two weeks ago on national television, Bill Clinton called to thank her. (And, when Hillary Clinton suggested somebody kill Ralph Nader back in 2000, everyone just shrugged it off. Somehow, that seems worse to me than calling someone a “monster”…I’ll never understand why that didn’t cause more of a stir.)

In any case, Power is out (for now — I expect she can come back once the Clinton people internalize the reality of their loss.) To be sure, her remark was unfortunate in public, but she did apologize. But I guess the Clinton campaign just has a problem with strong women speaking their mind, when that mind is directed against Her Eminence. And particularly when the strong woman in question just happens to have way more national security cred than Hillary Clinton, and thus puts the lie to her recent slobbering over John McCain: While Samantha Power was risking her life to research The Problem from Hell and get a handle on the world’s most nightmarish dilemma, Hillary Clinton was toodling around Bosnia with a security detail, Sheryl Crow, and Sinbad. O, beware, my lady, of jealousy; It is the green-eyed monster which doth mock the meat it feeds on.

Update: Clinton dispatches Wesley Clark and Jamie Rubin to pile on. Charming. Rubin’s always been a stooge, but I thought Gen. Clark had more class than this. Guess I was wrong.

The Neo-Con Hit List.

“‘We screwed up and left Saddam Hussein in power. The president [then George H.W. Bush] believes he’ll be overthrown by his own people, but I rather doubt it,’ he quotes Wolfowitz lamenting [in 1991]. ‘But we did learn one thing that’s very important. With the end of the Cold War, we can now use our military with impunity. The Soviets won’t come in to block us. And we’ve got five, maybe 10, years to clean up these old Soviet surrogate regimes like Iraq and Syria before the next superpower emerges to challenge us … We could have a little more time, but no one really knows.‘” According to Salon‘s Joe Conason, Wesley Clark’s new book suggests the existence of a smoking-gun 2001 memo that outlined in full the neo-cons’ delusional ambitions for the Middle East before the Iraq War. “‘Six weeks later, Clark returned to Washington to see the same general and inquired whether the plan to strike Iraq was still under consideration…”Oh, it’s worse than that,” he said, holding up a memo on his desk. “Here’s the paper from the Office of the Secretary of Defense [then Donald Rumsfeld] outlining the strategy. We’re going to take out seven countries in five years.” And he named them, starting with Iraq and Syria and ending with Iran.’ While Clark doesn’t name the other four countries, he has mentioned in televised interviews that the hit list included Lebanon, Libya, Somalia and Sudan.

Iran, Iran so far away.

“The Arab states agree on one thing: Iran is emerging as the big winner of the American invasion, and both President Bush’s new strategy and the Democratic responses to it dangerously miss the point…[T]he Shiite clerics in Iraq have achieved fundamental political goals: capturing oil revenues, strengthening the role of Islam in the state, and building up formidable militias that will defend their gains and advance their causes as the Americans draw down and leave. Iraq’s neighbors, then, see it evolving into a Shiite-dominated, Iranian buffer state that will strengthen Tehran’s power in the Persian Gulf just as it is seeks nuclear weapons and intensifies its rhetoric against Israel.”

By way of Dangerous Meta, former Dem candidate Wesley Clark argues for a revised strategy in Iraq, one centered on border control, the reduction of Iranian influence in the region, and the use of carrots rather than sticks to defang insurgents.

Homeland Insecurity.

To be honest, I’ve only had one eye on the news the past few days, as I’ve been busy relocating back to NYC. But what I have seen…oh my word. While the world looks on with a mix of horror, sympathy, and schadenfreude, New Orleans has fallen into almost-total anarchy. Other bloggers have been keeping up with the madness much better than I, so I’ll defer to them: As I noted earlier, Looka and Ed Rants are both doing a particularly good job covering the catastrophe, and Breaching the Web and Medley, among others, have ably drawn attention to both the Dubya administration’s culpability for the extent of this crisis and its grotesquely inappropriate and insufficient response. I assumed I couldn’t think any less of Dubya and his cronies after four years, but watching their sneering at desperate people, their mealy-mouthed evasiveness, and, most of all, their sheer, blatant incompetence — while Americans are suffering and dying in their homes — it’s disgusting. They’ve been exposed before all as pathetic, self-absorbed fuck-ups…at the cost of hundreds to thousands of lives and one great American city. Update: Also, by way of Booknotes, Wesley Clark weighs in on Dubya’s failure.

Five for Fighting.

After John Kerry’s two dominant wins in the South, General Clark calls it quits. Ho-hum. Good news for Edwards in the short term, I guess, although it now appears that Dean will stay in the race after Wisconsin, despite the loss of AFCSME and the wavering of Harkin. Well, keeping Dems at the front of the news for a few more weeks can’t hurt the larger goal, but Dean’s revived bashing of “Washington insiders” sounds increasingly hollow and desperate to me. They weren’t a problem when “Boss” Gore came a-runnin’ to the Dean camp, now, were they? As for Kerry being the “lesser of two evils,” I just don’t think Howard Dean would improve that equation all that much.

Kerry Nation and Shoeless Joe.

Seven states across the nation up for grabs last night, and five go to John Kerry. On the flip side, Joe Lieberman finally faced the music and bowed out of the race (So much for that “three-way tie” in NH.)

Well, call me an establishment sellout, but I’m close to putting this one in the fridge. I was glad to see Edwards take my and his home big, but I think Clark’s ekeing out of Oklahoma will hurt Carolina’s Finest on the momentum front. (That being said, Edwards is looking like a grand Veep.) And Dean, well, his 0-7 strategy was a gamble anyway, but I personally don’t believe he’s hitting the right notes to make a comeback anymore. Kerry a Republican? That’s just plain goofy. I’m all for running on campaign finance reform, of course, and I agree with Mark Shields that Dean’s made an enormous contribution in that regard…but I think spinning the “outsider” rhetoric just for the sake of it is lame. (Might as well say “Vote for me! I won’t know what the hell I’m doing for the first two years of my administration!”) Besides, it’s hard to run as the outsider who’ll change the insidious culture of Washington once you’ve nestled the likes of Al Gore to your breast. I’ll still put up Gore’s primary performance last cycle as an order of magnitude more shady than anything that’s gone down this time around.

So, if Kerry’s our horse, I’m ready to circle the wagons. He’s already up ten on Bush according to Gallup. And, having just seen California freak-show Darrell Issa on late-night CNN frantically go the “Dukakis Dukakis Dukakis” route, I’d say we have a real chance to win this thing. Between this and the atrocious State of the Union, I’m starting to get the sense we’ve been grossly overestimating Karl Rove’s political savvy. And, if the Big 47 holds up…it means trouble for the GOP that even Rehnquist, Scalia et al can’t solve this time. Bring it on.

Howard’s End?

So…New Hampshire has spoken, and John Kerry wins by 12 over fellow New Englander Howard Dean, Clark and Edwards tie for a distant third, and Lieberman falls to fifth. The game now shifts to the South and Midwest, including South Carolina.

Well, while it’s a bit off-putting to put this race in the fridge after only two states have spoken, I say it’s now definitely looking to be John Kerry’s year. That is, barring a strong showing by John Edwards on more favorable terrain, who has to win South Carolina convincingly next week to stay alive. As everyone’s known for months, Lieberman is clearly done, despite his ridiculous talk of a three-way tie for third in NH. (So much for the vote-swinging ability of the New Republic.) Wesley Clark may be able to pick up Oklahoma, but momentum counts for a lot, and he was fading fast all last week. So, barring something crazy happening, I’d say the general is also on his way out.

And Dean? Well, obviously he’s still got a large war chest and the frenzy of the Deaniacs to fall back on…but where does he go from here? The pre-NH polls have him dropping to fourth or fifth in every one of the polled February 3rd states, except New Mexico (and even that’s based on pre-Iowa numbers.) It’d be one thing if he had pulled closer to Kerry in New Hampshire, or even to within ten points, but a twelve-point loss is pretty decisive in terms of being a momentum-killer. (Consider in 2000 that Bradley got to within four points (52%-48%) of Gore in NH, something that was also spun by the pundit class as a “still-kicking” comeback after Iowa, and he got hammered in all 15 states the Tuesday next.) As Chris Suellentrop notes, Dean’s only hope may be to go “underground” for awhile, but it’s hard to see how a hail-mary play like that will have generated much mojo once the big states actually vote. It’s remarkable how Dean and Kerry switched places so quickly, but they did…and just as Kerry would be toast had he not won New Hampshire, the same now looks true for the governor of Vermont.

The Fighting 47.

In the midst of the battle for New Hampshire, a glimmer of great news. A new Newsweek poll has Kerry up 3 on Dubya in a head-to-head match-up. And the key stat isn’t Kerry, per se: All four major Dems poll well against the Prez (Clark down 1, Edwards down 3, Dean down 5.) No, what’s cause for cheer here is the breakdown: 47% of voters strongly oppose a second term for Bush (and 52% say they don’t want him back in general.) That’s compared to 37% of voters strongly in the Bush camp. With those kind of strong negatives, much of Dubya’s financial advantage is neutralized — all the money in the world isn’t going to change the minds of people who’ve already decided they hate you. And this means that, state-by-state electoral math notwithstanding, the Dems only have to sway 4% of the electorate between now and November, give or take a percentage point to account for more Florida-type shenanigans by the GOP.

Along those lines, the Republicans shift their attention to Kerry, while conservatives fret over their standard-bearer‘s right-wing cred. I’m sure y’all can get Pat Buchanan to run again…

Meanwhile, in NH news, the consistently insufferable Mickey Kaus points the way to Chrisishardcore, a young statistician who’s teased out daily movement from the three-day ARG polls (this is the information the talking heads have when they make their predictions.) At any rate, yesterday’s poll shows a bounce back for Dean, who looks to probably come in second by these numbers. Elsewhere, the Wyeth Wire, a SC political mail-list to which I subscribe, does the same thing for Carolina.

The Last Debate, the First Deserter, and the Primal Scream.

The Dems held one more for the road last night in New Hampshire and, given that a rather bland Kerry didn’t stumble, it’s starting to look dire for Dean, who was subdued and chagrined most of the evening and only now seems to be turning the corner on his Muskie Moment. Edwards did reasonably well despite invoking states’ rights (which never sounds good with a southern accent) to support his convoluted gay marriage position. And I actually liked Clark better than usual, and thought he handled his recent party switch as well as he could.

But, I have to say, I was extraordinarily irritated by the way the whole Dubya Deserter thing played out last night. First Peter Jennings tells Wesley Clark that Michael Moore’s deserter comment was “a reckless charge not supported by the facts” and asks him if it’d have been “a better example of ethical behavior” to contradict him. Clark doesn’t go either way on it, claiming not to know all the facts. (Which is lame — What’s the point of having a General in the running if he’s not going to call out Bush on exactly this question?) Then, once the show’s over, Fox News pulls out Team Bespectacled White Guys (Mort Kondracke and Fred Barnes), who both immediately argue that Clark irreparably damaged his candidacy by not refuting this baseless charge, yadda yadda yadda.

Um, am I missing something? It’s been substantiated quite well that Bush seems to have gone AWOL by the Boston Globe and others, and I’m not talking about the six or seven critical hours on September 11 when he was toodling around above the Heartland. While absence of evidence isn’t necessarily evidence of absence, Dubya seems to have disappeared from the Air National Guard for almost a year between 1972-73, conveniently right before a drug test (an offense for which he was grounded), and, to this day, he has never satisfactorily explained where he was. (In fact, as the Straight Dope notes, later reports in The New Republic (by Ryan Lizza, if I remember correctly) even cast doubt on the half-hearted “some recollection” explanation Dubya gave during the 2000 campaign. (By the way, this all happened several years after Bush scored in the underwhelming 25th percentile on the pilot’s aptitude portion of the entrance exam, thus having to rely on his congressman-daddy’s connections to jump the year-long waiting list for the Air National Guard in the first place.)

Does all of this prove beyond the shadow of a doubt that Dubya pulled a Cold Mountain? Well, no, but it’s definitely enough to suggest that Bush has some serious explaining to do. (And he revoked any “youthful indiscretion” type-defense when he began parading around in flight gear on the USS Lincoln.) So, I mean, c’mon, now, a baseless charge about Bush? At this point it seems more correct to say that the bases were “Bush-less.” Next thing you’ll know Fox News will be screaming at John Kerry for perpetuating the “vicious rumor” of Dubya’s DUI.

At any rate, regarding other matters, I didn’t see Diane Sawyer or Letterman last night so can’t ascertain how Dean damage control went there, but I did catch the Dallas-Laker game on TNT, and during Inside the NBA EJ, Kenny and Charles must have played the Dean Scream about thirty times…in fact Ernie had it connected to his desk button. “Nash kicks to Dirk, Dirk from the corner…YEEEEEAAAAGH! Sacramento’s up big in the third…YEEEEEAAAGH!” And so on, so on. Pretty much the first political content I’ve ever seen on the show, and, yeah, it was funny every time. Poor Dean.

The John and John Show.

So how do you like them apples? John Kerry comes up big in Iowa (38%), John Edwards places a very viable second (32%)…and the once seemingly-insurmountable Howard Dean falls to a distant third (18%). (For his part, a broken-hearted Gephardt came in fourth (11%) and will drop out tomorrow…so much for Big Union.)

An interesting evening, all in all, and one that’s in effect limited the Democratic race from eight to four:

First off, I think Howard Dean added insult to injury tonight with his cringeworthy (non-)concession speech — that hoarse, high-pitched yelp at the end of his angry roll of states is going to be played-for-laughs by the punditocracy hundreds of times this week (In fact, it took all of two hours for Drudge to post it as his headline…it’s since been removed.) It was a display that could seriously hurt him among undecideds who’ve never really seen the guy before. That being said, the prognosis for the doctor isn’t necessarily terrible, if he can weather the initial post-Iowa dip. For one, the rise of Kerry and Edwards is going to seriously complicate the anti-Dean question: Both Kerry and Clark will now be vying for veterans, as Clark and Edwards fight over who’s the electable southerner. And Dean’s still got the money and the movement, which isn’t going to just wither away because of a bad night in Des Moines. That being said, Dean’s in for a race now, and if that’s the case, I for one am pleased that the candidates pushing him are as of tonight more likely to be John Edwards and John Kerry than they are Wesley Clark, Joe Lieberman, or the now-defunct Dick Gephardt.

John Edwards is a candidate I’ve been looking to see more from this whole cycle, and, if a long primary haul is our party’s fate, I’m very glad he’ll get a chance to strut his stuff on the main stage. He’s got real populist cred and a trial lawyer’s argumentative savvy, and, well, the Southern accent doesn’t hurt. He definitely looked the best tonight in terms of tone and message. And I think that, not unlike our current president, he’s often “misunderestimated.” Go Edwards.

I’ve been relatively agnostic about John Kerry for awhile (in part because he stumped so blatantly for Gore over Bradley last primary cycle), but I’ve liked him more recently since he lost Chris Lehane and started loosening up. Despite the fears of Dukakis-redux, I think Kerry could make a very strong candidate in the general, given his (perhaps too-overtouted of late) military record and debating skills. If he carries this bounce to a Democratic victory, I won’t be overly disappointed.

As for Wesley Clark…well, let’s just say the bloom is off the rose in these parts. Running a Lehane-style campaign isn’t helping him, but the real problem is, well, he’s not a Democrat. He voted for Nixon, Ford, Reagan, Reagan, and Bush, he’s been a member of the party for less than a year, and he’s on tape praising the Dubya administration at a GOP fundraiser. I really don’t think the Democratic Party should be getting behind a fellow who’s said “I’m very glad we’ve got the great team in office, men like Colin Powell, Don Rumsfeld, Dick Cheney, Condoleezza Rice, Paul O’Neill — people I know very well — our President George W. Bush. We need them there, because we’ve got some tough challenges ahead in Europe.” Because, y’know, that particular soundbite would singlehandedly throw the election to Dubya, and we need to make Karl Rove spend at least some of his massive war chest on formulating his own advertisements.

So Clark, Dean, Edwards, and Kerry…the board is set, the pieces are moving.

Harkin to me/GitM for Dean.

In a week of minor stumbles (among them caucus-dissing — let’s face it, the Iowa caucuses are dominated by special interests. Ethanol subsidies, anyone? — and gubernatorial honoraria), Howard Dean pulls up another key endorsement in Tom Harkin. At this point, I’ll just go ahead and say that I hope the good Doctor takes both Iowa and New Hampshire and ends all the primary shenanigans sooner rather than later. It’s a safe bet to say that I like Howard Dean better than any of the other eight candidates, but that frankly isn’t saying much, and particularly given how Edwards, Clark, and Kerry have all underperformed.

I’ll be honest – I’m much less enthused by Dean than I was by Bradley last cycle. Dean has yet to make any policy proposals that I flat-out love, and I find him neither as progressive nor as inspiring as I’d like. In fact, more often than not, he kinda leaves me cold…But, of the nine, he’s the witch-king, so to speak. His occasional grouchiness and glibness does concern me, but no more so than any of the other candidates’ personality traits (And let’s drop the “unelectable” stuff…c’mon, this country elected George W. Bush. Anyone‘s electable. Oh, wait a minute, we didn’t.) In sum, Dean’s run a great campaign to this point, he’s got money and moxie to spare, and he clearly strikes a chord with many Democratic souls out there, so here’s hoping the party coalesces around him before we bleed ourselves to death solely to satisfy the big dreams of also-rans and the bruised egos of the DLC.

The Charleston Choice.

With Iowa and New Hampshire seemingly for Dean, both the Doctor and his rivals continue to hone in on South Carolina as a make-or-break state. As I said earlier, SC is probably the last, best hope for a Clark, Edwards or Gephardt to establish themselves as the Southern anti-Dean. As for Lieberman and Kerry, barring a fantastic upset in New Hampshire, it seems to be all over for the both of them, as their increasingly scorched earth rhetoric attests.


General Clark digs into Dubya for his brazen boastfulness in Iraq earlier in the year. “You don’t make policy by taunting the enemy. Only someone who hasn’t seen war firsthand would ever say anything as fatuous as ‘bring ’em on.'” A little late, sure, but he’s still definitely on target. Meanwhile, with Dean up 30 in NH, it’s gotten so bad in Kerryland lately that Slate‘s Mickey Kaus is sponsoring a withdrawal contest. Ouch. For their part, though, the Kerry team seems unperturbed.

Escape from New York.

While Dean and Clark parry for New York votes, Tom De Lay laments the loss of his GOP convention booze cruise. As of yesterday, “some Republicans in Washington who supported the cruise liner idea were still saying that it would not have taken much money away from the city and that perhaps there are some Republican members of Congress who want to take their families to the convention but do not want them to stay in Manhattan.” I see. So for the GOP, New York City is a great place to wave the bloody shirt, but God forbid they spend a night there.

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