So Wes Clark is finally in the presidential race. He’s been playing coy with the American public for months now about running for president, which is probably a smart political move since it puts him in the public limelight without the expense of having to run a campaign. He sure has sounded like a candidate for the last few months. And I can understand why his running for president would excite a lot of people and perhaps pull in some wavering Republicans big on national security but disgusted with Bush’s foreign policy. Every vote against Bush is needed.
I’m trying to figure out what it is about him that is giving me second thoughts. It is hard for me to articulate. Maybe it’s a gut political instinct. Maybe I’ve invested too much of my hard earned time and money in Howard Dean. Or maybe it’s because I’m leery of focusing on ex-Generals as a way to solve our national problems.
I’ve read a number of articles that are not the least bit complementary about him. He has pissed off a large number of subordinates and people in the military. This isn’t that unusual; really strong and motivated people tend to do this by default. And in my opinion the DoD could use more officers willing to take some chances.
But depending on whom you read, his work as commander of our air war in Kosovo and Serbia was either brilliant or he was dangerously arrogant. Some say he threatened a new world war by forbidding the Russians from landing any more troops at an airfield in that area. One general under his command actually refused his direct orders on the subject. Russia was supposed to be helping out in the war but, of course, it had long existing ties with Serbia. Clark also got permission to use depleted uranium weapons on the battlefield. Such weapons were also used in Iraq, in both of our latest wars there, and are allegedly causes of a lot of problems including polluted water supplies and increased cancers in the region. It’s not easy to clean up after these weapons either.
His military career also went down on a sour note when he was essentially fired as NATO commander three months early.
On the other hand he is a decorated Vietnam era veteran, was awarded the Purple Heart, and has distinguished himself on virtually every assignment he ever had. People who consider him haughty and arrogant will, at the same time, also admit he is about the most brilliant, creative and resourceful man they have ever met. Clark, like Dean was an early and frequent critic of President Bush’s inadvisable war with Iraq. I have to like him for such a bold stand that flew in the face of conventional wisdom.
But he has zero domestic credentials. He has never held elective office. The last time he ran for anything it was for president of his homeroom class, and he lost. One cannot succeed in the military without mastering politics, but he has no credentials as a politician. He has never voted for anything. He himself admits he has a steep learning curve ahead of him as he tries to stake out his positions on domestic policies. Dean has walked this walk as two terms of a governor of a state, and has balanced budgets and made hard decisions. But of course Dean lacks in foreign policy experience what Clark lacks in domestic experience. Perhaps those things even the two out.
Perhaps what worries me the most about him is that if he is elected president he may become yet another arrogant person in the Oval Office convinced of his own infallibility. This could lead the country again down dangerous directions. I don’t get that feeling from Dean, although he certainly can be passionate about those things he believes in. I am also very suspicious of military people as president in general. I don’t agree that success in the military arena translates into success in the political arena.
So I see no reason to rush out and embrace the guy. I do heartily subscribe to the ABB (Anyone But Bush) philosophy. I will even hold my nose and vote for Liebermann if I have to. Bush is a disaster as a president any anyone of our candidates would be an improvement over him.
To the average voter positions don’t matter as much as personality. Gore had no personality that anyone could relate to. Bush didn’t have much but he seemed firm about his convictions and that was enough to win him an election. Clark and Dean are people with large personalities and ego, and they are both articulate and convincing in front of a microphone. None of the other candidates have any stage presence.
I’ll pretend I am from the show me state and try to not let my biases get in the way of independently assessing Wesley Clark. But for now I see no reason to stop devoting my time and energy to electing Howard Dean as our next president.