Part II: Wesley Clark Interview

Candidate Talks To <B>Rather</B> About The War In Iraq

DAN RATHER: You mentioned you, as a White House Fellow, you were in The White House at the time Don Rumsfeld --

GEN. WESLEY CLARK: Uh-huh (AFFIRM).

DAN RATHER: -- Was chief of White House staff in President Ford. If you were president today, would you fire Donald Rumsfeld?

GEN. WESLEY CLARK: Well, if I were president, I wouldn't have appointed Don Rumsfeld. I wouldn't have picked him to be the secretary of defense because I worked around him. I knew what it was and what the system was, and he wasn't up to speed on the way the world had changed since the end of the Cold War. He was still in pursuit of enemies. I had looked at the things he'd written. He was strongly in favor of national missile defense, for example, but he didn't strongly support operations in the Balkans and peacekeeping.

In the future, we're gonna have a lot more wars when states fail and fighting within states than are wars between states. Unless, of course, we invade countries. And so, I would have looked for someone who was more current on the issues.

DAN RATHER: Now, here and now, he is the secretary. Back to the question, if you were president would you fire him now?

GEN. WESLEY CLARK: Well, I think the issue really is that the buck stops at the desk of the president. A lot of people have said he should be fired, but let's be very clear about this, Dan. Harry Truman said, "The buck stops here.'" He had the sign on his desk. This administration and this president has to accept responsibility and frankly, I cannot hold Don Rumsfeld responsible for the operations in Iraq. They were approved by the president of the United States. It was his strategy, his leadership, his authority, not Don Rumsfeld's, and so you cannot escape the accountability by firing your subordinate. I know you can in politics and that's what politics is all about, and you're asking me a political question. I'm talking truth. I'm saying this president is accountable, and if you wanna fix the problem, you have to change the administration at the top.

DAN RATHER: What about the argument, General, that it wasn't in fact, George W. Bush's policy, and hasn't been from the beginning. That it was Vice President Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, Dr. Wolfowitz, Richard Perle, it was their policy, their idea to go into Iraq. They had this idea long before 9/11. What about that? It isn't George W. Bush's fault. That it's these people under him who brought the policy and convinced him that this was the way to go.

GEN. WESLEY CLARK: Well, it's interesting that you bring that up, Dan, because during the campaign people said, about George W. Bush, he's a very nice man. He's got a wonderful family. Everybody loved Laura. She was very attractive and seemed like a very nice person. But he was inexperienced in international affairs and seemed to be unlearned in these matters, and not very interested in them, and people said, "Yeah, but he's gonna have great advisors. He's gonna have, you know Colin Powell's gonna be with him and Dick Cheney's gonna be his vice president and won't that take care of the problem?" And some people said, "Well, what happens if they disagree? Who makes the decision?" And that's precisely what's happened.

This responsibility rests with the president of the United States. Next to upholding the Constitution of the United States, the president's highest duty is to protect the security of this country, our national security. Those decisions are his decisions. He may delegate the authority for certain issues to the secretary of defense, but he cannot delegate his responsibilities.

DAN RATHER: By the way, I know that you know Colin Powell very well.

GEN. WESLEY CLARK: I do.

DAN RATHER: From your time in the military, and you've spoken well of him, as, by the way, you've spoken of Vice President Cheney and others, but you've spoken well of Powell. Is it or is it not your judgment that Powell lost out in a power struggle with Cheney, Rumsfeld and company?

GEN. WESLEY CLARK: Well, I think it's a day-to-day struggle. I'm not in the administration. I've never sat in one of their meetings and I only get it, on the tidbits of the Washington social circle and occasionally in the newspapers. So you're probably much closer to it than I am, Dan. But it looks to me like it's a continuing series of struggles and issues, and sometimes, Colin Powell has prevailed tactically, but the broad thrust of the administration's policies have gone in directions he probably would not have supported. He, after all, asked for smart sanctions against Iraq early on. The administration didn't support him. He had to argue for going to the United Nations, and he did, but the administration then used that as that resolution as a "fig leaf" to go to war. So the broad thrust of the administration would argue that Gen. Powell has been respected. He's a most esteemed, admired man in the administration. He's the, what some people have called, a "headless nail." He's there, he's vital, and yet he's a point of attack for many elements in the administration.

It's a struggle. Every administration has disagreements. Every administration polarizes in one way or another. It's inevitable. It's a fact of life. This one's no different, but in this case, I just think that the president has got to own up to his responsibilities.

DAN RATHER: Why do I get the impression, and correct me if I'm wrong, that in a Clark administration that you might entertain the idea of bringing Colin Powell aboard, but you wouldn't entertain the idea of Don Rumsfeld coming aboard?

GEN. WESLEY CLARK: Well, I haven't really speculated on who would be in the Clark administration.

DAN RATHER: Fair enough. You have said though, and it wasn't speculation, you said, "George W. Bush has been reckless and radical." First, how has he been radical?

GEN. WESLEY CLARK: He's been radical in his economic programs and in his ideological programs with things like the Homeland Security Administration and The Patriot Act. That's a pretty radical piece of legislation as it's being used by John Ashcroft.

DAN RATHER: Would you try to try to rule the country back?

GEN. WESLEY CLARK: Yes, I would. We would suspend the portions that have to do with search and seizure. We would open the whole act up for public review through the Congress and into the public. We'd like to see where it's been used, why it's been used, why nothing else could have done it. What's been the effect of it's being used and you know, it's already clear that it's been used far beyond terrorism cases. It's just become a tool of convenience for law enforcement, and I'm sure if I were a law enforcement officer, it would be a pain in the neck to go to a judge in the middle of the night and argue why you had to have a judicial warrant. And you'd say, "'Why can't I just, you know, phone it in on Monday morning after I've done it? This is a-- Sunday night, you know it's my family time. And we know these-- these perps and so forth." And you wouldn't, but democracy rests and depends on the guarantees in the Constitution. The system of checks and balances. And we don't wanna surrender our liberties in return for some notion of security unless it's absolutely essential. But this administration hasn't established that. So I'm worried about that. It's so radical. Radical in terms of -- can I go back to the radical?

DAN RATHER: We're just about out of tape. You can go back to radical. We're gonna change tapes. That was my nervousness there.

GEN. WESLEY CLARK: OK.

DAN RATHER: No, this is very good. And I want to cover this ground.

GEN. WESLEY CLARK: Now you don't show this whole thing? You take bits and pieces of it.

DAN RATHER: Right. General, you were talking about why you feel that President Bush has been radical.

GEN. WESLEY CLARK: Well, I mentioned the conduct of the attorney general and the Patriot Act. But beyond that, it's the [UNINTEL] --- have lost jobs. We have people sinking below the poverty level in income. We've had another couple of million people lose their health insurance, and the administration's proposal is ideological. It's tax cuts for the wealthy. It's trickle-down economics. It's the [UNINTEL] economics that this president's father in 1980 called "Voodoo economics."

It's not an effective way of dealing with the problems at hand, but it is an effective way of pursuing an agenda that some right wingers call "starve the beast." That is, just keep taking money away from the federal government until it can't afford the social programs and services that Americans today consider part of their everyday life.

DAN RATHER: General, you're not saying, or are you, that George W. Bush is running a radical, to use your term, "right wing" administration?

GEN. WESLEY CLARK: I'm saying that he ran as a compassionate conservative and he has not followed a compassionate set of policies. He's followed a radical set of policies in terms of the tax cuts. Even the No Child Left Behind Act, which was passed with bi-partisan support and Democrats signed on to it, it hasn't been funded. Now the effect of not funding that act, never mind the act itself, which I have serious reservations about, but the effect of not funding it is to condemn public schools -- to force them to fail. And people are already out in the states taking special education money and other funds to try to comply with the administrative expenses of the No Child Left Behind Act. This act is -- It's causing teachers to have letters sent home about them, saying they're not qualified or not best qualified, even when they've taught subjects for 15 years and they're fully credentialized (sic) in teaching those subjects. There's technical reasons like you're accredited to teach grades K through 8, but this act says you have to be accredited to teach middle school, if you're teaching sixth grade --

DAN RATHER: So, you have trouble with the (UNINTEL)--

GEN. WESLEY CLARK: The funding-- The thrust of it is to work against public education.

That's a radical idea, Dan, because public education is what made our country a democracy and a great industrial power. And it was always possible from medieval times for people with money to purchase an education for their children. America's innovation was to demand an education for everybody through the public school system.

We've got to support that, modernize that educational experience, so we keep up with the requirements of a global economy. It's essential. It's a national security issue for this country in the 21st century. We've got to do this. The No Child Left Behind Act is not pushing us in the right direction.

DAN RATHER: In what ways has President Bush been, in your word, "reckless?"

GEN. WESLEY CLARK: Well, I think to go to war without an adequate plan for what happens next, without recognizing the risks and costs that that conflict could impose is reckless. Let's take the case of Iraq. We went to war with mislead -- on the basis of misleading information. We hadn't exhausted all our diplomatic options. We didn't have an imminent threat. We didn't have a plan on what to do next. We didn't even have adequate forces to handle the operation.

We finished the war. The troops did brilliantly, and then there we were with no plan. I talk to people in the United States Army a lot. And at one point, we had more than 50 percent of the United States Armed Force committed to duties either in Afghanistan, Iraq or Kosovo or Korea. You can't rotate forces, unless you have sort of one-third committed and two-thirds uncommitted. It goes with one there, one getting ready to go, and one recovering from having been there.

And so, the Armed Forces are way overstretched for what they can reasonably be expected to do, assuming that we continue to maintain a presence in Iraq. I think not having thought that through, not having faced the consequences, not having leveled with the American people about it, I think that's reckless.

DAN RATHER: General, I'm still unclear, and I think a lot of people in the audience are still unclear, would you or would you have not have voted for the original resolution that backed President Bush going to war? There's still a lot of controversy about that. I don't-- Where do you come out on that?

GEN. WESLEY CLARK: The resolution I would have voted for is a resolution that would have given the president of the United States the authority to go to the United Nations and use the threat of force to energize United Nations diplomacy to restart inspections, but would have required the president of the United States to come back to the Congress for a congressional vote before actually using force.

DAN RATHER: Now, when you first announced you were going to run, there was a lot of back and forth about what you had said and not said. Was that the worst mistake you've made so far?

GEN. WESLEY CLARK: That really remains to be seen. One of the things I learned in the military is sometimes you don't know what mistakes you make for a long time. But as you go through a campaign, there's lots of decision points you make, and you don't know whether those are gonna be the right decision points or not. You don't know whether they're good decisions or not, and in the aftermath, you might say, "It was a mistake." But at the time you did it, it feels right.

At the time I did this, I made this statement, I was having what I thought was an informal -- I wasn't clear whether it was on-the-record of off-the-record --discussion about the philosophy of sort of entering the presidency. And somehow the Iraq question got thrown in.

DAN RATHER: Well, not "somehow." You knew -- You knew that was coming.

GEN. WESLEY CLARK: No, I-- actually I didn't. But when it came, it's the kind of-- there's no question that it wasn't what I wanted to say and -- So, that one I can unambiguously say was a mistake. Now, when you look at the rest of the campaign, then you have to say, "Well, what about your decisions from here and there and how will this play out?" We don't know yet.

DAN RATHER: Didn't mean to interrupt you. Sorry that I did, but whether it was this is-- you've just announced for president. You're having a conversation with reporters. Whether it was intended to be on-the-record or off-the-record or in the background, I think you'll agree, if not, tell me, that on something as important as whether you would have voted to give the president the authorization to support to go to war or not is a situation where your "yea" should be "yea," and your "nay" should be "nay?" And that was not the case. Would you agree?

GEN. WESLEY CLARK: Well, I was very clear on what I would have voted for. I always said I would vote for a resolution that gave the president the leverage to go to the United Nations, and then come back to the Congress for the authority to go to force.

The resolutions went through a number of different iterations, and I was clear on the resolution I wanted. I wasn't clear exactly on what was in each one of those iterations. So, I think if you look at the record, it is very clear.

But I will also tell you this, Dan. I think our Democratic Party has to be very careful in terms of moving ahead and using, as it's been using, this resolution as the litmus. I would not have voted for that resolution, the final form of it, had I been in the United States Congress.

But lots of good people did, and they did it based on the assurance of the president of the United States that there was a need to go to the United Nations, that this was essential and that the United States would pursue diplomacy.

So, the real issue here is the president of the United States and again how he misled so many members of Congress. And I think the American people should hold him accountable for that.

His father went to the Congress only at the last moment when it was clear that war was unavoidable. His father didn't ask for a blank check from the United States Congress, and that's why, Dan, I would not have voted for the $87 billion as it -- as it actually emerged in this last session of Congress for the continuation of the operations -- because I don't believe that this president can be given a blank check in foreign affairs.

He still hadn't explained his strategy. He still hadn't said where we were going in Iraq, how we were gonna succeed, how long it was gonna take, whether the $87 billion was a down payment or the full payment for what we were going to do.

We need an accounting, and it's essential function of Congress to hold the executive branch accountable. It's the basic separation of powers in the United States Constitution. And that's what's at risk in the Iraq situation.

And that's why I think that our party has to make sure that the public understands it's not about who voted for this resolution. It's about the president of the United States and his propensity to want to collect blank checks and then spend them however he sees fit later on.

DAN RATHER: I take your point. I made myself a note before we leave the subject of Donald Rumsfeld you said that our force is too light, I think, or something to the effect--
(OVERTALK)

GEN. WESLEY CLARK: (UNINTEL) the force was too small in the war—

DAN RATHER: Too small. Too small. Well, at the level of divisional (sic) combat what President Bush has called major combat, it was a brilliant strategy. There were brilliant tactics and in the history of warfare, it's hard to find anything that was more successful. Oh, what are the chances that Donald Rumsfeld was right?

GEN. WESLEY CLARK: Well, he was-- he was right in looking at the size of-- In the military-- Let me put it this way. You have four phases that you have to plan for. Um, it's classic sort of war planning. It's the logistics preparation, the getting there, the decisive operations and the aftermath. You have to plan for the aftermath. This plan didn't consider the aftermath. It didn't work through to the political conditions that were what the war was all about.

DAN RATHER: And that's where you could have (UNINTEL)--

GEN. WESLEY CLARK: Exactly. And if you had started at the back end and worked forward, if you had said, "Okay, now my problem is we know we're gonna be successful against Saddam. Now what happens next? OK, worst case is that these people disperse and they, you know, fight us as guerrillas. And what would it be, what would it take, what's the size of the force, how would we prevent that happening?"

You say, "Well, Mr. Secretary, you need a lot of forces now. And you'd need to come in from a lot of different directions. And what you'd need is the sort of overwhelming presence at the end of the act of combat operations, so you could go in-- into every city and village and you'd know who was in various places. You need people who have been there to say (HAND CLAP) 'Ahmed So and So, report! You know, you're for the Baathist Party and your duty is to come in here and so forth.'"

And other countries at other times when they've done missions like this have thought the problem through from the backend to the front. We didn't. We only were enraptured with the high technology, what the military does best. So, um, I've said, you know, great job getting to Baghdad. Not good afterwards.

DAN RATHER: General, I have so much that I wanna cover with you. Before I forget (OVERHEAD) about Iraq. You talk about a region.

GEN. WESLEY CLARK: Uh-huh (AFF).

DAN RATHER: And you've said you agree we're there now. The question is what's the exit strategy.

GEN. WESLEY CLARK: Right.

DAN RATHER: How long are we gonna be there? You look at the region and the question arises, as president, would you talk to Yasser Arafat or refuse to talk to him?

GEN. WESLEY CLARK: Well, I think that you've got to put it in the right perspective. You've got to have a U.S. negotiator on the ground who works and brokers the deal. I think Yasser Arafat is compromised in the minds of the Israeli public. I don't think you could build a credible peace with Yasser Arafat in the position of power. And that's what the issue is there.

DAN RATHER: That's the issue, but as President--

GEN. WESLEY CLARK: You can't build--

DAN RATHER: -- would you (UNINTEL)?

GEN. WESLEY CLARK: Well, I'm not gonna talk to him at this point, no. But I think I would-- what I would do is, I'd put a Middle East negotiator in place who represented me who was in the region full time who had the authority to do whatever is necessary to bring peace in the region.

We've talked to a lot of bad people. In my time, I've talked to Karadzic (PH) and Milosevic (PH) and they were war criminals. And yet, we did it to broker a ceasefire for Sarajevo. It was around the 8th or so of September of 1995. We did that. Richard Holbrook and his team, and I was one of them, and we talked to them. So, this is not unprecedented. But the point is it takes American leadership. And what we're missing now is American leadership in the region.

DAN RATHER: Let me talk to you about leadership and please, and I appreciate the fact you've had these throat difficulties recently, and I appreciate your going through--

GEN. WESLEY CLARK: Well, Dan, in politics, they said the first that happens is you lose your voice.

DAN RATHER: After President Clinton--

GEN. WESLEY CLARK: The second thing that happens is you lose your handshake. My hands feel good, and I'm afraid to ask what the third thing is.

DAN RATHER: Well, speaking of staying in shape, we have this, I think, an impressive, certainly unique campaign videotape of your teaching our young producer, Bonnie, how to do pushups. How do you stay in shape on the campaign? Is that something you share with George Bush, whatever else happens you're gonna do your pushups and do your exercise every day?

GEN. WESLEY CLARK: Well, I've always been that way, and what I learned at the military academy was a dedication to physical fitness. And at every stage in our military schooling, we were always taught again the importance of wellness. And part of that is to be active physically. So I've always tried to run or swim or play sports. Every day is what I like to do, but five days a week, something vigorous, something that gets the blood flowing, and you generate those endorphins. And when you finish you feel good. Occasionally, I do pushups, but I like to run and swim a lot more.

DAN RATHER: Looked like tough pushups to me between chairs.

GEN. WESLEY CLARK: Well, it's the best way to do them, because that way you don't have to get down on the ground and mess up your shoes or get your hands dirty and so forth. So if you just gotta couple minutes and you can find three chairs that you trust, you put that together, and you get a great workout.

DAN RATHER: General, again, we have so much ground to cover, but I'm gonna give you an opportunity to answer some of the criticisms, and I'm puzzled by some of them. Gen. Hugh Shelton, whom you know well, a distinguished American man at arms, Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf, Gen. Franks, who brought us the division- level combat victory in Iraq. Each of the three of these American heroes has said in effect, "I don't want this guy, Clark, to be president." What's going on here? Why is that?

GEN. WESLEY CLARK: Well, first of all, um, I've never worked for Schwarzkopf, so he's just repeating hearsay. I've never worked around Tommy Franks at all. I've shaken hands with him a couple of times. He wouldn't know me on the street from Adam. So what's he saying?

So, let's go back to Shelton. Hugh Shelton, I've known for 20 years. We were in the War College together. I always liked him. He was a good athlete and seemed like a good guy. And he was well-respected by his contemporaries and did well in the military.

But when he became chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and I was the supreme allied commander in Europe, we had a significant difference on policy. He was pursuing a strategy with the secretary of defense that would have the United States prepare actively for war in Korea or the Persian Gulf.

I was charged with making the Dayton Peace Accords for Bosnia work, and obviously part of that was to prevent another war from breaking out in the region. So that was my priority, and as we worked through this period, it just turned out that we had differing views about the importance of preventing another round of genocide and how to do it. I warned them in the Pentagon early in 1998 that we were getting ready to see another war in the Balkans, and I was told, "Thanks, but you know, don't bother us back here. We got enough on our plates."

But, Dan, I had been in the Pentagon during the summer of 1994, when 800,000 people were hacked to death by machetes in Rwanda. I was the officer responsible for doing plans and contingencies for the United Nations, and I did a number of those with my staff, and we presented them and we talked about 'em and you know, we stroked our chins and we worried about things and we thought, you know, "Is this gonna be acceptable?"

But we didn't do anything. We stood by without inserting ourselves, without asserting ourselves, and 800,000 people died. And at the time we didn't know that. All we knew is there was trouble. We didn't -- I didn't have the full feel of the scope of it.

I then went to Bosnia on the Dayton negotiations and talked to people and looked at the devastation there. And I thought, you know, when you're a senior officer, you have an obligation not just to answer the mail when somebody sends you a letter and say, "Here's the answer." But to speak up and to speak out until you're told not to any longer, until you're told, "We're just not gonna do it." And so I did--

DAN RATHER: So, you think this with General Shelton has to do with policy. That you--

GEN. WESLEY CLARK: Oh absolutely. (OVERTALK) It never had anything to do with character and integrity. Dan, when I left the command, I was roundly praised by Secretary Cohen, by Gen. Shelton. When I was told I was leaving early, there was never any mention of integrity or character. In fact, I received a Defense Distinguished Service Medal in a Pentagon ceremony from the secretary of defense for my leadership in the Kosovo campaign in September of 1999, and another Defense Distinguished Service Medal when I gave up command the next spring. And nothing but praise from the secretary of defense and the cairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

So, I was totally mystified when these words floated out. I knew we'd had friction. I knew there'd been policy disagreements, but, you know, there are always disagreements between the field and the headquarters in war.

DAN RATHER: I take that point, but I'm interested in your answer for among other reasons you haven't mentioned, as you once mentioned, that Gen. Shelton has a relationship with John Edwards, senator from North Carolina, who's one of your opponents for the nomination. Have you decided that's not a factor? Or do you still think that may be--

GEN. WESLEY CLARK: Well, I don't know whether it's a factor or not. I think it's an interesting side light (SIC). I didn't know it. And when he made this comment, he said, you know, in this speech apparently he refused to give his political affiliation. I have no idea.

I don't know why he would say something like this. Maybe he didn't mean to say it. Maybe the words just slipped out. But I know this, that in my work with him, I never was told, I was never given any indication that there was an integrity or character issue. There was friction, and I think he allowed policy differences to become personal.

Part III: Interview With Wesley Clark

  • Rebecca Leung

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