Part III: Wesley Clark Interview

Candidate Talks To <B>Rather</B> About His Campaign

DAN RATHER: We're gonna move on to other things, but I do wanna give you a chance to address what's been suggested by some of your opponents and at least the beginnings of a prima fascia (sic) case.

Wesley Clark was always smart. He did not go to school to just eat his lunch. He finished first in his class at West Point, after finishing first in his class in high school and he's first in his class, time after time after time, and an absolute rocket ride up the U.S. military.

But somewhere along the line, Wesley Clark developed a reputation among some others -- Schwarzkopf, Shelton, Tommy Franks -- just something about Wesley Clark that tees me off. Has that been your experience?

GEN. WESLEY CLARK: Listen, Dan, I don't know if we can ever set aside gossip. What I learned in the military is that gossip starts early and it stays forever. And all you can do is do your best to be who you are and work through it. And I could give you example after example from the time I was a captain on where I heard about gossip.

Everybody in the military has a reputation, and usually it doesn't come out to the public. This one has. In this case, it's unfortunate. And in many cases, these reputations aren't warranted. Um. So, I can't explain this, except to tell you that it's long-standing gossip. And I just gotta do my duty, and that's what I did in the United States Armed Forces.

And I guess the other thing I would say is this, Dan, the people that I worked for, that were responsible for advancing me, obviously thought enough of me to ensure that I was given increased responsibilities along the way--

DAN RATHER: You got to be a four-star general.

GEN. WESLEY CLARK: Right. So--

DAN RATHER: Of whom there, what, only may be 54 in the whole service?

GEN. WESLEY CLARK: No, at any one time there's maybe eight or nine Army guys who are four stars. It was a real-- It was an honor. It was a privilege. It was a great responsibility, and I'm very proud of that. And there were people who believed in me very strongly. Some people didn't. And um-- it's that way. I'm sure it's not like that in journalism. (OVERTALK)

DAN RATHER: (UNINTEL)--

GEN. WESLEY CLARK: I'm sure in journalism there's no politics at all. (LAUGHTER) But you know you just have to be who you are. You have to be true to what you believe in and do your duty. And that's what I did.

DAN RATHER: Well, speaking of duty, it's one of the places where you get high marks with voters right across the spectrum, but there are particularly among women voters and we have some polling evidence of this among Democratic women voters, they give you great credit for your service to our country in a very difficult arena, but who are a little uneasy of having a general as president. Let's address that.

GEN. WESLEY CLARK: OK. I know that. I picked it up, too. I can feel it personally when I talk to people. And um-- it's, I think, because it's difficult for people outside the Armed Forces to really understand what it's like to be inside the Armed Forces and especially in a position of high responsibility.

People often say, "Well, you know, in the military, you could give these orders, and how would you be capable--" But in the military at the top, you really aren't giving orders. You're really working collaboratively, collegially, politically. You're persuading people to want to do what you want them to do, and you're doing it not just on military and diplomatic issues, but you're doing it on a whole range of what we call quality of life issues.

In Europe, I had 44,000 school children in the command, and I was responsible for their schooling, K-12. And we had schools in Britain and Spain and Germany and Italy and Turkey. And we had curriculum challenges. We had local control issues. We had parents who didn't get along and so forth.

So, we changed the currency. We increased the amount of local control. I encouraged commanders to give their soldiers and airmen off when the child was in a teacher/student conference. I believed the parent should be there. And you know, in the United States Armed Forces, we can make that happen. And we did.

DAN RATHER: So, what you paint is a picture of a Commanding General as you were as well, as kind of a mayor of a town.

GEN. WESLEY CLARK: A big town. In this case, it was, you know, spread out all over. But I started that way. I mean we started working on schooling issues early in-- in my military career. I remember we were in Germany and there was a PTA meeting and my wife was very concerned about the school, and she spoke up and she really started to work the schooling issues.

And that's when we began to be aware that, you know ,you have responsibilities as a parent and as a leader to speak up, because the higher rank you have, the more your responsibility to speak out and help others.

And we always took that very, very seriously. So I had schooling issues. I had hospital issues. I had housing issues. I had spouse abuse, child abuse, suicide prevention, quality of life, spousal jobs. And when I was the commander at Fort Irwin (PH), I had the engineers on post, the commissaries, the post exchange, the chapels, the movie theatre.

I was driving down the road one day. It was a Saturday afternoon. I think we were gonna go shopping, and my wife said, "Your engineers, they still haven't fixed this pothole."

Now-- and she was right. They were my engineers. I had to call up a colonel and say, "Well, why is that pothole not--" You know I didn't do it immediately, but we got the pothole fixed and we got the commissary stocked with the right kinds of goods. And we fixed it-- We had town hall meetings where people could raise their concerns and-- and address the issues that affected 'em. And I was a mayor.

So, that's what leadership the military's all about. It's the one community where when you're in a position of authority you have 24-hour responsibilities for how the people who are associated with you live. People don't go home at night to their own communities. They're on your community. And you're responsible for in most cases every aspect of their health, well-being and comfort.

And, Dan, what we learned in the United States Armed Forces, we had a recruiting motto. We called it "Be All You Could Be." And somebody thought, "Boy, that's a genius of a motto." Well, it did bring in a lot of recruits, but it became a lot more than a motto.

What we discovered in our training out in the desert as we were rebuilding the Army after Vietnam was that the generals and the colonels don't win battles. The battles are won at the front end of the organization, at the bottom of the organ-- They're won by the infantrymen, the tank commander, and the gunner with his eye on the site (SIC). They're won by the mechanic who works all night to fix the equipment.

The generals and the colonels are up there waving their arms and they're on the radio and they're giving instructions but it has to translate into real action. And that means you've got to train and educate, motivate and inspire the people at the bottom of the organization, and you've got to take care of their families. And this is the image of leadership that I would like to bring to the American people.

DAN RATHER: Just hold it right there. (tape changes)

GEN. WESLEY CLARK:
(IN PROGRESS) not to do this. He said, "They will question every aspect." "They will examine your life with a microscope," he said. And when you're finished four or eight years later, you will spend the rest of your life defending every decision you ever made.

DAN RATHER: And so it's true. It's true. Who told you that?

GEN. WESLEY CLARK: Charlotte Kasvilar (PH).

DAN RATHER: Oh, what did you tell her?

GEN. WESLEY CLARK: I said, "Because I'm worried about the country."

DAN RATHER: General, your opponents to the Democratic nomination are beginning to attack pretty fiercely-- I use the word measuredly as to whether you are in fact a Democrat. This guy is an Army general. He didn't know what he was and if anything, he talks so admiringly about President Bush, Vice President Cheney, and Donald Rumsfeld and these people. Maybe he's not a Democrat and the case they're using, the point is if he came out for a Constitutional Amendment opposing burning of the American flag and this is a short time after he criticized President Bush for overacting to dissent in the country. How are we going to reconcile these things. First of all, are you in favor of a Constitutional Amendment against burning the American flag?

GEN. WESLEY CLARK: Well, I told the American Legion that I support just about anything that will strengthen respect for the flag. If that's the amendment that comes through and it's adopted by the states and reach (PH) all those provisions, I'm not going to oppose that amendment.

The flag is something very near and dear and personal to me. Dan, I served under that flag. I saluted that flag. I fought for that flag. And I've seen brave men buried under that flag. It stands for something. And it means something. And we should respect it. And that's what I believe about the flag.

DAN RATHER: What about the argument that we all believe in the flag? We all revere the flag. We also revere the American tradition and the Constitutional guarantee of the right to dissent, even when it's dissent that really galls us.

GEN. WESLEY CLARK: Well, I think that's really an issue for the electorate to decide. I mean there are-- they will have to decide whether they support an amendment like this and put it forward. I believe in freedom of speech obviously. And I certainly support the Constitution.

But from time to time in a nation's history, important issues come by that deeply affect people. We understand in America a new definition of patriotism today. And it goes far beyond the American flag. It goes into protecting the essence of what the country's about.

And those are our rights and liberties. And the freedom to express an opinion. And no administration can say if you disagree with it in a time of war that you're being unpatriotic. When I was in Vietnam, I fought the battle and I fought for that freedom. So I strongly support those guarantees. And I also support the feelings of those who treasure that symbol of our national unity.

I think symbols are important to pull a nation and a people together. The Confederate flag's a very divisive symbol. The American flag is the symbol that unites this country. I think we should honor it and respect it.

DAN RATHER: You brought a book along with you this morning and before we get too much further along, I'd like you to tell me why you brought it along and what impresses you in it.

GEN. WESLEY CLARK: Well I brought this book along. I was given this book a few days ago up in Dartmouth. And when I opened it and just flipped through it, I -- by the photographer who was there-- he-- I immediately realized why I had so strongly warned the Pentagon about the dangers and the need to focus on Slobodan Milosevic and what was going on in the Balkans.

And I brought it along because it's-- when you talk about policy disputes, sometimes it can seem academic. It's like words. They don't mean much. And I brought it along because I want to show you what a policy dispute's all about. This is Behelena (PH) in Bosnia, Herzegovina, in 1992. This is what ethnic cleansing is, or was, in the Balkans.

These are Serbs. These are dead Muslims. This is the casualness, the pornography of violence against civilians. And this is not real war. This is war against unarmed people. (UNINTEL PHRASE) these dead, he's kicking them. He's relaxing at the end of (UNINTEL), he's got a cigarette lit, he's got his sunglasses up. He just wants to make sure he's finished his work. And I just couldn't bear the thought that the United States would stand by and allow this to happen.

DAN RATHER: What is the other picture you have marked?

GEN. WESLEY CLARK: In the summer of 1998, while I was in command, another round of ethnic cleansing started. And I was warning the Pentagon about it and trying to mobilize U.S. opinion and U.S. leadership to take action to prevent it.

Well, we did take some action. We tried to undertake diplomacy. There was a lot of discussion. And meanwhile the Serbs were moving some 300 to 400,000 Kosovar Albanians -- were driven from their homes. They fled to the mountains because they had to get away from the Serb military.

And in the mountains, this is what you saw. This is a five-week-old baby who's died of exposure. And the family's preparing him for burial. When you can stop something like this, you should.

DAN RATHER: ...Hearing you speak of this is the first time I've seen you speak with real emotion.

GEN. WESLEY CLARK: Yeah.

DAN RATHER: Deep-seated emotion. Tell me why that is?

GEN. WESLEY CLARK: Why? Because you're dealing with people's lives when you're dealing with things like this, Dan. This is about life and death. It's about the difference between academic theories and discussions of deterrence and prevention and preemption, and what the real impact is on the ground of U.S. actions.

And I don't think you can be a real statesman or a real leader and be-- can connect the two. Lots of people go to school and they study it. Lots of people on the ground. But there aren't enough linkages. It's easy when you're in the United States to depersonalize all that's happening over there.

And so we don't have an interest in it. You know, there were people in this case who said, "We don't have any interest here. I mean there's no oil. If there were oil here, we'd stop this." So we'd rather fight for oil than to save lives. I don't think so. I don't think that's what this country really believes or what we stand for. So I do get emotional about this. Because when you can do good, you should.

DAN RATHER: You know, I want to take a walk in the garden. Before we do so, we may never get to this, but I hope we will. You not only fought in Vietnam, but you were wounded-- severely wounded.

GEN. WESLEY CLARK: Yeah.

DAN RATHER: Help me understand. Help people understand what it really is-- that men and women in combat fear the most.

GEN. WESLEY CLARK: Well, I think you fear most letting down your unit-- when it comes right down to it.

DAN RATHER: It isn't death? It's letting the--

GEN. WESLEY CLARK: I--

DAN RATHER: --person next--

GEN. WESLEY CLARK: -- I--

DAN RATHER: --to you down.

GEN. WESLEY CLARK: --I think that what happens over time is-- I think in the first engagements, everything is novel and new. And it's only afterwards, after you see other people die, that the fear rises. I think at the outset it's the fear of non-performance under fire.

DAN RATHER: And letting your friends down, letting your--

GEN. WESLEY CLARK: Right--

DAN RATHER: --unit down.

GEN. WESLEY CLARK: -- right. But I think that some people have said you can only go to the well of courage so many times, and that even you know strong units and strong men can break under certain circumstances. I'm sure that must be true.

We worked very hard in Vietnam to protect our people and to rotate people in and out of the units. But we still suffered enormous psychological trauma. You have people today that have flashbacks and so forth from all of this.

So war's a very difficult thing. And I really worry about these soldiers in Iraq and what they've gone through. Because they saw a lot going in. They killed a lot of people. And-- that will stay with them for a long time.

DAN RATHER: There's no way to make this an easy transition and we're going to get up in just a moment and I thought about whether even to ask you about it. Let me say that the preface of this is that I've-- let me just come straight at it. You've talked about Gert being a tremendous wife and the record shows you-- was to move around in the Army all that way, and you've talked about what an influence she's been on you. You also talk about the politics, about the Army. Did the two of you ever talk about the pressures on her since she didn't finish college, didn't go to college, she's not a college graduate -- being with other officer's wives who had done so. Was this a matter of some tension for her or not?

GEN. WESLEY CLARK: Well, she's very poised and she's very self-assured. And I know it bothered her to some degree that she had not finished college. But she's a real leader. And you could put her in with any group, and-- she sparkles. And people like her. And they listen to her.

She has A+ judgment. She has great instincts. She has real passion. And-- she was-- you know if a senior officer's wife told her to make cookies, Gert would say to the girls, "Well you can make cookies or you can buy cookies." She-- I-- I just-- you know, you do it the way you want. I mean she-- she had that-- she knew how to connect. And she does. And so-- you know there's different kinds of skills and what you get in an education. She's got A+ emotional education.

DAN RATHER: As the husband of somebody who never went to college, but knows that she's the smartest person I've ever been around, I can relate to that. Let's take a break.

GEN. WESLEY CLARK: OK. When I got out of the military I thought now I'm gonna have to think every day what kind of shirt and what kind of tie to wear and I said there has to be a way to systematize this and make it work, but, you know, there isn't.

DAN RATHER: No.

GEN. WESLEY CLARK: I mean, every day--

DAN RATHER: If you find it, call me collect, will you.

GEN. WESLEY CLARK: It's the biggest decision of my life. You get in there, you're half asleep in the morning. (LAUGHTER) And I keep-- I always say to myself I'm gonna figure out how to do this-- (OFF-MIKE CONVERSATION)

DAN RATHER: If you figure out a way to do that call me collect. General, we're right across from the Vietnam Memorial, which would remind me to ask you, is Iraq this generation's Vietnam?

GEN. WESLEY CLARK: It's (UNINTEL). It's-- for Vietnam it was the loss. But what I see in young people, Gen Y people out there who grew up trusting their parents and trusting authority, what Iraq represents is not the personal loss, not yet, it's the betrayal. They trusted this president.

They trusted him when he said there were weapons of mass destruction. And we had to rush in there, that he was a threat. That-- what if the smoking gun was a mushroom cloud. They trusted, that trust has been shattered. And that's what accounts for this incredible anger out there that I sense when I go around.

Now it hasn't gone through the entire population yet because the American people are good people. And they have trusted their leadership. But that's why we have to have this dialogue. We have to hold the commander in chief accountable as the president of the United States for what this country has done or failed to do during this tenure in office.

DAN RATHER: OK, General, no way to make a smooth transition here. If it works out, you're not the democratic nominee for president ,what about this theory that you've already worked that out with Howard Dean. If he gets the nomination he chooses you as vice president, if you get the nomination you choose him, true?

GEN. WESLEY CLARK: Well, it's a great theory. And it's like many pundits' theories. There was a theory that I was the front person for Hilary Clinton, I wasn't. All I can say is this is another theory.

DAN RATHER: Would you rule out serving as vice president?

GEN. WESLEY CLARK: Well, that's not really an issue. The issue is why did I run. I ran because I thought this country needed experienced leadership. Someone who could deliver the goods for the American people at home and abroad. Someone who had the experience, the maturity, the compassion, the ability to put it all together. That's why I'm running. People asked me to run, I measured myself and I felt I was capable of doing this job. And that's the position I'm running for. And that's what I'm focused on. And nothing else.

DAN RATHER: I'm noting you haven't ruled out becoming a vice presidential candidate.

GEN. WESLEY CLARK: I'm focused on becoming the president of the United States and that's what I'm running for. And I'm not considering anything else. And I haven't thought about anything else, and I'm not worried about anything else.

DAN RATHER: You worried about Mrs. Clinton getting in even at this late date or do you think that's beyond the pale?

GEN. WESLEY CLARK: I like Hilary Clinton. I think she's-- she's a fantastic leader. And, you know, that's up-- that's her decision.

DAN RATHER: While we talk about theories, what about the theory that the Clintons liked it that you got in because if nothing else you might stop Howard Dean's momentum. Did you think about that at all?

GEN. WESLEY CLARK: No. No. A lot of people talked to me about it. And I sort of went through a series of thought processes, measuring myself and measuring what was-- whether this was really something I should do. And then it came down to was it something I had to do. And first there was a question of, is there anybody out there gonna support, what if they all laugh when you say I want to be a candidate for the president of the United States.

And then the draft movement took over and there were thousands of people who were demanding. And then we thought, "Well, yeah, but this is not a real draft movement because there's nobody in it from positions of authority. ' One day I-- late July got a call from Congressman Rangel who said, he called me on the phone he says, "General Clark, this is Sgt. Rangel." And he said, "Where's my general?" And he started talking to me. And so did many other people.

DAN RATHER: Charlie Rangel, congressman in New York?

GEN. WESLEY CLARK: That's right. And so did many other people. And as they brought me in on this thing and then people said, 'Well, maybe there's no money out there, it's all been given away.' And then I talked to people who said, 'Oh, no, there's money.' I said, 'Well, it's too late because there's no staff left.' And I finally realized that the only way I was gonna answer that question was to do it, so no point in as-- continuing to ask. And then it just finally came down to the issue of, was it the right way to make a contribution? And I determined that it was and that's why I'm in the race.

DAN RATHER: General, we're near the end, two things. First of al,l is there any question I haven't asked you that I should have asked you?

GEN. WESLEY CLARK: I don't think so, you've asked a lot.

DAN RATHER: The other is that you must have come into this interview saying to yourself, you know, if there's not-- if there's only one thing I get across to this television audience at this time, at this stage in my campaign I want it to be this one thing. If you haven't had a chance to express that I want to give you a chance to express it now.

GEN. WESLEY CLARK: Well, I think the United States is at a critical point, a pivotal point in its history. And at this point we've got to set our foreign policy right and get out of the mess in Iraq so we can focus on domestic problems. To do that we need experienced mature compassionate leadership. That's why I'm offering to serve and that's why I'm running.

And I hope the American people will appreciate what's happened. We've seen a country that's gone from wealth and incredible virtuous circle of job creation and to losing millions of jobs. We've seen a country that was secure attacked and then in its turn attack another country. And now we're in a mess. We need leadership. It's a question of what kind of government we want and where we want to take this country. And I'd like to be there to help.

DAN RATHER: As you and I are speaking some of the economic indicators have turned positive, at least slightly positive. Do you agree or disagree that people mostly vote their pocketbooks and if the economy looks like it's even stabilizing by the time we get to election next year that George Bush is pretty much unbeatable?

GEN. WESLEY CLARK: Well, I think, when you talk about the economy and statistics -- really happening in America today. It's not about statistics; it's about people. And it's not about the economy, it's about jobs. When people lose their jobs, it destroys or undercuts their self-respect. It harms their families, it affects their children.

These are middle-age executives who in one case a major role in a corporation he's handed his pink slip. Told to sign a form saying he'll get his retirement, provided he promises not to sue for age discrimination. He's put out on the street and a few weeks later, he's selling Toyotas for $150 commission.

Imagine the emotional devastation. And he had a job. And what about for those people who don't have jobs. What's it do? People build their identities and their respect around their profession and their ability to provide for their families. And so we're cutting at the core, the essence, of what people are all about. It's not about statistics.

This administration is very quick to claim credit but they're very slow to acknowledge their responsibilities. They have responsibility for the men and women in this country who've lost their jobs, who are not even seeking work, for those who are entering the work force and trying to gain employment. It goes far beyond the statistics. And that job-- that process is far from done.

DAN RATHER: General, thank you. The time police are calling.

GEN. WESLEY CLARK: (LAUGHTER) Okay, thanks Dan.

DAN RATHER: Thank you.

Return to Part I: Interview With Wesley Clark
  • Rebecca Leung

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