Wesley Clark is a retired Army four-star general who jumped into the race only two months ago and moved right up to the top of the pack.
60 Minutes II caught up with retired Gen. Clark this past weekend in Washington, in between campaign appearances.
Clark talked to Correspondent Dan Rather in his first primetime network interview about the war in Iraq, military jealousy at the highest levels and the surprising role his wife played in his decision to run for president.
We got a revealing look at the Wesley Clark behind the impressive resume, and learned why he thinks he should be the first general since Eisenhower to be president.
If there's one thing above others that Clark believes in, what would it be?
"This I believe in: accountability, responsibility, performance of duty, dedication," says Clark. "My profession has been a profession of arms, and it's been a profession of duty."
Clark was not your average general. He's an unusual mix of warrior and intellectual, first in his class at West Point, and a Rhodes scholar.
He rose through the ranks to near the top. He was Supreme Allied Commander of NATO, a four-star general who dealt with officers and diplomats, and led NATO forces to victory in Kosovo.
But even at those heights, he found inspiration from very un-military sources.
"Maybe it was Bob Dylan who said it best in his song 'Blowing In The Wind,' when he asked, 'How many roads must a man walk down, before you can call him a man,'" says Clark, who quoted that anti-war anthem as he retired in 2000, after a brilliant 34-year military career.
Clark was a company commander in Vietnam. Shot four times in a firefight in 1970, he was awarded a Silver Star for leading his troops despite his wounds.
After Vietnam, Clark steadily climbed the Pentagon ladder -- promotion after promotion -- to ever-more-important posts. But even as a top brass, he was a hands-on commander who seemed to know everything about what his troops were doing and how they did it.
Candidate Clark favors gun control, abortion rights, and a constitutional amendment banning flag burning. He wants to roll back some of President Bush's tax cuts, and would use that money to expand health coverage for children.
But Clark's strongest messages are about how President Bush and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld have handled the war in Iraq.
"We went to war with, on the basis of misleading information. We hadn't exhausted all our diplomatic options. We didn't have an imminent threat. We didn't even have adequate forces to handle the operation," says Clark. "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."
What are the chances that Donald Rumsfeld was right?
"You have to plan for the aftermath," says Clark. "This plan didn't consider the aftermath. It didn't work through to the political considerations that were what the war was all about."
If elected, Clark says he would try to put U.S. troops in Iraq in NATO force under American command, and he would put a non-American in charge of the Iraq reconstruction.
And, he argues, the war in Iraq has diverted resources from the war against terror in Afghanistan: "Have to take the lead, focus on real problem, which is not Iraq."
That's not the first time Clark has differed with the Pentagon. During the 1999 Kosovo War, he clashed with then Defense Secretary William Cohen and former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Hugh Shelton. Even though he led the successful campaign – with no American casualties – Clark was relieved of his command and forced into retirement a few months later.
At the time, no one said publicly why he was forced out. But two months ago, Shelton charged Clark was fired over "character and integrity issues."
Shelton has refused to explain his remarks. But Clark says he was fired because he argued that the U.S. should have been more aggressive against ethnic cleansing in the Balkans.
"It just turned out that we had differing views about the importance of preventing another round of genocide, and how to do it," says Clark. "And I thought, you know, when you're a senior officer, you have an obligation not just to answer the mail, but to speak up and to speak out until you're told not to any longer, until you're told, 'We're just not going to do it.'"
So did Clark think this has more to do with policy? "Oh, absolutely," he says. "It never had anything to do with character and integrity."
Military and foreign policy are what brought Clark into the presidential race, but only after he overcame some opposition on the homefront from his wife, Gert.
"She's a great lady. We've gone through our full army career together. She was my partner, my friend, my advisor, my coach, my love, but she didn't want me to run," says Clark.
"She laughed when people called the house in February 2003 and said, 'We wanna talk to Gen. Clark and ask him to run.' She would snicker. And finally, it came down to the anger inside at the way men and women in the armed forces were being abused and used by the administration."
Clark says he wants to be president, but he discovered that he wasn't ready for the political combat of a campaign. He stumbled right out of the gate.
First, he told reporters he would have voted for the congressional resolution authorizing President Bush to go to war against Saddam. Then, he said he wasn't sure, and then he said would have voted against it.
"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 or off-the-record discussion about the philosophy of sort of entering the presidency. And somehow the Iraq question got thrown in," says Clark, who told Rather he didn't expect to be asked that question. "But when it came, it's the kind of, it's the, there's no question that it wasn't what I wanted to say."
Now, Clark says he wouldn't have voted for the resolution that passed, but a different one that Congress never voted on: "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."
Clark finally got some semblance of a campaign rolling, with reinforcements from veterans of Clinton and Gore campaigns.
There's the private jet, the motorcade, and the nervous advance men waiting to brief the candidate. And, there are speeches and photo opportunities and yes, the voters.
Still, Clark's campaign schedule always leaves time for a daily swim, something he's been doing for years. One day last week, there was even time for an impromptu calisthenics lesson for CBS News Producer Bonney Kapp in which Clark claims he can do 100 pushups between chairs.
"It's the best way to do them, because that way you don't have to get down on the ground and, and mess up your shoes or get your hands dirty and so forth," says Clark. "So if you've just got a few minutes and you can find three chairs you can trust, you put that together and you get a great workout."
Lately, though, there are some signs his campaign is wobbling. Clark is raising money, but he dropped out of the mid-January Iowa caucuses, and is well back in the pack in New Hampshire. He's strongest in South Carolina, where he has to win, and in other states with primaries on Feb. 3.
But as the campaign has heated up, so have the negative comments from former peers in the Army, including Gens. Norman Schwarzkopf, Hugh Shelton and Tommy Franks. What does Clark think is behind these comments?
"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," says Clark. "All you can do is do you best to be who you are and work through it."
For Clark, the negative talk just boils down to a policy dispute stemming from Bosnia and Kosovo. Clark plans to testify next month at the war-crimes trial of Serb President Slobodan Milosevic, and he strongly believes that the U.S. should intervene with troops in genocidal civil conflicts.
"I want to show you what a policy dispute is all about," says Clark, showing Rather images from a book he brought to the interview. "This is Behelena, in Bosnia Herzegovina, in 1992. This is what ethnic cleansing is, or was, in the Balkins. These are Serbs, these are dead Muslims. This is the casualness, the pornography of violence against civilians."
"This is not real war. This is war against unarmed people, and I just couldn't bear the thought that the United States would stand by and allow this to happen," adds Clark. "In the summer of 1998, while I was in command, another round of ethnic cleansing started. Some 300 to 400,000 Kosovar Albanians were driven from their homes … When you stop something like this, you should."
Rather comments that this is the first time he's seen Clark speak with such real emotion. Why?
"Because you're dealing with people's lives when you're dealing with things like this. You know, there are people in this case who said, 'We don't have any interest here. If there was oil here, we'd stop this.' So we'd rather fight for oil than to save lives? I don't think so," say Clark.
"I don't think that's what this country really believes or what we stand for. So I, I do get emotional about this. Because when you can do good, you should."
But Gen. Clark does not think the U.S. should have gone to war with Iraq for humanitarian reasons, as some of the Bush administration argue. While he acknowledges the brutality of Saddam's regime, Clark says he doesn't feel the situation justified the American invasion.