Transcript: Wesley Clark

Clark Speaks To Dan Rather In First Primetime Interview

In his first primetime network interview, retired Gen. Wesley Clark talks to Correspondent Dan Rather about his presidential campaign and the war in Iraq. Read a complete transcript of the interview.
DAN RATHER: General, first of all, thanks for doing this.

GEN. WESLEY CLARK: Good to be with you, Dan.

DAN RATHER: Let's take a deep breath. This is a different kind of interview. Tell me who General Wesley Clark is. Who are you?

GEN. WESLEY CLARK: Well, I'm just a kid who grew up in Little Rock, went to West Point when he was 17 and believes in leadership and people and that's why I went to West Point. I wanted leadership and, along the way, I like everything I ever did. I had a great military career. I wasn't happy when it ended, but I had a great time in business. I met a lotta people.

I enjoyed being a commentator on CNN. I never made it with you, Dan, on CBS. But I really enjoyed being able to comment on the news. I have some "feel" for what it must -- the thrill that you, in your profession, must feel in keeping up with the day-to-day events. I felt like it was the next best thing to still being in uniform. To be able to read, to offer my views and to be in that dialogue with the American people.

And then I couldn't stand where the country was headed, and people asked me to present myself and I debated it for a long time. I didn't know if it was the right thing to do. And finally, I finally just said, when people say to report for duty, you report.

DAN RATHER: If I ask you to say the one thing above all others, 'This I believe.' What would it be?

GEN. WESLEY CLARK: Oh, this I believe in: accountability, responsibility, performance of duty, dedication. That's what I have built my life around in the United States armed forces. I believe, you know, I love my family and I love my church. I love my faith, but my profession has been a profession of arms, and it's been a profession of duty.

DAN RATHER: Profession of arms. How does that prepare you to be president of the United States?

GEN. WESLEY CLARK: I guess it depends on how broadly you take the meaning of the profession. I'm one of those people who was really blessed as I went through the military to have incredible mentors, unbelievable opportunities open to me, and I just learned a lot about a lot of things that weren't strictly military. And then I learned a lot about the military, but I studied at Oxford as a Rhodes Scholar, so I learned -- I really immersed myself in another culture. I was there during the Vietnam War and all that conflict. During the Tet Offensive and so I was engaged in vexing questions of morality and international law and life and death. I lost a roommate, a West Point roommate, during the time I was at Oxford, and so the issues were very personal to me.

And then I lived those issues and then I taught at West Point. I taught political philosophy. I taught that the philosophy that lays behind the U.S. Constitution, I used to teach Federalist 51. "If men were angels, there would be no need for government. But as they are not." And so on. I was a White House Fellow. I worked in the Office of Management & Budget.

I traveled as a White House Fellow. I went to Israel and the Middle East. Went to Canada. My first trip to Canada realized that Canadians really are not just Americans north of the border. And liked what I saw in Canada. I worked for Gen. Al Haig when he was the Supreme Allied Commander. Under him, I got an exposure to diplomacy at the highest levels. The European culture and different Europeans sensities (sic) [sensitivities] that I would have never gotten as a major in a U.S. Army unit in Germany.

DAN RATHER: If you hadn't gone into the Army, if you hadn't made the Army your career, what do you think you would have done?

GEN. WESLEY CLARK: Well, I had scholarships to Georgia Tech and Duke, and when the Harvard recruiter came through Hall High School in the fall of 1961, the guidance counselor called me and said, "He's looked at all the records and he wants to talk to you about giving you a-- you know full tuition to Harvard. And won't you come and talk to him?" And I said, "No, I wanna go to West Point."

So, I had always been drawn toward public service. I would have loved to have been an astronaut, but I had near-sightedness and so for me it was not the Air Force Academy because you couldn't fly. It wasn't the Naval Academy because you couldn't get admitted, and I just was unsettled as I went, as I finished my junior in high school, about what the future would hold.

And I went to American Legion Boys State and there was a West Point cadet there wearing glasses, and all of a sudden, "Click!" I told my friends from high school, I said, "That's it. I'm going to West Point."

DAN RATHER: You grew up in Little Rock at the time. In fact, you were in school, were you not, at the time of the desegregation orders and Little Rock became the epicenter of the Civil Rights Movement. How old were you? What was that like?

GEN. WESLEY CLARK: Well, I was in 8th grade. It was the fall of 1957, so I was 12 years old. I was in junior high school. We weren't anywhere near the scene of the action. All we got was the blowback from the local papers and the media coverage, and I think one time my parents drove me somewhere near Central High School. I looked, got a look at these Army trucks that were there. I don't remember if they were the National Guard or the 101st Airborne, but it brought to me an awareness of the issues of race, of segregation and integration and of the sensitivities of people on all sides. And it's a feeling I've never lost. It's a passion for justice and fair play. But a respect for the people who are going the wrong way but sometimes they don't see it.

DAN RATHER: Let's change gears for just a moment. Tell me about your wife, Gert. Did she want you to run?

GEN. WESLEY CLARK: Well, she's a great lady. She's been a great wife and I love her dearly and we've been married for 36-and-a-half years and we've gone through our full Army career together. She was my partner, my friend, my advisor, my coach, my love. She did much of the parenting when I was away on maneuvers and other things. My son was born when I was in Vietnam, so she's a great woman, but she didn't want me to run.

DAN RATHER: She didn't want you to?

GEN. WESLEY CLARK: No.

DAN RATHER: What did she say to you?

GEN. WESLEY CLARK: Well, she laughed when people called the house in February of 2003 and said, '"We wanna talk to General Clark and ask him to run." She would snicker. Then after the war, and people began to talk about it, she began to be anxious, and then my son announced he was getting married in July or in late June and we were gonna have a reception in Little Rock. He said, "I don't wanna hear about this until after this is over." And then in late July, people began to talk to her: "You know your husband has a responsibility." And we were driving up the coast of northern California and she said, "You know, if you go through with this, we'll never again have the chance to take a drive like this -- ever. If you're successful. Why do you wanna do that?"

And finally it came down to, I just couldn't escape the conscience and the sense of duty and the anger inside at the way the men and women in the armed forces were being used and abused by the administration. And we were in California, and my son said to her, he said, "Mother, you cannot put your personal preferences above what this family has always stood for." And at that, she wilted. And that was the end of the discussion. And then she said, "It's your decision to make."

DAN RATHER: You were in the Army how many years?

GEN. WESLEY CLARK: Well, counting West Point, 38.

DAN RATHER: Thirty-eight years. How many moves did you make?

GEN. WESLEY CLARK: Well, I figure, if you count houses, it was 31 houses -- or apartments or, in one case, a house trailer.

DAN RATHER: I'm trying to imagine this life, what it was for your wife, Gert?

GEN. WESLEY CLARK: It was tough. It was very hard.

DAN RATHER: Thirty-eight years. Thirty-one houses including the one case of the house trailer.

GEN. WESLEY CLARK: Yeah. Let me tell you about one of these moves, Dan. We show up at Fort Carson, Colo. I'm a full colonel. I'm 41-years old. I'm one of the most successful, rising colonels in the profession of arms. We show up after a very stressful period in the desert running training and I report into the division commander and he says, "Well, there's no house for you on post." He said, "You know, you'd be entitled to the colonel's house." Up in the Colonel's housing area where the colonels and generals live, but he says, "There is a post -- there is a house down in the Lt. Colonel's area and we'd like to put you down there. Now, I'll put some extra money into that house, but I need you to live in that house and we'll move you when it's time and there's [UNINTEL] up there. We'll move you."

So my wife -- I talked to my wife about it. She said, "Look, you're gonna want me to move our furniture into this house. You're gonna want me to put up curtains. You're gonna want me to put up pictures. You can't live in nothing for two or three months and you're gonna want us to get settled and then you're gonna want us to be moved. If you stay in there, you'll never meet the neighbors up there. There may be lovely people down here, but we're supposed to be up there. You won't meet them and you're gonna ask me to make another move."

She says, "I'm not gonna do it," so I went in to see the general. I said, "We're just not gonna do this" and he said, "I'm gonna take your quarters allowance then." So he's gonna take, you know, $500 a month to punish me for not living in the house that was vacant on post, and then somehow he relented and my wife met a woman in Colorado Springs and we found this lovely townhouse in Kissing Camels Estate that was furnished. The people came only in the summer and they agreed to let us pay rent and live in there for three months and that's what we did. I mean, that was what it was like to be Army wife at the top. Now that was at the top.

Let me tell you what it was like at the bottom. We showed up at Fort Riley, Kan., for my first duty assignment. We lived in Wild Cat Creek Apartments. It was January of 1969. Every night at about 2 a.m., the woman upstairs would turn on the vacuum cleaner and she would vacuum. Now these apartments, they were one bedroom. They had a glass front and they weren't very thick. You could hear this vacuum going over the floor. Her husband was in Vietnam. She couldn't sleep at night and she vacuumed every night.

After about six weeks, we got word that there was a house open on post, so we moved in on post. It had black and orange linoleum tile. Now that's not your average preferred decorating scheme for your living room.

DAN RATHER: Nice Halloween colors.

GEN. WESLEY CLARK: It's nice Halloween colors. We had no furniture. We had a bed and a color television. That was it and we had no child, no dog or anything at that point and we no more than got there and accepted Army furniture than I was told I was going to the Mohave Desert for seven weeks.

She picked up; I flew out. She drove the car out cross-country by herself without stopping, showed up in the middle of the night in the desert, and we lived in an abandoned house on this base, made out of asbestos with a hole in the wall and a couch that had three legs and a brick.

DAN RATHER: Let me ask you something. Why would a woman as beautiful and as intelligent as she is, why would she stick with you under those circumstances? All of those moves over all of those years?

GEN. WESLEY CLARK: Well, there's love and there's sense of family, but I think she was always drawn by something more than that. We always shared a common conviction about what's right and wrong in the country and in the world, and a determination that somehow we could take care of it, and she always had a very strong passion for looking after the families in the units I commanded.

So, she always got to know the people very well, and really worked with them. We had some great incidents. We had some funny incidents. She did so much good as a senior officer's wife and all the way growing up she was in PTA, and Red Cross and leading wives groups, and she listened and built teams and stood up for people.

DAN RATHER: You said before that you were angry. That that's one reason you're running for President … anger.

GEN. WESLEY CLARK: Yeah.

DAN RATHER: Tell me about that anger.

GEN. WESLEY CLARK: Well, I don't think the United States armed forces belong to, should belong to either political party and they shouldn't be used for partisan purposes, and they shouldn't be sent to war except as a last resort. Somehow this feels all wrong in Iraq and the American people are just beginning to wake up to see this. 9/11 was a tremendous shock, and I went through the Pentagon right after 9/11, and a guy told me, this was a couple of weeks later, he said, "Have you heard the joke?"

I'd been on CNN every day, and you know, I was still just a little over a year out of the military, and even though it was a different administration. Of course, I'd known Donald Rumsfeld from when I was a White House Fellow, and I still would comment and I'd look down at my sleeves and they were -- it was a business suit. They weren't green with that big broad general officers' black stripe. You know, but I still felt incredibly emotionally bonded, so I went through the Pentagon and just wanted to sort of make sure I was saying things that made sense, and you know, if anybody had any issue about what I was saying, they would tell me.

An officer called me in, and he said, "Sir, you heard the joke?" And it wasn't a joke. It was this typical Pentagon sophisticated hallway humor. I said, "No, I haven't" and he said, "If Saddam Hussein didn't do 9/11, too bad -- we're gonna get 'em anyway."

DAN RATHER: Do you think that was the attitude then?

GEN. WESLEY CLARK: There had been a decision made that we were going to get Saddam Hussein, and this was apparently made at least, not a final decision, but a decision to move very forcefully in that direction. Of course, the final decision's not made until the president signs an executive order, but the planning was getting ready to start. As we were going after Osama bin Laden.

I remember seeing the president go to Fort Campbell, Ky., to talk to the 101st. Maybe in November of 2001, and he told them, "Get ready. We're gonna need you," and it was a pep talk for the troops, but when I put it together with what had been said, I thought, "I can't believe we're really gonna do this because Iraq. I mean, it's a threat, it's a problem, it's a challenge."

But I was one of the people responsible for the bombing. I did the northern Iraq campaign. Tony Ditty (sic) Tony Zinni did what was in the south and I didn't see the imminent threat. I saw a threat. I mean, I saw a potential threat. You couldn't be sure that at some point Saddam wouldn't suddenly fire any of these weapons and even though it was suicidal on his death bed say, "Allah has appointed me to wipe out the State of Israel" or something like this. You couldn't be sure he wouldn't do that, but there was no imminence to this threat that I could see.

DAN RATHER: General, if I may, let me try to give voice to what I hear from a lot of people who are unsettled about the war, don't like the war, but it goes along these lines. George W. Bush, whether you like him or not, is our commander in chief. We're in a war. We're in an over-arching war against terrorism, and whether I like it or not, we went into Iraq and we're there and that it's back to the commander in chief.

You can only have one commander in chief at a time, and this is not the time to change commander in chiefs because if we do, the Osama bin Ladens, Saddam Husseins of the world, all the people who are out there who wanna kill us, our children and our grandchildren, will take great solace in that.

So give me your argument, as one who has spent your life in the U.S. military, of why we shouldn't be backing the commander in chief, and why we shouldn't stick with the commander in chief.

GEN. WESLEY CLARK: Well, I think you're asking two different questions, Dan. I back the men and women in uniform, and I back the chain-of-command, and I think our men and women in uniform have done brilliant work. I think they've been asked to do the wrong thing. This administration has the wrong strategy for making America safe.

It's believed and acted on the principle that you could knock off states, starting with Iraq, rather than focusing on terrorists, and I can't explain why they did this. There are a variety of motives and even Paul Wolfowitz has admitted this. That the weapons of mass destruction were sort of the lowest common denominator that everybody could agree on and synchronize their story, but they weren't the reason the administration went into Iraq and it's never been adequately explained.

Worse than that, that's bad enough -- to take the country to war without a reason. An adequate reason and an imminent threat and before you've exhausted all possibilities, but worse than that, they didn't have a strategy for what to do after they knocked over the statute of Saddam Hussein. No strategy for success. Now, any serious student of warfare who has read Clausewitz or Sun Tzu understands that warfare is about -- not about the clash of armies, it's about the resulting political changes.

You have to understand what the in-state is that you're after and you have to work backwards from that in-state with the plan to get it. We went to war without adequate forces. We went without an adequate strategy for success. This administration still doesn't have an adequate strategy for success. In a democracy, leaders are held accountable.

The last time I checked, the Constitution didn't say that we should spend our democracy for war. Now in Rome they did that. In ancient Rome, they appointed a dictator and they suspended democracy when the Roman Republic was in danger. And they eventually ended up with a permanent dictator through that process.

We're in a democracy, we hold our president accountable. He's held accountable throughout his term and the people vote on it. And part of that accountability is, for his actions and his leadership. Nothing personal. He seems to be a fine fellow. I don't know 'em personally. But the foreign policy of the United States, and particularly the war in Iraq, has been a big mistake.

It's costing hundreds of billions of dollars, hundreds of lives. American lives. It's wrecked our previous alliance system in foreign policy and we've got another problem at home. We've lost over 3 million jobs, and when you lose jobs, you lose families. You lose -- these are not statistics, these are human beings who have lost their means of livelihood. These are men and women who've lost their self-respect, who've lost a piece of their identity. This is a man who is an executive responsible for the activities of a large firm who, three weeks later, is trying to sell Toyotas.

DAN RATHER: We'll come back to jobs and the economy, which I know you feel strongly about.

GEN. WESLEY CLARK: So, but-- but--

DAN RATHER: Go ahead.

GEN. WESLEY CLARK: But Dan, what I have to say is that I agree that national security is very important, but this administration got us into a mess in Iraq. I'll get us out of that mess so we can focus on our domestic needs.

Part II: Interview With Wesley Clark