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Saturday, November 15, 2003

New Yorker vs. Clark.

Mrs Philocrites was alarmed by Peter Boyer's negative New Yorker profile of Wesley Clark. She described to me the salient points — Clark was gung-ho as a military analyst for CNN and was arrogant and trigger-happy as NATO's top general during the war with Kosovo — so I promptly sat down to read it, too. Whoa, David Remnick! What happened to balanced coverage?

Boyer is way off. Fred Kaplan explains how Boyer misrepresents the Kosovo war, Clark's role in promoting U.S. and NATO military intervention there, and the politics surrounding Clark's firing:

Boyer also distorts the war itself, mischaracterizing it as a senseless adventure. . . Thousands of Bosnians were dying in a war that U.S. military power could have ended. Hundreds of thousands of Rwandans had recently been massacred in a civil war to which neither the United States nor the United Nations raised a finger, much less a fighter plane, in protest. Many of those pushing for intervention—and they included not just Clark but some of the most liberal, customarily antiwar politicians and columnists—wanted above all to avert another massacre. A case could be made—and the chiefs [of staff] made it—that the United States shouldn't get involved in such messes where our own national security wasn't threatened. But it is false to attribute Clark's passionate lobbying, as Boyer pretty much does, to mere stubbornness. . .

Under Clark's command, Boyer laments, the United States "could only wage war by committee; the process was so unwieldy that it became, to future American Defense officials, an object lesson in how not to fight a war."

Maybe. But is there much doubt today that Clark was correct in this choice? Does anyone care to argue that intervening in Kosovo was a bad idea, that the Western alliance wasn't (at least for a brief spell) strengthened as a result, or that the war was unsuccessful? Milosevic surrendered, was captured, and is standing trial for war crimes in a court of international law—which is more than can be said of Saddam Hussein. The Serbian defeat was total, unchallenged, and internationally imposed, which may explain why the (truly multinational) postwar peacekeeping forces have suffered minimal casualties in the intervening years.

Meanwhile, Matthew Yglesias at The American Prospect Online asks, "Who is this Peter Boyer fellow?" In a nutshell: "Boyer appears to have made something of a career for himself as a conservative interloper at otherwise liberal media outlets."

Full disclosure: I can't quite make sense out of Clark's proposal to bring the Saudis along [pdf] to patrol the Afghanistan-Pakistan border in the search for Osama bin Laden, but I appreciate bringing attention to the fact that al Qaeda is largely Saudi Arabia's gift to the world. And if I were answering an opinion survey rather than running for president, I would have picked a different answer about a flag-burning amendment. But aside from that, Clark looks like the best Democratic candidate to me. I sent his campaign my first donation last week, and plan to attend the Dec. 1 Meetup in Cambridge.

December 3, 2003

The general's defense.

This week's New Yorker features three responses to Peter Boyer's unfair article about Clark:

Peter J. Boyer does a thorough job of recounting the criticisms that have been directed at General Wesley Clark's prosecution of the war in Kosovo, and at his military record as a whole ("General Clark's Battles," November 17th). But some obvious points need to be made in the general's defense. First, with regard to Kosovo, Boyer writes that Clark "pushed his case directly" to the Clinton White House. But even if he did, it was Madeline Albright, then the Secretary of State, who was the foremost proponent of military intervention in Kosovo within the Administration. Her "view prevailed," with the support of General Clark, not vice versa. Second, the action in Kosovo, whatever else one might say about it, successfully ended ethnic cleansing in the region. After the debacle of unchecked genocide in Rwanda, it was fair to ask whether not to respond to the crisis was a legitimate or justifiable strategy. Third, both NATO and the European Union are stronger today because of the intervention in Kosovo. Both have been able to expand because of renewed stability in the region. And, finally, Clark does have a clear position on the war in Iraq. In his testimony before the House and Senate Armed Services Committee in September, 2002, he argued that the U.S. should try to work with its allies and the U.N. to bring inspectors back into Iraq. If critics like Boyer insist that he has waffled, it is because they reduce his reasoned opinion to a sound bite.
Rochelle Tobias
Baltimore, Md.

If, as Boyer writes, General Clark annoyed his bosses by speaking his mind, he would hardly be the first general to have done so. During the 1991 Gulf War, General Normal Schwarzkopf, the head of the U.S. Central Command, got into a shouting match with his superior, General Colin Powell, then the Chariman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, after being told of the President's preferences for timing of the ground campaign. Schwarzkopf also complained about civilian officials back in Washington telling him that special operations units should spend their time hunting for a few Iraqi Scud missile launchers. And, last February, General Eric Shineski, the well-regarded Army Chief of Staff, told Congress that "several hundred thousand troops" would be needed to maintain stability in post-war Iraq; he declined to modify his estimate even after Paul Wolfowitz, the Deputy Secretary of Defense, said it was "wildly off the mark." Clark is the only general in our nation's history to have won a war without a single American soldier killed in combat. Perhaps some of his fellow-generals don't appreciate that, but I'm sure the families of the men and women who served in the Kosovo conflict do.
Chris Norlin
Los Angeles, Calif.

After a long buildup, Boyer's account of the endgame of the war in Kosovo is remarkably sketchy: a "diplomatic breakthrough," a volte-face in Moscow, and, just like that, the fighting was over. But Clark, the dominant player in this international drama and the ostensible object of Boyer's attention, is nowhere to be found. Is Boyer really suggesting that Clark, as Supreme Allied Commander for Europe, made no real contribution to the cinching of the peace? If so, he ought to be more forthright in making his charge. If not, he needs to pinpoint exactly what brought this sad spectacle of death and dislocation to its chose: who — or what — does deserve credit for stopping the wholesale slaughter of Kosovar Albanians?
Brendan Boyle
Chicago, Ill.

(The New Yorker 12.8.03, page 12)

Copyright © 2003 by Philocrites | Posted 15 November 2003 at 1:23 PM

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