CLARK 2004?

Josh Marshall and Dan Drezner have somewhat competing views on Wesley Clark’s viability as a late entrant into the Democratic nomination fray. Josh believes there is a vacuum in the necessary “anybody but Dean” role whereas Dan
thinks the Democratic coalition is too fragmented to coalesce around a viable candidate, although he hopes he’s wrong.

Personally, I agree with Matthew Yglesias and Kevin Drum that Clark is essentially a blank slate, upon which Democrats longing for a strong contender can create their dream candidate. Otherwise, I can’t explain the Clark insurgency. He’s clearly bright and presumably has excellent leadership skills; you don’t rise to command of NATO otherwise. But he has no obvious charisma. Unlike, say, Colin Powell or Norman Schwarzkoft, Clark was a rather lackluster administrator over a rather unexciting war. Indeed, until people started touting him for president, I hadn’t thought about him in some time. And, frankly, he’d not been on my list of the top hundred viable candidates for president.

Update (1217): The anti-Clark attacks are already coming. Jeff Quinton has the details.

Update (1244): C.D. Harris reports that Clark is doing a Perot:

“The White House actually back in February apparently tried to get me knocked off CNN and they wanted to do this because they were afraid that I would raise issues with their conduct of the war,” Clark told Newsradio 620 KTAR. “Apparently they called CNN. I don’t have all the proof on this because they didn’t call me. I’ve only heard rumors about it.”

Uh huh. I suppose they threatened to disrupt his daughter’s wedding, too.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Paul says:

    Personally, I agree with Matthew Yglesias and Kevin Drum that Clark is essentially a blank slate, upon which Democrats longing for a strong contender can create their dream candidate.

    If you ask any fan of a losing football team who their best quaterback is, they will almost invariably say that the third string guy (who has only taken 3 snaps in the pros) is the next Joe Montana and if only the coaches would put him in, he could prove it.

    The proverbial blank slate ain’t just in politics.

    They are deperate for a contender so they see virtue in shadows.

  2. Anthony C says:

    If I may, I’ll just reproduce the comments I made about Clark on the Tacitus website comments section. Basic summary; Clark has many good qualities, but he has a History and he is not, contrary to assertions, a blank slate.:

    “Re Clark:

    2 points which have not been raised about Clark yet.

    1) Banja Luka

    2) Pristina Airfield.

    Heard of them? Well you probably did at the time but a lot of people seem to have forgotten about them. Each incident involved a tussle with a senior British Army officer and a horde of former Eastern Bloc naughties.

    1) In 1994, as the Pentagon’s director of operations, Clark traveled to Bosnia. He decided to pass an ultimatum to the Serbs and traveled to the Serb HQ at Banja Laika to see Ratko Mladic in person. Accounts of the meeting are unanimous that Clark was completely out of his depth. He was badgered witless by Mladic. At the end of the meeting Clark – and this is the serious bit – SWAPPED HATS WITH MLADIC and was photographed standing in a chummy pose with said Serbian war criminal, with said Serbian war criminal’s hat perched on his head, his American 3 Star’s cap perched on said Serb war criminal’s head head and an inane grin on his face. A contemporary commentator described it as “like cavorting with Herman Goering.” It almost cost Clark his job and destroyed much of the respect for him in the Balkans.

    2) At the end of the Kosovo war, Russian troops made a daring and impressive night march and seized Pristina airfield which advancing NATO troops had been poised to take. In an astonishing moment, Clark ordered General Sir Mike Jackson, a British general who was in command of NATO ground forces, to take his British Paras and drive the Russians from the airfield. General Jackson refused the order with the words “with the greatest respect, Sir, I’m not about to start World War Three for you.” Clark’s reaction, which has been described as hysterical, was to complain to everyone who would listen. Everyone who would listen sided with General Jackson, including Clark’s own government and fellow generals. This brought up further questions about Clark’s judgement under pressure and he was relieved of his post as SACEUR three months early.

    Since then there has been a brisk exchange of letters in the Royal United Services Institute Journal, in which senior British officers have accused Clark of altering his story since the event.

    If Clark runs, this is all going to come out, including the Mladic photo. The Pristina Arifield incident is not forgotten. The Mladic incident has slipped under the radar but won’t stay that way for long (believe me, I know).

    Wesley Clark has many, many excellent qualities and during the Kosovo war he made a sterling effort to stick up to the worst aspects of the Clinton administration. But there are serious, SERIOUS questions to be asked about his judgement under pressure and his career contain skeletons which are not simply the product of wild GOP scaremongering.

    If you want a hawkish Democrat, stick with Lieberman. Clark is serious damaged goods.”

  3. Ken White says:

    Minor issue with one of your comments: “…He’s clearly bright and presumably has excellent leadership skills; you don’t rise to command of NATO otherwise.” He is indeed bright (though many bright people have common sense problems…) but you can rise to “command of NATO” with mediocre to poor leadership — and military — skills as long as you have great political skills.

    Based on some acquaintance with some of his peers of years ago, I’m inclined to believe he bears considerable watching.

  4. Paul says:

    Hey Anthony thanks for the backgorund. Mostly what I know of him was from CNN and that was none too impressive.

    But my point (and I assume everyone eles’s) is that to the bulk of the nation he is a blank slate. Heck, I bet he only has single digit name recognition.

    From what you describe, his popularity will be self limiting.

  5. Anthony C says:

    Now, in the interests of intellectual honesty, another poster has taken issue with my post on the Tacitus blog. I don’t feel able to reproduce his post on here without his permission but the other side of the argument has been presented on another blog.

  6. Anthony C says:

    Well if I was American – and I’m not – I’d be looking for an excuse to vote Democrat. I don’t think the Dems would give me that excuse – I couldn’t vote for Dean and I don’t think I could stomach Kerry after all the flip-flopping around. So I think I’d end up holding my nose and voting GOP (which is how I’d have voted in 2000 – though I’d have wanted McCain to get the nomination).

    The real irony is that I was getting excited about Howard Dean long before he declared and long before most of my American acquaintances had even heard of him. I kept going – “Hey look at this guy! He’s socially liberal, sound on the economy, moderate/centrist in general and runs a balanced budget! Looks pretty good to me!” and my American friends kept going “You’re crazy. Nobody knows who he is. He isn’t going anywhere.” Well I proved them wrong! The problem being that now he HAS run I wouldn’t vote for him if you paid me…

  7. Anthony C says:

    You know – the more I think about it, you’d think the Dems could come up with SOMEBODY decent. I mean, how many people are there in the USA? Blimey, if that’s the best they can do… sheesh.

    From what I hear it’s a real shame Bob Kerrey turned out to be a possible war criminal. I’ve heard nothing but good things.

  8. Paul says:

    You know – the more I think about it, you’d think the Dems could come up with SOMEBODY decent.


    At the risk of baiting trolls, I’ll give you my thoughts…

    The dems are having an identity crisis. This is partially due to the fact that they have always been (30+ years) a reactionary force.

    If you look back at modern electoral history, the guy with the “vision” has won the Presidential race. Forget party, forget ideology, the guy with the vision has won. Say what you will about “W” he has a strong vision. (after 9/11) IF the Dems do nominate Dean, this will be the first real clash of visions we have had in a while. Gore, Dole, Bush Sr., Mondale, Carter (second term) none of those guys presented a vision the voters could glom on to so the other guy that had a vision won by default. (In the last election you could make the case Bush had no vision and Gore had even less, hence Florida)

    There is a saying among (democrat) political consultants that I don’t know if you have heard. They say that, “Every morning the Republicans wake up and look for converts and every morning the Dems wake up and look for heretics.” (mind you the Dems say that.)

    Unfortunately MANY in the core are far more to the left then the party was 20-30 years ago. They effectively run the party today. (or at least hold veto power) Dean is basically unelectable. Nobody wins the oval office on the promise of rasing your taxes. Yet the hard left loves him.

    Any centrist Dem would not have a snowball’s chance in hell of getting the domination today, the left views them as a heretic.

    So they don’t run.

    So to try to make a point….

    The Dems as a party have lot their vision. They are trying to run a party with two objectives. 1) To be against the other guy. 2) To not worry about governance as much as winning elections– The process has become their goal, not their vision.

    I think their malaise is why they lost the House, the Senate and the Whitehouse in recent years. I don’t see them regaining much of their former power until they can articulate a vision as a party AND have that vision be acceptable to more of the “red” states. (tax increases and goverment taking over heathcare ain’t gonna fly.)

    My thoughts…. I’m pretty right wing but I think that is a fair assessment of what they are going thru.


  9. Anthony C says:

    I see. I would say that parallels can be drawn with the British Labour Party in the early 1980’s and the Tory Party 1997 to well… now. And maybe the GOP in 1996? In each case, having taken a beating at the polls the parties involved retreated further and further into “core vote” territory and became more and more wacky. The prime example of this would be Labour in 1983, who ran against Mrs Thatcher (who was vigorously anti-Communist and had just overseen us winning the Falklands War) on a platform of massive tax hikes, nationalisation of everything that wasn’t nationalised and unilateral nuclear disarmament. One centrist Labour MP described their election manifesto as “the longest suicide note in history”. It was well into the late 1980’s before the Labout party stopped talking to themselves and started trying to actually make themselves electable. Similarly, the Tories from their massive election defeat in 1997 promptly shunted to the hard right and campaigned on pretty much nothing but opposition to the EU and opposition to immigration. The result – in the 2001 general election they gained 1 seat. An almost unthinkably bad result after 4 years in opposition.

    Elections are won and lost in the centre and that’s true whether you’re a Republican, a Democrat, a Tory or a Social Democrat.

  10. jem says:

    Here’s an op-ed I found interesting. It falls in line with Anthony’s first comment. And with what I’ve heard from other military officers who were in his organization in Europe and dealt with him regularly.

  11. Paul says:

    I think those are some good analogies Anthony.

    and thanks for this quote…

    “One centrist Labour MP described their election manifesto as “the longest suicide note in history”.

    I “collect” quotes like that and that one will be useful one day.