Sept. 8 — Former NATO Supreme Allied Commander, General Wesley Clark, joined Hardball Monday, talk about President Bush’s address last night on Iraq.
CHRIS MATTHEWS: General Clark, do we have enough troops in Iraq?
GENERAL WESLEY CLARK (RET), FORMER NATO SUPREME ALLIED COMMANDER: Well, the key word in the president’s speech was “American.” The reason the commanders say they don’t want any more American troops is there aren’t anymore. We can’t sustain what we have got there right now. The Army is badly overstretched, and the Marine Corps committed, and have commitments elsewhere. And so, yes, we need more troops on the ground.
I think that’s self-evident. We cannot control the borders. We cannot control the major highways. And of course, we would like more intelligence because that way we could use the troops more efficiently. But, if you don’t have the intelligence, you got to have the troops.
MATTHEWS: Give me your best report if you count on a situation of our troops over there. We took two injured again today over in Iraq. We’ve been taking two or three guys get killed everyday. Who is shooting at us and how can we limit that flood of blood of American soldiers?
CLARK: Well, you’ve got a combination of Ba’athists there, you’ve got common criminals, and you’ve got an increasing number of people coming in who are radicals from neighboring countries. Maybe al Qaeda is in there, too, and trying to set up. And all you can do to this is get intelligence, get the local Iraqi population behind you, and then work a combination of securing your own facilities so you are safe at home, so to speak. Guard the key facilities and then conduct pinpoint offensive strikes out on the basis of intelligence.
MATTHEWS: What is the exit strategy if we have a continuing flow of terrorists from other countries, magnetized into Iraq? The president says, “bring them on.” Well, here they’re coming. When do we win, when do we say we’ve won and get out of there if there’s a continual flow of guys coming into that country to kill our guys? How do you know you’ve won? When do you say, get out of here?
CLARK: Chris, that’s what we all ought to be asking this administration, because they don’t have an exit strategy. Their original exit strategy was to go through the middle east like a child playing hopscotch and hop from country to country, taking down these state governments that they said were sponsoring terrorism. And I think what we see in Iraq is that’s a very poor policy and it doesn’t leave with you an exit strategy.
What we have to do is we have to get the Iraqis engaged in running their own country. They’ve got to have enough security forces to be able to control the country, keep the bad guys out, and we’ve got to work regionally so the other the other countries in the area don’t have an incentive to come inside Iraq as we try to leave, and subvert it. Right now, they have every incentive to come in because we’re still talking threats to Syria, Iran, Libya, and so forth.
MATTHEWS: Do you think we’re encouraging recruitment by al Qaeda by having an occupation of a major Arab country?
CLARK: There’s no doubt about it. This is charging up the al Qaeda recruiting machine.
MATTHEWS: Should we have gone the other way and gone after al Qaeda instead of into Iraq? Should we have put our forces, in term of international cooperation, going after al Qaeda around the world, dried up that terrorist operation and then dealt with the regional threat that the people faced over from Iraq? Or we should have done Bush did? Go after Iraq?
CLARK: No. This was purely an elective war as far as I know, as far as all of the intelligence indicates. There was no imminent threat. There was no immediate reason to do this. We could certainly have focused on al Qaeda. Now, it wouldn’t have made as good visuals, but it would have been much more effective.
And look, if “TIME” magazine and “Newsweek” can pinpoint Osama bin Laden’s location in western Pakistan and Waziristan, I don’t know why we can’t go get him in there. And that should be the first priority of our armed forces. We missed our opportunity in December of 2001 at Tora Bora.
We didn’t have enough U.S. armed forces on the ground. We had to rely on the tribesmen there. They let him slip through the net. That’s our first priority. Take care of al Qaeda.
MATTHEWS: Will we be hearing your voice on the campaign trail? Will you emulate the work of General Eisenhower who ran for president and won in 1952 after he came out of NATO? Will you do the same thing as NATO commander and run for president?
CLARK: It could happen but I haven’t made a decision yet, Chris, but I’ll tell you this. This is a different time than 1953. I’m not Eisenhower, but this is not 1953 either. We’re in a very, very difficult, ambiguous situation in which the administration has embarked on a strategy that, to my view, is an unwise strategy. It is more likely to create more enemies rather than solving the problem that we’re going against. We need good leadership and we need a sound policy, a sound set of strategies to get us through this difficult period.
MATTHEWS: Well, as a citizen, I think we need that debate in this country. I wish you well in your decision making. Thank you very much, General Wesley Clark.
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