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MEET THE PRESS
Sunday, November 16, 2003
GUEST: General WESLEY CLARK (Retired)
Democratic Presidential Contender
MODERATOR/PANELIST: Tim Russert - NBC News
MR. TIM RUSSERT: Our issues this Sunday—the general makes a run for the White House:
GEN. WESLEY CLARK: And I intend to seek the presidency of the United States of America.
MR. RUSSERT: Where does he stand on the issues? Does he have the experience, the temperament to be president. With us in his first Sunday morning interview since announcing his candidacy for the Democratic nomination, General Wesley Clark.
And in our MEET THE PRESS Minute, Carl Sandburg in 1957 and General J. Lawton Collins in 1951— very different views about military men as presidents.
But, first, joining us is the former NATO Supreme Allied commander of Europe.
General Wesley Clark, welcome.
GEN. CLARK: Thank you very much, Tim.
MR. RUSSERT: In one word, how would you describe the current situation in Iraq?
GEN. CLARK: It’s a mess.
MR. RUSSERT: How would you describe the Bush administration’s policy?
GEN. CLARK: They have not had a strategy for success. I don’t think they have one yet.
MR. RUSSERT: If the president of the United States called you in tomorrow and said, “General Clark, I need your help, your guidance. The United Nations is gone from Iraq. The French, the Germans will not allow them to participate. NATO will not participate because they’re now working in Afghanistan, taking the United Nations and NATO off the table, what do I do?” what do you advise him?
GEN. CLARK: I’d say, “Mr. President, the first thing you’ve got to do is you’ve got to surrender exclusive U.S. control over this mission. You cannot build the kind of international support you need if we retain exclusive custody of the mission, and there’s no point in it. Build an international organization like we did in the Balkans. We call it the Peace Implementation Committee there. Call this one the Iraqi reconstruction Development Authority. Bring in every nation that wants to contribute, give them a seat at the table, put a non-American in charge and the responsibilities are to assist the political and economic reconstruction of Iraq, and then go to the Iraqis and there’s no reason to wait until June to give the Iraqis back their country. We should be transferring that authority tomorrow. They’ve already elected local councils. Let each local council send two people to a central location. Let that be a transitional central
government. Give them staff and let them start forming up the kinds of committees they need to have visibility over and make decisions on what’s being done in Iraq. Give the country back to the Iraqis. We’re not there to occupy it; we’re only there to help. So let’s give them their country back.”
MR. RUSSERT: Is the country now secure enough to give back to the Iraqis? How could an Iraqi interim government possibly protect itself against the same insurgency that is attacking the U.S.?
GEN. CLARK: Well, two things here. First of all, of course it’s not secure and you’ve got to have the United States there for a while. I would still go to NATO, and under my plan, I would announce a new Atlantic charter. I don’t think this administration can do it, but you’ve got to rebuild that relationship with our allies in Europe. This administration’s practically, severely, maybe permanently damaged that relationship. It’s got to be built back. I’d still like to have NATO there so that other nations can see what we’re doing military, but we’ll be there for a while. We’ve got to train that Iraqi force and bring it up to speed so it really can help secure the country, and step by step, they’ll pick up regions of the country.
MR. RUSSERT: In terms of NATO, this is what the NATO Secretary-General George Robertson said: “We’re trying to get it right to make sure that it works in the long term. ...And before we take on any new obligations, like, Iraq, I think we’ve got to get Afghanistan right.” NATO’s not ready to go into Iraq. Which other countries would you possibly attract into Iraq that aren’t there now?
GEN. CLARK: Well, I think that you start with what’s there right now. And then I think you ask NATO. I think you tell John Abizaid to report to the NATO military committee and through NATO to the United States, just as I did in Kosovo, because this brings NATO into the problem. These two problems are in many ways linked. We’re running them by the same command, the U.S. Central Command. We should link these two problems, and we should have NATO nations watching. Now, it’s true that Germany and France have said they don’t want to participate, but we have Italy, we have Poland, we have other countries who are participating on the ground. What they don’t have, Tim...
MR. RUSSERT: But just one country can veto NATO participating.
GEN. CLARK: They can. They can. And you’ve got to work those things, but this is a kind of diplomacy that works. I mean, you’ve got to talk with people, you’ve got to build relationships, and you’ve got to see and seek common interests. This is the whole thing about leadership. You know, with the United States and Europe, you can emphasize the things that separate us, and no doubt, there are differences in perspectives, but I think we have to build on what unites us. We have common interests. We have common heritage. We’re the greatest investment partners in each other’s countries. We need to tighten, strengthen, build this relationship so it can help us move into the 21st century successfully. One of my greatest concerns is this administration hasn’t done it, and now it may be too late because of the poisonous personal relationships between the administration and some European leaders.
MR. RUSSERT: May be too late. You think we may lose Iraq?
GEN. CLARK: I think it may be too late to strengthen this relationship. Now, let’s talk about Iraq for a second. I think there was a window of opportunity at the end of the military operation to be able to bring the Iraqi people on board. They could have seen a really smooth, effective, impressive U.S. occupation. American soldiers could have been in every village, they could have known the names of the people there, they could have provided food and water right away. But we didn’t do that. There was no plan for that. And as the weeks went by and this insurgency began, the targeted insurgency is the will of the Iraqi people to resist the American presence. That’s the target of the insurgency, and every helicopter shootdown strengthens those in Iraq who would use the Americans to gain their own power inside Iraq, and they would strike the Americans, they would show their power vis-a-vis the Americans. It’s those
cheering crowds in Fallujah that all this is directed toward. And so I don’t know if it’s too late, but I know that window’s closing very, very quickly. In order to take advantage of this time, we must move right now to give authority back to the Iraqis. I know June is too late.
MR. RUSSERT: Do you believe we should have more U.S. soldiers on the ground in Iraq in order to stabilize it?
GEN. CLARK: I think we need to change the force mix in Iraq as rapidly as we can. I think we need a lighter, more mobile force, more agile, more intelligence-driven. We need to take those 1,400 people who are searching for weapons of mass destruction, pull them off the search, give that to the United Nations people, use them to help us track down Osama bin Laden in Pakistan and to help us find the people in Iraq who are attacking our soldiers. And then we need to start reducing the size of the U.S. force there. We may have to temporarily increase it, but we need to transform what it does. All these heavy forces have big logistics footprints. I mean, you have lots of logistics. You have lots of unarmored Humvees, you have lots of opportunities for ambush. We need to reduce those opportunities.
MR. RUSSERT: When the president went to Congress and asked for $87 billion, $20 billion of which would have been for military aid to the troops on the ground—body armor, armored Humvees—you came out against it. How could you not support money for the men and women on the ground in Iraq?
GEN. CLARK: I do support money for the men and women on the ground. I came out against this because to vote for this resolution, at that time, was to give the president of the United States a blank check, a blank check because he didn’t have a strategy. And I think what the troops in Iraq need more than anything else is a strategy for success. Each day that they go forward without a strategy, the danger increases, and that’s the responsibility of the president of the United States, to provide that strategy. He hadn’t done so. And it was the duty of the Congress to press the administration to do it. They didn’t. They gave him a blank check. Now, if they had pressed and said, “Mr. President, we’re not going to give you this until your spokesmen come up here and you lay out a strategy. What are you trying to do there? What’s going to happen in the region. Give us the vision, tell us your time lines. Give us your estimates.” If he’d done that, then of course we would have supported—I would have supported taking care of the troops. That wasn’t done. And that was the duty of the United States Congress, to have the—hold the executive branch accountable.
MR. RUSSERT: Do you believe the war in Iraq is legal?
GEN. CLARK: Legal? Well, it’s technically legal, yeah.
MR. RUSSERT: Why?
GEN. CLARK: Well, you have the United Nations Security Council authorization against weapons of mass destruction. Now, the problem is that all of the underpinnings for that, they’re not there. We haven’t found those weapons of mass destruction. I wouldn’t have gone to war at that point. We didn’t have our
alliances in shape. We didn’t have a plan for what happened next. We hadn’t exhausted all the diplomatic possibilities. But there was a resolution.
MR. RUSSERT: Let me turn to your role in Kosovo, because this caught my eye in the profile in New Yorker magazine: “Clark had declared that chief among America’s mistakes was that it had gone to war in Iraq without ‘the mantle of authority’ bestowed by United Nations approval. But hadn’t the Kosovo war also been conducted without the endorsement of the U.N. Security Council? Yes, Clark allowed, and in that regard the Kosovo war was ‘technically illegal.’ He went on, ‘The Russians, the Chinese, they said both would veto it. There was never a chance that it would be authorized.’”
You believe Kosovo was technically illegal?
GEN. CLARK: That’s what Kofi Annan has said, absolutely. Didn’t have a U.N. Security Council resolution authorizing it. But we went to the next largest international body, which was NATO, and we acted in that region to avoid another humanitarian disaster and to maintain regional stability and security. And so laws are made by nations, and in this case, nations had to act. The case in Iraq is more or less the opposite. In other words, if you said that the war in Kosovo was technically illegal, you might also say, “but it was legitimate. It was justified,” because it was an urgent,
imminent danger. The case in Iraq was the opposite. It was technically legal, but it wasn’t an imminent danger, it wasn’t an imminent threat, we hadn’t exhausted diplomatic possibilities. We really didn’t have our U.N. allies with us in this.
MR. RUSSERT: You are about to launch a major television campaign in New Hampshire, particularly. We have obtained a copy of your television ad. I would like to roll a portion of it and come back and talk about it. Here’s a paid political ad:
(Videotape, Clark For President ad):
Announcer: Now, when we need a leader to clean up the mess in Iraq, he’s the one who has done it. In the Balkans, he helped negotiate a peace between age-old enemies, and led a multinational force that stopped a campaign of terror, liberated a people and brought peace without the loss of a single American soldier.
MR. RUSSERT: Are you suggesting that if you were in charge, you could have liberated Iraq without the loss of a single American soldier?
GEN. CLARK: No, not necessarily. But I would have worked on Iraq a different way. I would have viewed it as a challenge, but not an imminent threat. I would have taken the problem to the United Nations. I would have put pressure through the United Nations on Iraq. I would have worked for robust inspections. I might have kept a force in the region. And, bit by bit, we would have reduced the imminence of any threat that Saddam Hussein might pose. I was one of those, along with Senator Bob Graham, who believed at the outset that this was a distraction. This was a distraction from the more important war against al-Qaeda. And, in fact, it was a distraction,
Tim. When we went into Afghanistan in the fall of 2001, CENTCOM was already planning the operation in Iraq. Instead of planning how to get Osama bin Laden, instead of putting the U.S. troops on the ground in Afghanistan to finish the fight against al-Qaeda and bring back Osama bin Laden, dead or alive, we had our top leadership distracted in preparing what to do about Saddam Hussein. And then, when we could have put the U.S. troops in, we withheld them, because there was uncertainty as to how long we would be in Afghanistan and how soon we might need those troops to go into Iraq.
So we’ve stretched and we’ve accommodated the Afghanistan mission, we’ve done as little as possible. In military terms, it’s been “economy of force.” And the result is today that al-Qaeda and the Taliban are coming back in Afghanistan.
MR. RUSSERT: I want to talk a whole lot more about Iraq, but I want to stay on Kosovo for just a second. In 1995, the president of the United States announced, and you echoed it, that the troops would be home from Kosovo in a year. That never happened. No one believed at the time it would happen. In hindsight, did you mislead the American people in suggesting the troops would be home in a year when they’re, in fact, still there?
GEN. CLARK: Well, it was—let me just make clear. It was Bosnia, at the time, in ’95. That was the policy, that was the intent, was to get the troops out in a year. We used that intent during the negotiations. It was productive to put pressure on Bosnian President Izetbegovic, who wanted to stall the elections. And we said to him, “Mr. President, you can’t stall because these troops are going to be gone in a year.
Now, you’ve got to move rapidly toward democracy here.” So it was productive in terms of the negotiations. It wasn’t an accurate forecast. I had reservations at the time. But that was the policy of the United States government, that we would work toward that aim, and, of course, as we got in there and looked at the practicalities on the ground, it simply wasn’t possible to move that fast. There was an assumption when we did those negotiations that you would have strategic consent by all parties. That is to say that they would agree to the negotiations, they really wanted to live by their terms. And the only problems you might have would be the recalcitrance of some of the local bands of thugs who might not want to comply. In fact it proved not to be that way. We didn’t have strategic consent. The Serbs protected war criminals. They resisted the implementation of the accords. And so it’s been a long and grinding process.
MR. RUSSERT: Speaking of war criminals, Mr. Milosevic is now on trial in The Hague, and I understand that you have been requested to play a role in that trial?
GEN. CLARK: That’s right, Tim. I’m going to be going over there 15, 16 December to testify. When I was the supreme allied commander, and before that, when I was on the Joint Staff, I spent dozens, maybe 150 hours or so, with Slobodan Milosevic. I saw him at every state of the negotiations, beginning in the summer of 1995, and on through—and then again in the build-up to Kosovo. I’ve told about some of it in
my first book, but these are conversations that the prosecutor says would be significant. And I think this is very important. I think it’s my duty to go there. This is a historic trial. It’s the first time we’ve really held a head of state accountable like this. And I’m proud to be doing that under international law.
MR. RUSSERT: Who requested that you go?
GEN. CLARK: The prosecutor.
MR. RUSSERT: Has the United States government approved your trip?
GEN. CLARK: They have.
MR. RUSSERT: Who has?
GEN. CLARK: The secretary of state has approved this and, of course, the Pentagon, because I was acting in an official capacity. So I’ll have a Department of Defense lawyer and State Department lawyers with me.
MR. RUSSERT: What will you say about Milosevic?
GEN. CLARK: Well, whatever they ask me, I’ll tell them the truth about the conversations. This is about what Milosevic knew, when he knew it, what his intent was, how he viewed situations, how he operated. There’s a lot of circumstantial evidence that I bring, plus maybe more than that in some cases.
MR. RUSSERT: Are you prepared for suggestions that this is part of a political campaign for president, a photo opportunity?
GEN. CLARK: Well, if you’re suggesting that, it’s simply not true. This has been in the process for some time, and we’ve been negotiating with them for some time. And I thought, frankly, I was off the hook on this, but they came back in July and said that, you know, I would have to testify sometime during the fall, and it continued to slip until now; it’s December.
MR. RUSSERT: And you’ll have to take some time off the campaign trail to do this?
GEN. CLARK: That’s right. That’s exactly right.
MR. RUSSERT: When you were at Dartmouth last week, a Young Republican raised your role with another war criminal, Mr. Mladic.
GEN. CLARK: Right.
MR. RUSSERT: This was the article back in 1994 in the Washington paper: “A senior Pentagon official has ignored State Department warnings not to meet with Serb officials suspected of ordering deaths of civilians in a campaign known as ethnic cleansing, State Department officials said. Despite the department’s protests, Army Lieutenant General Wesley Clark, the Joint Chiefs of Staff director of strategy, plans and policy, met with Serb General Ratko Mladic, who had been named a war crimes
Here’s a photograph. You’re wearing his hat. He’s wearing yours. The article goes on to say that you had exchanged caps, that he had given you a bottle of brandy and a pistol inscribed in Cyrillic. “‘It’s like cavorting with Hermann Goering,’ one U.S. official complained.’” Hitler’s number two, of course. That was a mistake, wasn’t it?
GEN. CLARK: It was a mistake to accept the gifts. But let me correct the headline in the story, Tim. I was never warned not to see him. In fact, I was advised to get both sides of the story by the people who had preceded me as Balkan policy experts. I had to write the issue paper for the United States government on how we proceed. And at the time, of course, Mladic was not an indicted war criminal. Of course, everybody knew he’d been in command. He was a bad guy. But I’d been that morning over to see the Bosnian soldiers. I’d gone in the trenches above Sarajevo.
We’d looked at the Serbs over there. They’d given me gifts. I had to get the other side of the story, so I went to see Mladic. We were trying to persuade the Serbs at the time to sign a peace agreement, so it seemed to me that, importantly, for the United States to get the policy right, we needed to talk to leaders of both sides. And I was—I thought it was very important that I be able to talk to the general that, if he didn’t comply, we might have to fight someday. So I should not have accepted the gifts.
MR. RUSSERT: Or exchanged hats.
GEN. CLARK: Or exchanged hats. But I did go to see him and I think that was a valid visit. And I was never told not to do it.
MR. RUSSERT: But Secretary of State Eagleburger had said he was a suspected war criminal, however, at that time.
GEN. CLARK: Oh, yeah. I mean, there was no doubt about it. But remember, we’d been negotiating with them, and we’d been trying to get them to sign a peace agreement. And it was still open at that time.
MR. RUSSERT: Let me go to Iraq, because when you first started your presidential campaign, there was a lot of discussion about what your position was and when, and I want to go back and review it. Let’s start with September 26, your testimony to the House Armed Services Committee. And this is what you said: “There’s no question that Saddam Hussein is a threat. He does retain his chemical and biological
capabilities to some extent, and he is, as far as we know, actively pursuing nuclear capabilities.” You went on: “Our president has emphasized the urgency of eliminating these weapons and weapons programs. I strongly support his efforts...” And “I do believe the United States’ diplomacy in the United Nations would be strengthened if Congress can adopt a resolution expressing U.S. determination to act if the United
Nations cannot act.” And you continued, “As Richard Perle ,” chief architect of the war in Iraq, “so eloquently pointed out, this is a problem that’s longstanding. It’s been a decade in the making. It needs to be dealt with and the clock is ticking on this.”
A month later you went up to New Hampshire, campaigning for Katrina Swett, a candidate for Congress in the 2nd District, and said this: “Clark endorsed Democratic Katrina Swett in the 2nd District in New Hampshire.” And “He said if she were in Congress this week, he would advise her to vote for the resolution.” And as recently as September of this year, in response to a question of the press, “On balance, I probably would have voted for it.”
This was the resolution that the president asked for, giving him the authority to go to war. And the record’s pretty clear, General, that you were supporting the president.
GEN. CLARK: Well, I don’t think the record’s clear, that I was supporting the president, Tim. I think the record’s pretty clear in the opposite direction. What I would have supported was taking the problem to the United Nations. I wanted to see the problem of Saddam Hussein taken to the United Nations. Yes, I believe Saddam Hussein was a challenge and a threat but I did not see an imminent threat. I’ve written thousands of words, I’ve spoken dozens of times on CNN and you’ve simply got to pull the whole record out to see this. I even said on the 16th of September on CNN, “Don’t give the president a blank check.”
The resolution I would have supported is a resolution that required the president to return to the United States Congress before he took any military action. I supported a resolution that would have given him leverage with the United Nations but not a resolution that would have authorized war at that time. So I want to make it...
MR. RUSSERT: But you did say, “Our president has emphasized the urgency of eliminating these weapons. I support his efforts.”
GEN. CLARK: I do support the effort to eliminate those weapons and I did then, but I did not see it as a threat that required us to go to war at the time. And I’ve made that very clear, too.
MR. RUSSERT: After the war was commenced in April, you did write an article for The London Times and you said, “Can anything be more moving than the joyous throngs swarming the streets of Baghdad? Memories of the fall of the Berlin Wall, and the defeat of Milosevic in Belgrade flood back. Statues and images of Saddam are smashed and defiled. ... President Bush, Tony Blair should be proud of their resolve in the face of so much doubt.”
GEN. CLARK: But, Tim, do you have the rest of the article with you?
MR. RUSSERT: I’ve read...
GEN. CLARK: The rest of the article you should show because what it says is: “You can have your victory parade. You can have the soldiers parade up and down. You can be proud of the fact that you commanded these troops and they crushed this Army, but you must recognize that the job isn’t done. It may be only beginning. You haven’t found the weapons of mass destruction. And you’ve got a long way to go to put anything in place in the postwar.”
I’m writing as a commentator. I’m fair, and I respect the men and women in the armed forces. I love them, I’ve spent my life there, and I’m proud of them. And they did, in their military duties, a fabulous job in following the orders of the commander in chief. I simply wouldn’t have given those orders at that time. Those weren’t the right orders. Diplomacy hadn’t been exhausted, we hadn’t brought our allies on board, and we didn’t have an adequate plan for what would happen next. You cannot go to war in those circumstances and be successful. In Kosovo, we had exhausted diplomacy. We had our allies on board and we had a plan for what we would do when the fighting stopped. It was exactly the opposite situation.
MR. RUSSERT: But you did say that you believe that Saddam had biological, chemical weapons and was building a nuclear capability.
GEN. CLARK: That was the intelligence information that all of us had, Tim...
MR. RUSSERT: You said it, the president said it, President Clinton said it, the Germans and the French said it.
GEN. CLARK: Right.
MR. RUSSERT: What happened? Where is it? Was there a colossal intelligence failure?
GEN. CLARK: Well, I think when you look at intelligence, you get indicators. It’s like a sort of gray goo as you look at it. You can’t see through it, exactly, and if you try to touch it, it gets real sticky and you might actually interfere with the information that you’re getting back. So you have to draw inferences from it. The inferences that I had drawn and I last saw the intelligence just before I retired in May of 2000, Saddam Hussein probably had some residual chemical, VX and other materials left over from the Gulf War. He probably was pursuing some biological agents. He has some already. It was hard to believe he would have destroy everything. And we knew he would want to regain a nuclear capability because he had had one. There were indicators from the intelligence community that there were Iraqi front companies buying dualpurpose equipment that could be used, and those are the kinds of indicators that you see when you look at intelligence. What I never saw was a smoking gun and what I was calling for at the time to justify the urgency the president felt was a smoking gun. And I think what the American people had to trust was that there was some special information that the president had that hadn’t been released. As I worked through this problem during the fall, I didn’t see that information, and I didn’t find anybody who had. And I talked to people who were on the intelligence committee. I talked to people in the Pentagon. And nobody could quite explain that there was anything more than the kind of information I had. And so, in a situation like this, the American people and others who are not part of that intelligence community would want to give the president the benefit of the doubt. But, unfortunately, it turns out that information was hyped. It was overused. It was overplayed. They made the best case possible for intervening.
And as I went back and looked at the issues as they began to unfold, I remembered the conversation I had had right after 9/11, when an officer had told me that the decision had been made to strike Iraq regardless of whether Iraq was involved in 9/11. And then I began to see the other indicators and I realized that what we had was an administration which was determined to take us to war in Iraq, almost no matter what. That’s misleading, it’s wrong, it shouldn’t be permitted, and that administration has to be held accountable. And that’s one of the reasons I’m running.
MR. RUSSERT: We’re going to take a quick break and come back and talk about that and a whole lot more. Our conversation with General Wesley Clark will continue. He’s a Democratic candidate for president.
MR. RUSSERT: More of our conversation with General Wesley Clark, Democratic candidate for president, and our MEET THE PRESS Minute after this brief station break.
MR. RUSSERT: And we are back. General Clark, one of your opponents in the Democratic primary, Howard Dean, said your biggest problem may be convincing Democratic voters that you’re truly a Democrat. And what they refer to is now a famous speech you gave at a Republican county dinner on May 11, 2001. Let’s listen to a portion of that:
(Videotape, May 11, 2001):
GEN. CLARK: If you look around the world, there’s a lot of work to be done. And I’m very glad we’ve got the great team in office, men like Colin Powell, Don Rumsfeld, Dick Cheney, Condoleezza Rice, Paul O’Neill—people I know very well—our President George W. Bush. We need them there, because we’ve got some tough challenges ahead.
MR. RUSSERT: “A great team. We need them there.” And then on January 22, 2002, at Harding University in Arkansas, again, you added to that. Let’s watch.
(Videotape, January 22, 2002):
GEN. CLARK: I didn’t say this earlier, and I should have. I tremendously admire, and I think we all should, the great work done by our commander in chief, our president, George Bush, and the men and women of the United States armed forces.
(End of videotape)
MR. RUSSERT: That sounds like a ringing endorsement of the president. I can see President Bush using those bites in commercials if he runs against you.
GEN. CLARK: That’s politics, Tim. But, you know, I’m not a politician, but I am a fair person. I supported the president in Afghanistan. I think we should have gone in there and stayed in there and gotten Osama bin Laden. And I give the men and women in the armed forces, including our commander in chief, who is at the top of the chain of command, the credit for waging a very effective campaign, as far as it went in Afghanistan. And I think you have to give credit where credit’s due.
As far as the earlier speech is concerned, you know, I did not vote for George W. Bush. I had reservations about it. But I do know Colin Powell and Paul O’Neill and Don Rumsfeld and Dick Cheney. I wished them well. I wish they could have led this country well. I don’t want to see America fail. I don’t want to see another American soldier killed in Iraq or another American here at home lose a job. And I think it’s the duty of every American to put country above party.
MR. RUSSERT: In your book, “Winning Modern Wars,” you write on page 130, the following: “As I went back through the Pentagon”—”November 2001, one of the senior military staff officers had time for a chat. Yes, we were still on track for going against Iraq, he said. But there was more. This was being discussed” in “part of a five-year campaign plan, he said, and there were a total of seven countries,
beginning with Iraq, then Syria, Lebanon, Libya, Iran, Somalia”—”Sudan. So, I thought, this is what they” meant “when they talk about ‘draining the swamp.’”
This was November of 2001. In January of 2002, you were still praising the president. When did you have this St. Paul moment, where you suddenly saw the light, that the president was not a good leader?
GEN. CLARK: Well, there wasn’t a St. Paul moment. What it was is, you have to praise the actions that are done and done correctly. And you have to work to head off the trouble that’s ahead. So at the same time that I had praised the United States and Afghanistan, I was talking to George Robertson and saying this business in Iraq—Secretary General said, “You think they’re going into Iraq?” I said, “Absolutely.”
And I said, “You’ve got to get NATO involved in that and you’ve got to hold the United States through NATO to a reasonable plan and so forth.” And so I was working on many different levels. I mean, that’s the way it’s done.
MR. RUSSERT: Do you believe there’s a five-year plan, to invade seven countries?
GEN. CLARK: Well, I think this was being discussed at the time, just as that man told me, as part of a five-year plan. This administration made a fundamental choice early in the war on terror to go after states rather than to go after terrorists. They wanted to use the conventional power of the United States armed forces to take down states. And Don Rumsfeld’s still talking about it, as though these old states are central to the problem of terrorism. The problem with that is they aren’t, and when you take them down, you’re left trying to pick up the pieces, as has happened in Iraq. Attacking Iraq has done almost nothing to help us deal with the problem of al-Qaeda. In fact, if you had asked Osama bin Laden, what would he like us to do to sort of play into his hands, he would have said, “Well, why don’t you have the United States invade an Arab country?” He would have preferred we invade Saudi Arabia. Of course, that would have really mobilized opinion, but if you can’t do that, Iraq’s a pretty close second. He is using—and his organization is using—our presence in Iraq as a focal point. President Bush has said it’s the centerpiece for the war on terror. It isn’t. It’s a sideshow. It’s simply their easiest means of access to attack American soldiers. That’s all it is.
MR. RUSSERT: Do you believe that President Bush deliberately misled the American people by hyping intelligence in order to invade Iraq?
GEN. CLARK: I think there was an effort to create the best possible case to justify their decision to go after Iraq. I didn’t see it at the time. I heard this comment from the joint staff that we were going to go after Iraq. But as I worked through the evidence and talked to people later on, I realized that at the very beginning—I read it in Bob Woodward’s book—there was discussion of Iraq as an easier target than Afghanistan, discussion of Iraq as, “you could really change the Middle East.” People were saying, “Well, the road to peace in Jerusalem runs through Baghdad.” And so I think it’s exactly what Paul Wolfowitz said in the Vanity Fair piece about six months ago. He said, “The lowest common denominator”—I’m sort of paraphrasing—the way we could get everybody to agree was talk about weapons of mass destruction, but there were many reasons to go after Iraq. Mislead? Well, yes. I mean, I think the information wasn’t there to justify the attack the way it was presented.
MR. RUSSERT: If we have not found the weapons of mass destruction, why isn’t the administration and others all moving as forcefully as possible to find out what happened? Was there a colossal intelligence failure? And should we not know about it?
GEN. CLARK: I think this administration knows what happened. I think this administration recognizes that they took the intelligence, they made the best possible case for it. The intelligence information was always a little shaky. I don’t think they ever had specific locations for where the actual weapons were, because we would have struck them if they had. And I know that Tony Zinni struck those sites back in December of 1998. There was no reason to suspect they’d been reoccupied unless we had it on satellite.
MR. RUSSERT: Will we ever find out the truth? What did the CIA know and when did they know it?
GEN. CLARK: I hope we will, but I hope we’ll ask a deeper question than that, because I don’t think this goes simply to the intelligence agencies. I think it goes to the heart of the decision-making process of this administration. I think they owe the American people an explanation. Why, when we were struck by Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda—why did we determine to attack Iraq? Why did we distract ourselves from the war on terror? Why are we spending $150 billion on Iraq?
MR. RUSSERT: What’s the answer?
GEN. CLARK: I think the answer is that it was going to be very difficult to go after al-Qaeda. It required a new way of thought, new organizations. And this was an administration that was concerned about its image, concerned about reassuring the public, and had a predisposition to believe that somehow it could use military force to clean up the Middle East during this period after the fall of the Soviet Union and before the rise of the “next great power.”
MR. RUSSERT: You went...
GEN. CLARK: So I think there were mixed motives on this. But the administration needs to come clean with the American people and not just blame the intelligence community.
MR. RUSSERT: You also said that there’s no way this administration can walk away from its possibilities for 9/11. How can you blame the Bush administration for 9/11 when you also, in several interviews, said that the Clinton administration should have done more against al-Qaeda and that the Reagan administration had not been forceful enough against Saudi Arabia?
GEN. CLARK: Well, Tim, let’s be clear. Osama bin Laden was responsible for 9/11. We know he did that. But I think we need to be asking: What happened? Why did it happen? And how could we have improved it? In the United States armed forces, when you have a military operation and it goes well or it doesn’t, you always hold an after-action review. And the commander sits in on the after-action review and he participates in it. And you ask, “What happened? Why did it happen? And how could it be improved?” You can’t lay this on some mid-level intelligence officials when the administration had a clear warning on the threat of Osama bin Laden and apparently did not have a plan after over eight months in office. You have to ask why. Now, would the plan have prevented it? I have no idea. We don’t even know why they didn’t have a plan.
MR. RUSSERT: But had preceding administrations, including the Clinton administration, been vigilant enough against al-Qaeda?
GEN. CLARK: Well, clearly, in retrospect, no, but it’s what Harry Truman said. “When you’re in that seat, the buck stops here.” This president likes to take credit, but he doesn’t like to take responsibility, and that’s fundamental to good government.
MR. RUSSERT: As I showed in May of 2001, you were talking about the president’s great team. In your speech at the Center for American Progress, you said this. “This was the ‘dream team.’ Remember, Cheney ... Rumsfeld ... Powell ... What did the ‘dream team’ give us? An election-driven, poll-driven, ideologically-driven foreign policy.” Take out Vice President Cheney, Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld, do you believe that Colin Powell would ever participate in an election-driven, poll-driven, ideologically-driven foreign policy?
GEN. CLARK: I love General Powell, he’s a tremendous guy, and he’s part of that team and he’s worked against it. He’s done his best to be loyal to the commander in chief. That’s the position he accepted. He’s put forth his views. The struggles in this administration are monumental. Some people have said that it’s the greatest split ever.
And I remember during the election of 2000, people were saying, “You know, he’s going to have Colin Powell. He’s going to have Dick Cheney. He’s going to have great advisers even though this is a president who’s sort of inexperienced in foreign policy and unlearned in the ways of the world, but he’s going to have a great team.” But what we didn’t know was what would happen when that team disagreed, and that’s what we’ve seen: What happens. The president sided with the hard-liners, in case after case.
Policy hasn’t been made and there was no success strategy for Iraq because the Pentagon took over the policy and didn’t want to follow through on the consequences and the concerns that everybody had about the aftermath of that war. So I think that this administration, this ‘dream team,’ bears responsibility, but it starts with the president.
MR. RUSSERT: When you were last on the program in June, you raised a lot of eyebrows when you said that a call had come on 9/11.
GEN. CLARK: Right.
MR. RUSSERT: And I said, “By whom? Who did that?” “Well, it came from the White House, it came from people around the White House.” You later explained that it wasn’t a precise call from the White House but someone from Mideast think tank. You then later in Phoenix Radio, talked about the White House trying to get you kicked off CNN, but you said, “Well, you know, it was only rumor.” Newsweek
had a piece where you said that, “I’d be a Republican if Karl Rove had taken my phone calls.” And then in The New York Times, you said that Don Rumsfeld had to leak his own memo about Iraq, and when asked, “What evidence you had,” you said, “Well, there were rumors about that,” which has led your home state newspaper to write this. “We liked Wesley”—”Clark better as a general than a presidential candidate. As a general, his words were measured, responsible, careful. As a presidential candidate, his way with words is a little too loose. Correction: Way too loose.” Are you too loose with words? And should you be more precise in talking about the White House and about Secretary Rumsfeld, and calling CNN and having you removed as an analyst?
GEN. CLARK: Well, I think I’ve been very accurate in what I’ve said and I’ve given the best information on the sources that I’ve given them. I could take each incident but I don’t think that’s productive. I think it’s...
MR. RUSSERT: But no one from the White House called you on 9/11?
GEN. CLARK: But I never said that. What I said was there was a concerted effort. And I did say I got a call from a Middle East think tank. There was chatter that there wasn’t such a think thank but, of course, there is. It’s the Began Sadat Institute. It’s in Israel but it has a branch in Montreal.
MR. RUSSERT: A man named Thomas Hecht.
GEN. CLARK: Exactly, and he did call me and he did suggest this. But what surprised me—I didn’t know at the time but what I found out later was there were a lot of people pulling in the same direction. And that’s what we saw in Bob Woodward’s book and other things, Tim. So when you see that, there was a concerted effort, it came from many directions, it’s exactly what I said. The things I’ve said have been
correct. The question then is: Can you work in an election campaign and offer ideas and try to help shape the electorate? I think you can. I think it’s the responsibility of people who are running for office to say what they know and to say what they think and to stand up for it. And that’s what I’m doing.
MR. RUSSERT: But there’s no evidence the White House tried to get you removed from CNN as an analyst?
GEN. CLARK: Well, I haven’t presented any evidence, because were I to present that evidence, people would be in trouble. So...
MR. RUSSERT: There is evidence?
GEN. CLARK: Well, I mean, there’s what I know and the person that told me about it. But I’m under no obligation to present that evidence. I know what happened, and if I hadn’t been confident that that had happened, I wouldn’t have said it.
MR. RUSSERT: I want to give you a chance to respond to some of the comments some of your fellow military men have said about you, because it has received a lot of coverage in the newspapers and on television. This was a question posed to Hugh Shelton, who was the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff under President Clinton: “What do you think of General Wesley Clark and would you support him as a
presidential candidate?” “I’ve known Wes for a long time. I’ll tell you the reason he came out of Europe early had to do with integrity and character issues, things that are very near and dear to my heart. ...I’ll just say Wes won’t get my vote.”
Tommy Franks, who led the effort in Iraq, said this: Would you make a good president? He said, “Absolutely not.”
Norman Schwarzkopf added, “I do know that Clark’s always been viewed as being very, very ambitious. I mean, he was fired as a NATO commander, and when Hugh Shelton said he was fired because of matters of character and integrity, that is a very, very damning statement, which says if that’s the case, he’s not the right man for president as far as I’m concerned.”
What is General Shelton referring to? Why were you given the ax as NATO commander?
GEN. CLARK: Well, I don’t know what he’s referring to. At the time, he told me I was being replaced so that Joe Ralston could take my position. I think what we had here was a policy disagreement that Hugh Shelton let become personal. I’m sorry he did. He did not appreciate, and I don’t think the others in the Pentagon did either, what was going on in the Balkans. They had a strategy that called for us to be
prepared to fight in Iraq or Korea. There wasn’t supposed to be any trouble in Europe. And when I began to warn of it, it wasn’t well-received. But I’d been on the Joint Staff, Tim, when we sat by and we let happen the slaughter of 800,000 people in Rwanda, hacked to death by machetes. We talked about it, we puttered, we came up with plans, we briefed them at the White House, but nothing happened, and at
the end, 800,000 people died. And I thought to myself, “You know, that’s a terrible thing.” And as I begin to—I didn’t know it at the time, it took a while to seep in. I realized I had done my duty, but just sort of doing your duty and preparing these plans, that’s not enough. I hadn’t done my obligation. When I got into the Balkans...
MR. RUSSERT: When you were relieved of your duty, did General Shelton mention character and integrity?
GEN. CLARK: Oh, of course not.
MR. RUSSERT: Did anyone?
GEN. CLARK: Absolutely not.
MR. RUSSERT: Did any...
GEN. CLARK: Absolutely not. They gave me the highest praise, two Defense Distinguished Service Medals, a Presidential Medal of Freedom. I have no idea where this came from. But, Tim, I just want to underscore what this was really about. This is about policy differences. I learned as a Joint Staff officer that you have an obligation to speak up.
MR. RUSSERT: Last night, a big event in Iowa. Hillary Clinton was there, most of the candidates. You decided to bypass the Iowa caucuses. Jerry McEntee, the head of the AFSCME union, Tom Harkin, the senator from Iowa, all said this has doomed your candidacy. Was it a mistake for you to bypass Iowa?
GEN. CLARK: Well, I think it was inevitable, given when we got into the campaign. When you go into a campaign like this, you’ve got to be present and you’ve got to raise money. So it’s the difference between sort of tactics and logistics in the military sense.
MR. RUSSERT: Is...
GEN. CLARK: You’ve got to get fuel for the gas tank, but you’ve got to get to the front to meet the voters.
MR. RUSSERT: You were at 10 percent in New Hampshire a month ago. You’re now down to 5 percent. You’re spending a million dollars in that state. Is New Hampshire make or break for you?
GEN. CLARK: Well, I think New Hampshire is going to be very important and I think we’ll do very well in New Hampshire. In these polls, you know, there’s a lot of jockeying back and forth. I don’t put a whole lot of stock in them. We’ve had office open there about two or three weeks, we’re just hiring employees, we just did our first canvass yesterday, and I’m getting a tremendously positive response, so I’m very
encouraged about New Hampshire.
MR. RUSSERT: Growth is at 7.2 percent. Headline in USA Today: the tax refunds are going go to up 27 percent. If the economy is strong, can George Bush be beaten?
GEN. CLARK: This is not about the economy, Tim, at home. It’s about jobs. It’s about people of all ages who’ve lost their jobs. Many of them are now employed. But losing a good job and taking another job can devastate a family. When you lose your job in this country, usually you lose a piece of your self-respect. And I’ve talked to person after person across this country and they describe the devastating impact on families, of men who were executives who are now selling automobiles. That’s not statistics.
MR. RUSSERT: Will Iraq be an issue in this campaign?
GEN. CLARK: It will be likely an issue. The president’s going to do everything he can to draw down forces there, say there’s an election and take care of it. But, you know, the way this insurgency is going on the ground, I think it’s unlikely that the fighting’s going to disappear. I think it’s going to be a very messy process.
MR. RUSSERT: General Wesley Clark, to be continued. We thank you very much for sharing your views.
GEN. CLARK: Thank you.
MR. RUSSERT: And we’ll be right back.
MR. RUSSERT: And we are back. Throughout our nation’s history, 12 military generals have served as president of the United States, but only one in this century, Dwight D. Eisenhower, from 1953 to 1961. Do military men make good presidents? Differing opinions from poet Carl Sandburg in 1957, and Army Chief of Staff General J. Lawton Collins in 1951:
(Videotape, October 27, 1957):
MR. MARQUIS CHILDS (St. Louis Post-Dispatch): We’ve had two professional military men as president, Grant and Eisenhower. What do you think about the military man in politics?
MR. CARL SANDBURG (Poet): It’s a hindrance. It’s a hindrance. Of course, Grant had the advantage of having had life as a civilian for a number of years before he went into the war and right after the war. But Ike had 15 years in the Philippines, comes back to this country and almost immediately sent over to Europe. All sorts of things about the plain people of this country that he doesn’t know, even though he did work in a creamery in...
MR. CHILDS: Abilene.
MR. SANDBURG: ...Abilene.
MR. CHILDS: In other words, you think it’s hard for a man who lives within this caste system to maintain a hold on the people?
MR. SANDBURG: Yes. Let the military men stay with the military.
(Videotape, December 23, 1951):
MRS. MAY CRAIG (Portland Press-Herald): Now, you’ve been a military man all your life, and you’re a general. Do you think the general ought to be president, or do you think the president ought to be a civilian?
GENERAL J. LAWTON COLLINS (Army Chief of Staff): I would say that any military man, to be a good president, must be a man who has very broad capacities. I think that, as a general proposition, it’s wiser that a civilian be the president of the United States. But I don’t, by any manner of means, feel that a military man should be ruled out of being president if he has the broad qualities to make a good president.
MR. RUSSERT: And we’ll be right back.
MR. RUSSERT: If it’s Sunday, it’s MEET THE PRESS. Go, Bills!
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