updated 2/12/2004 4:41:34 PM ET 2004-02-12T21:41:34

In his first prime-time interview since dropping out of the race, General Wesley Clark joined 'Deborah Norville Tonight' from Little Rock, Arkansas. Deborah asked Gen. Clark on what the experience running for president was like, what they did right and wrong, and what he's decided to do with his delegates.

NORVILLE: General, thank you so much for being with us. 

CLARK:  Thank you. 

NORVILLE:  What happened?  What didn‘t go the way you wanted it to?

CLARK:  Well, I don't think that‘s the question that you have to ask on these kinds of issues, Deborah, to be honest. 

You know, I was given a wonderful opportunity.  50-70,000 people asked me to get into this race.  I‘d never run for political office.  The country was in trouble. 

We were bogged down in a war in Iraq.  We had an economy that wasn't going anywhere.  We had millions of Americans without jobs.  And they thought enough of me to ask me to run for the highest office in the land. 

And I started on the 15th of September with no money, no staff, no organization, no plans, no preparation.  I'd just finished a book on winning modern war.

And I got into the race and we did well and I‘m really happy.  We brought a lot of support in.  We raised over $20 million and we had a great strategy, we had a great team.  I think we had a very important message. 

We won Oklahoma.  We weren‘t in Iowa.   And the people decide and they vote.  And they made that decision, when I look at it, I look at all the things that went right.  It was the most liberating experience of my life.  I just loved every minute of it. 

NORVILLE:  I bet it was liberating to have a chance to get out and be amongst people in a way that you didn‘t have a chance to as a military man. 

The Iowa thing, was that a mistake, in retrospect, not to engage in the campaign more directly at that level?

CLARK:  Well, it was just a fact of life.  You know, we got in late.  And people said before well, you may not have any money.  Well, I checked with people who said they were going to give me money.

And then they said we won‘t have any staff.  And I then figured out it was going to be really hard to get a staff put together. 

And it took us 30 days to get a campaign staff and a strategy, and another 30 days to get a staff –a campaign chairperson or director, and this took the 60 days.  That was the time where I would had to have been in Iowa.  So it really wasn‘t feasible from a strategic standpoint.  You can always look back and say “what if”... but I think the campaign did what we wanted it to do.  And I feel a tremendous sense of pride in what everybody did to support me and what we were able to do.  I‘m just very happy about it. 

NORVILLE:  You came through this with 102 delegates, which I guess you‘ll have to make a decision what you will ask those delegates to do come nomination time.  Have you given any thought to that?

CLARK:  Well, I really haven‘t.  And I‘m just very proud of the fact that we did earn delegates and we did win a state.  And we came in second in several other states.  It was a testament to the American people and what they saw as the issues.  They would put their trust and vote for a man who would never run for elective office before.  I‘ve held high responsibility.  But it‘s a competitive process.  People spend their lives planning,

plotting, and organizing themselves to do this.  And for me it was just an opportunity to try to speak out and make a difference, and it was a call to duty.  And I viewed it as a call to duty. 

I just couldn‘t—Deborah, I couldn‘t stay on the sidelines when I saw our troops in Iraq dying day after day.  Those were the men and women I served with, the families that I loved. I thought they were sent on a mission we should have never gone to, and the events have subsequently proved me right and will prove me righter still.  This president didn‘t do everything he could have before 9/11.  He took us to a war we didn‘t have to fight. 

And I was given the opportunity to speak out on it, and I‘ll forever be grateful for that opportunity. 

NORVILLE:  The pundits will look back and say that might have been one of the things that actually tripped you up a little bit, because there was a little back and forth on what your position on the war actually was. 

CLARK:  Right.  Well, I mean, there really wasn‘t, but there was a fumble to answer.

But you know, it‘s what happens when you get into a race and you‘re not in politics… there was a code word in this race, and it was this Iraq war resolution.  And at the time I was asked, I really didn‘t even understand what was in the resolution.

But I did know this—I would not have even raised the issue of Iraq until we got rid of Osama bin Laden.  But if it was raised, at that point, I would have dumped it off on the U.N.  I would have supported a congressional resolution that would have caused the president, given the president a strong hand to go to the U.N., but not to have given him a blank check.  And that‘s what this resolution did, it gave him a blank check.  He took us to war. 

And you know, Deborah, everybody in Washington knew what he was going to do.  I remember talking to other people on—like Chris Matthews who knew.  And we talked about it months before there was a congressional resolution, said “Don‘t you think we‘re going to war with Iraq?”

The neoconservatives, they knew, the question was not if there was going to be a war, it was when.  And that was the sad part about this, that the American people themselves didn‘t realize how they‘d been drawn into this. 

NORVILLE:  How do you think your candidacy, then, can affect the way people look at that? And I‘m assuming that you will continue to be engaged in some way in the political process.  What will that be?

CLARK:  I will.  Well, I‘m going to continue to speak out and talk.  I think, you know, what we showed is that the American people are attuned to this. 

And I think that the outspokenness and the issues I‘ve raised have credibility.  After all, I‘m the only one of the people in the race who‘s ever really done serious military planning.  I‘ve read intel. And I knew that the intelligence, even that I had seen two years ago when I got off—four years ago now, when I got off active duty didn‘t justify in invading Iraq.

And so when we‘re speaking like this, it‘s got real credibility.  And I think the Democratic Party has much greater credibility now. 

I think we‘re at the end of an era in America, Deborah, when the old idea that you could beat your breast and say boy, “I‘m just—if you just let your our troops go in, they‘ll clean this mess up.  It‘s those lawyers in striped pants, diplomats, they‘re just keeping us from doing what we need to do.  Just go in there and clean those people out.  They need a good whipping.” 

Well, you know, we‘re in Iraq.  It took three weeks to knock down Saddam Hussein.  And we‘re still there, and we‘ve lost more people since we got there than we did on the way in. 

And the world‘s problems are real complicated.  All of us who have been engaged know you use force as a last resort. 

NORVILLE:  You wrote the book on waging modern war.  I guess the war of a campaign is a bit different than the military wars that you‘re familiar with. 

There was one political observer who said today, given some of the mistakes and miscues of the campaign, that maybe the old adage that before you run for president it‘s good to run for something like sheriff is a good idea. 

Do you think you should have run for sheriff before you went for the top job?

CLARK:  No, I don‘t think.  I think that I did the right thing. 

And lot of people came and asked me to do this, people from inside the party, men like Congressman Charlie Rangel.  They said “We need you in here.”  And at the time they called me, that‘s what they felt, and I viewed it as a call to duty. 

I think if you look at what I did, I‘ve come a long way very quickly. 

And when you look at a campaign like this, there were questions like, “Why didn‘t you disavow what Michael Moore said about President Bush‘s military record?”   Well, because Michael Moore had every right to say it. 

And look at what‘s happened now.  People are taking it a serious look at it.  Michael Moore did that; he spoke out about it.  I‘m not saying that‘s an important issue to me, but he had the right to raise that issue. 

NORVILLE:  I think some people thought that maybe you should have, if not put your arms around it, but ameliorated the comment, because it looked as though you endorsed it by not saying anything. 

CLARK:  Well people may think that.  But those are people who are political insiders. 

People who really understand what I stand for would know, I had nothing to do with what Michael Moore said.  And more than that, he‘s a shock comedian of the left. 

And what‘s happened in this country, that I find so devastating for American democracy is that over the last 10 years, there‘s dozens of shock comedians on the right.  They say everything in the world. 

And one of them was even was even taken with using drugs and so forth and got commendations from the presidents of the United States.  And if you look at everything he‘s said, the things he‘s said have been actually outrageous and far more outrageous than what Michael Moore was suggesting. 

So I think there has to be balance.  And one of the reasons I ran is to try to restore that balance, to try to show that the armed forces doesn‘t belong to just a single American party.  To show that one party doesn‘t have a monopoly on people who believe in God.  And to show that people have the right to express their opinions, not only on the right wing, but on the left. 

NORVILLE:  I know a couple of weeks ago we had your son, Wes Jr., on with us and he told us it was actually a conversation that he had had with you sometime last summer that helped convince you to run. 

And one of the things that he said he said to you was, “Don‘t you want to make this country a better place for your grandchild?”  He‘s got a new baby. 

How do you feel about stepping out of the race at this point and the contribution that you made up till now, in light of that?

CLARK:  I feel like we made a really good contribution.  We did answer duty‘s call.  I set aside my business concerns.  My wife set aside her concerns about not doing anything.  She really did not want to do this when we started.

And we did it and we did it, not only for our grandchild but for every person in America.  And we feel like we answered duty‘s call. 

It‘s up to the voters to pick you, but when your country calls, you should answer that call.  And that‘s what we did.  And so we feel very good about that piece of it.

NORVILLE:  Real briefly, do you see it happening again?  Do you see another run in your future?

CLARK:  I don‘t know.  You know, what I‘m interested in is not—this was never about me, it was never for a position, although I would have been delighted to be president of the United States. 

But it was really about the country.  And I can continue to speak out about that and share my concerns.  And I‘m very fortunate, I‘ve been given the opportunity that many, many people will listen to it, and I‘ll always be grateful for that. 

NORVILLE:  General Wesley Clark, in your closing remarks today you thanked your wife Gert of 36 years.  You said she is the general‘s general, and we want to acknowledge her, as well. 

Thank you for being with us.  We wish you luck in the future and I hope you‘ll be back during the campaign to talk to us. 

CLARK:  Thank you very much, Deborah.  I sure will. 

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