Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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November 1, 2003
By: Kevin Drum

ME AND WES....Let's put a few threads together that I've been dancing around for a couple of days. Let's talk about the war on terror and Wesley Clark.

Since I'm not a presidential candidate I don't have a 20-point program for how to fight and win the war on terror. But at a broad level there is one thing that ought to be plainly obvious to anyone who thinks seriously about these things: we can only win as part of a large, committed, global alliance. It's not that I think the rest of the world has some claim to moral superiority or anything, it's just that if we take a unilateral approach we're going to lose, and I don't want to lose.

This has been true for all the big wars of the 20th century, but a combination of dim historical understanding and a desire to canonize Ronald Reagan seems to have left much of the populace under the impression that we won World War II and the Cold War almost singlehandedly. But we didn't. We won them with lots of allies, and without those allies we would have lost. And on the lone occasion when we did try to win a big war alone, in Vietnam, we did lose.

Wesley Clark seems to understand this, as this excerpt from his forthcoming book makes clear. We need alliances, we need to rely more on "persuasion and shared vision," and we need to use military power as a last resort, not as a routine tool. Here is Phil Carter's take on Clark's views:

I like Wes Clark's view of the world, and his view of where America should fit into the world. I think that we ought to enlist other nations and international organizations in the fight against Al Qaeda and other terror networks, because the only way to defeat a terror network is to build a stronger network of our own. However, I also recognize that saying these things and doing them are two different things. It will be exceedingly hard for President Clark to implement his vision -- harder even that it would be if he were General Clark again. A lot of fence mending must be done before we can start down this multilateralist road. If Wes Clark wants to make this vision seem realistic, I think he has to articulate the "how" instead of just the "what" for his view of the world and America's place in it.

I've mentioned before that I'm not that interested in detailed plans from presidential candidates, so I'm not as concerned about the "how" as Phil is. What I am interested in is their instincts and judgment, and my take on Clark is that he truly understands the importance and the weaknesses of multilateral alliances in the war on terror, and truly understands that we're not going to win primarily through the use of traditional military power. At the same time, I also suspect that for the occasions when we do need to use hard power, he has the best chance of reforming the military to fight this new war.

I haven't yet made up my mind to support Clark because let's be honest here his campaign is going through some growing pains and I want to see how well he comes out the other end. If he gets his act together, though, I'll probably support him. George Bush's congenital insistence on getting his own way on all things at all times exactly the wrong personality for a task that requires extensive and sensitive coalition-building has set us on a course inherently doomed to failure, and right now Clark seems like the best combination of a candidate with sound domestic instincts as well as the ability to clean up Bush's mess and put us back on a winning path abroad.

And since I want to win this war, that means he'll get my vote. All he has to do now is show that he knows how to run a campaign....

Kevin Drum 11:51 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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