Wes Clark Interview, Part Two: Iran, Clinton, Residual Forces

by: Matt Stoller

Tue Sep 25, 2007 at 08:00


This is the second installment of my discussion with Wes Clark.  For part one, go to Wes Clark Interview, Part One: The Petraeus Ad.

In the wake of the Iran madness going around in full force today, and Bill Richardson going out with an ad on residual forces featuring me, Chris, and Christina, it's worth spending some time to understand why the residual forces argument and a sane discussion of Iran are having trouble gaining traction in political discussion among activists or elites.  As it happens, I asked Clark about residual forces, Iran, and his endorsement of Clinton last Thursday.  Perhaps there are clues here.  Part three, on military spending and post-Bush investigations, will come out next week.

Matt Stoller :: Wes Clark Interview, Part Two: Iran, Clinton, Residual Forces
Matt Stoller: I just want to thank you for your service and your work.  Let's just get down to questions, particularly your endorsement of Senator Clinton.  When did you decide to support her and why did you decide to support her despite her support for the war?

Wes Clark: I've supported, I've known for a long time that she's the most qualified capable person in the race and when it was clear that I couldn't meet my preconditions it was just normal to support her.  I mean, she's experienced, she's seen it all, she's been in the White House, she's been there in crisis, she knows how to make decisions, she's seen good decisions and bad decisions.  I mean, it's a priceless set of experiences she has, she's spent her whole life learning how to run for elective office and how to serve the people once they're in elective office.  And that's another great set of experiences, just like I've spent my life learning about force and diplomacy, she's spent her life in the more general sense of public office.  And I think she's got great character and I think she's very tough so I think she's the best candidate in the race.

Matt Stoller:  But specifically on the war, though she spent her whole life training for office, that was a terrible judgment call.

Wes Clark: Yeah that was a bad decision and I'd like to think I wouldn't have made that decision had I been in the United States Senate.  A lot of people did.  She said if she knows now how it would have been used she wouldn't have done it.  Yeah it was a mistake but I think it's the kind of mistake you gotta let pass.  You can't call everything right, and I think she's made so many right calls I think she'll make the majority of the calls, she's the best hope we've got for the kind of government we need in the future.

Matt Stoller:  Clinton, Edwards, and Obama are all calling for residual troops in Iraq while they claim they will 'end the war'.  How long do you think residual troops will remain in Iraq under a Clinton Presidency?

Wes Clark: There's no way of knowing because the problem in Iraq is Iran.  And you can't deal with Iraq unless you're willing to deal with Iran and the Clinton administration, I meant the Bush administration is not facing reality.  When you issue threats unintelligeable they're really working throughout Iraq preparing for the departure of the Americans, they've got a broad front, economic, cultural, political, religious strategy of engagement inside Iraq and so what happens with the troops is entirely incidental to that.  They are arming and supporting militias only because those militias serve Iran's interests so when you think you can succeed by popping off at the militias from time to time that really fails to meet the strategic nature of the challenge we're up against.  So I don't think there's any way of knowing how long it's going to take to work against the strategic challenge of Iran.  First we have to get someone in office who will face it.

Matt Stoller:  Can we handle a nuclear Iran?  Can we live with that?

Wes Clark: I don't think so.  The reason is, there are three reasons.  Number one is that I think a nuclear armed Iran would use its clear deterrent to promote conventional or unconventional aggression against other states in the region and believe it could sit back with its nuclear power and not be threatened in return.  I think the second reason is you never know how these nuclear capabilities might be smuggled abroad or used in some way.  Maybe the way we saw the Israelis strike at this nuclear depot in Syria is an indication of that and apparently that came from North Korea.  And the third reason is that once Iran gets a nuclear weapon lots of other countries will want them and the more countries that have them the greater chance a nuke will be used and kill hundreds of thousands of people and so no I don't think you can tolerate a nuclear armed Iran.  But I think the right course of dealing with it is to directly engage Iran in dialogue.


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Pax Americana (4.00 / 2)
Just without the "pax."  "Pox," maybe?

There's no way of knowing because the problem in Iraq is Iran.

The premise here is we belong in and have a right, not to say a white man's burden, to remain where we were not invited and are not wanted, after embarking on an unprovoked act of aggression.

Matt, I know you say Clark is a progressive, but I sure can't see it from here.


Clark as long called for .... (0.00 / 0)
....dialogue and diplomacy in dealing with Iraq. In fact he's been shouting it from the roof tops. He started a Stop Iran War (stopiranwar.com) web site months ago.....asking people to write there congress persons. He has always said that "war should be a last last last resort."

If all that isn't progressive, I don't know what is. 


[ Parent ]
My kingdom for an edit button (0.00 / 0)
I meant IraN...not IraQ

[ Parent ]
Define Progressive. (0.00 / 0)
It sounds like to you a Progressive is not interested in the legitimate and strategically important interests of our country. If that is the case I and many other Progressives disagree with you.

Clark is right. An out of control Iran is a danger to our national well being.


[ Parent ]
You're right. (4.00 / 1)
I hate America.

Puppies, too.


[ Parent ]
Nice Serious Answer (0.00 / 0)


[ Parent ]
Directly engage Iran (4.00 / 1)
How does he come to the conclusion Clinton is the best candidate for directly engaging Iran in dialog when her answer to the question of meeting foreign dictators is to engage in the same non-direct dialog through intermediaries? And I would love to know why we should let a mistake he wouldn't have made, a mistake which has cost this country thousands of lives and billions of dollars is a mistake we should let pass?  His decision to back her seems to have come more out of loyalty than out of reason.

Perhaps because... (4.00 / 1)
...she has been there done that as part of her husband's administration (no doubt she was heavily involved in every policy deciison) with Bosnia and Kosova.......where Holbrooke was the lead negotiator (not BC himself)and Clark was on the team. He's seen up close the kind of diplomacy the Clintons' do and he approves. They are a known quantity to him.

As for her vote on IWR. I think he's being pragmatic. All the candidates who were in Congress at the time voted for it....one actually co-sponsored it.


[ Parent ]
it's interesting (4.00 / 2)
how deeply Americans think peace depends on our threatening countries while at the same time accusing others of threats.  It's very odd.  How many countries has Iran invaded?  How many the U.S.?



New Jersey politics at Blue Jersey.


I think Clark (0.00 / 0)
was making the point that Iran is a threat to us and others and that we must minimize that threat by not letting them get a foothold in Iraq and also to not let them go nuclear. You may have noticed he starts with diplomacy.

[ Parent ]
War with Iran, either way? (4.00 / 3)
"the problem in Iraq is Iran"
If this is going to be the strategic position of a Clinton administration, then I don't see how it is any different from the growing militaristic stance that the Bush administration is taking toward Iran. General Clark seems to be strongly persuaded by the Bush administration's overly simplistic and unsubstantiated claims about the extent and impact of Iran's influence on day-to-day events in Iraq:
1. "they're ... preparing for the departure of the Americans, they've got a broad front, economic, cultural, political, religious strategy of engagement inside Iraq." While true, why is this necessarily a threat to our interests? Lots of other factions in Iraq (AQI, Kurds, Sunni Baathists) are doing the same thing and have their own outside suppliers and supporters. Clark seems to be joining the herd mentality to make Iran a scapegoat of the failed American policy to limit Iraqi factionalism and create a consensus among Iraq's neighboring countries about how to resolve the sectarian conflict.
2. "They are arming and supporting militias." There's no evidence that arms sourced back to Iran are connected to the Iranian government, and anyway, lots of arms in Iraq are sourced back to Saudi Arabia. Why aren't we confronting that government?
If these statements from Clark are truly reflective of a Clinton administration stance on Iran, then the neocons in DC don't need to worry about cleaning off their desks and searching for new digs.

Save Our Schools! March & National Call to Action, July 28-31, 2011 in Washington, DC: http://www.saveourschoolsmarch...

Clark says..... (0.00 / 0)
...the key to some sort of stability in Iraq is engaging in dialogue with Iran and the rest of the players in the region. He's been saying this for a long long time.

[ Parent ]
Well aware . . . (4.00 / 2)
... of the General's previous call for "engaging in dialogue". But with the presumption that the main "problem" in Iraq is Iran, how far can we assume that "dilogue" to go? Repeating the Bush administration's war rhetoric will not do much to cultivate "dialogue".

Save Our Schools! March & National Call to Action, July 28-31, 2011 in Washington, DC: http://www.saveourschoolsmarch...

[ Parent ]
I had high hopes for openleft (0.00 / 1)
when I learned about it at yearlykos & I must say, the comments & general level of the room here seriously disappoints.

The right "judgement call", this time? (0.00 / 0)
From today's column by conservative pundit David Brooks in the NY Times (H-T Glenn Greenwald):
"On 'This Week With George Stephanopoulos,' Clinton could have vowed to vacate Iraq. Instead, she delivered hawkish mini-speeches that few Republicans would object to. She listed a series of threats and interests in the region and made it clear that she'd be willing to keep U.S. troops there to handle them."
If, as General Clark states, this is "the best hope we've got for the kind of government we need in the future", how different is it from the government we have now?

Save Our Schools! March & National Call to Action, July 28-31, 2011 in Washington, DC: http://www.saveourschoolsmarch...

Iran can't be trusted? (4.00 / 3)
Iran can't be trusted with a nuke because it might smuggle the technology? Am I the only one who's heard of AQ Khan here? Besides, who would Iran smuggle it to? About the only close links they have are Hizbollah and Iran wouldn't do that, because having the entire Middle East irradiated by Israel isn't in its strategic interests.

Iran can't be trusted because it might be aggressive towards its neighbours? Has General Clark ever heard of Pakistan? India? Israel? Frankly, Iran is trying to expand its influence in the area. It'll do that anyway because it views that as a route to safety. A nuke is just a guarantee it won't be invaded.

Iran can't be allowed a nuke because it'll encourage others to get nukes? Like any opponent of the US who's been paying attention to North Korea doesn't want one. Besides, getting a nuke just isn't that simple. Israel and South Africa pooled their considerable scientific brainpower and intelligence assets and still took years to get a nuke. Even if Iran does get a nuke by 2015 (which is doubtful) we're not going to see a rash of nuclear banana republics instantly.

Forgotten Countries - a foreign policy-focused blog


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