Commentary Magazine


Clark the Peacemaker

No one ever described the post-Vietnam Democratic party better than the late Jeane Kirkpatrick when she said “they always blame American first.”

In the 1990′s, President Bill Clinton nudged the Democrats toward rediscovering their patriotism. But when Clinton left office, the blame-America-firsters came roaring back, reasserting their grip on the party by mobilizing in the 2006 primary to oust the Democratic hawk, Senator Joseph Lieberman. (Lieberman went on to win re-election as an independent.)

With the power of the party’s antiwar wing so vividly displayed, the aspirants for the 2008 Democratic presidential nomination have all been running to the Left. Out of the pack a surprising dark horse has taken an early lead in the blaming-America sweepstakes: General Wesley Clark. In a message on the website of his PAC, Clark declares: “For three years, the Bush administration has hectored and threatened Iran and Syria, and unsurprisingly, they have both worked continuously to feed the fighting in Iraq.”

Then he adds, on the self-described “left/progressive/liberal” blog DailyKos, that “since 9/11 the Iranians have tried on several occasions to open a dialogue with the United States.” But “the Bush administration would have none of it, and branded Iran a member of the Axis of Evil.”

Complaining that Bush is “ratcheting up the pressure on Iran,” the soldier-turned-peacenik sermonizes: “The United States can do better than this.” He elaborates: “while the latest actions against Iran’s banking system show the sharp stick of U.S. power, the potential carrots are enormous, too,” because as “a proud nation,” Iran cannot “ignore a more hopeful vision of its future.” Contrary to Bush’s hectoring approach, the U.S. should “work to establish a sustained dialogue, and seek to benefit the people of Iran and the region.” He asks rhetorically: “Could not such a dialogue . . . begin a process that could, over time, help realign hardened attitudes and polarizing views within the region?”

Clark did not wait to become commander-in-chief to try out this approach. In 1994, the nemesis with which America was girding for conflict was the so-called Bosnian Serb Republic, which for two years had been raining war on Bosnia’s civilian Muslim population. Clark was an official with the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Ignoring State Department objections, Clark traveled at his own initiative to “Republika Serpska” for a tête-à-tête with General Ratko Mladic, the commander of Bosnian Serb forces who, as early as 1992, had already been labeled a war criminal by then-Secretary of State Lawrence Eagleburger.

Clark was not there to take Mladic’s measure but rather, as his actions made clear, to “realign hardened attitudes.” He yukked it up with Mladic: the pair mugged for news cameras wearing one another’s uniform caps. “Like cavorting with Hermann Goering,” said one disgusted U.S. official to the Washington Post. Clark accepted gifts from Mladic of a bottle of brandy and an inscribed pistol. Since the inscription was in Cyrillic, it might as well have said “ethnic cleanser,” for all Clark knew.

Less than one year later, Mladic personally planned and directed the massacre of some 7,000 to 10,000 bound Serbs at Srebrenica, for which he has been indicted. But what do you expect, considering that Eagleburger had already called Mladic names, just as Bush has called Iran names, and we had ratcheted up the military pressure on Republika Serpska rather than continuing the courtship that Clark had initiated? So who is really to blame for Srebrenica? Look in the mirror, America. Then vote for Wes Clark.