A Fast Climber Who Has Made Some Enemies (expanding on James Rogers' "venal political weasel")

Joe Barrera jsb at polymathy.org
Wed Sep 17 18:19:07 PDT 2003

"There are an awful lot of people," added another retired four-star, who also
requested anonymity, "who believe Wes will tell anybody what they want to hear
and tell somebody the exact opposite five minutes later. The people who have
worked closely with him are the least complimentary, because he can be very
abrasive, very domineering. And part of what you saw when he was relieved of
command was all of the broken glass and broken china within the European
alliance and the [U.S.] European Command."

... but a lot of praise for him as well in this article.
(A lot of that praise reminds me of Bill Clinton I)


By Vernon Loeb
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, September 17, 2003; Page A01

 From his plebe year at West Point, Wesley K. Clark was always first in his
class, a step ahead of his peers. His rise to the top of the U.S. military
seemed almost preordained, given his drive, intellect and burning will to win.

But Clark, 58, who was awarded the Purple Heart and Silver Star in Vietnam in
1970 and commanded NATO's air war in Kosovo 29 years later, remains a highly
controversial figure within the U.S. military, disliked and mistrusted by many
fellow officers.

Supporters and detractors agree on this much: The retired general is immensely
talented, possessed of a keen strategic sensibility and the kind of
gold-plated military credentials that could make him a formidable candidate in
the Democratic race for president.

Clark's intense, emotional personality and his aggressive -- some say abrasive
-- command style are likely to be the focus of intense scrutiny as he takes on
the biggest challenge of a peripatetic career almost defined by the pursuit of
challenge -- a run for the presidency in which his national security
credentials will figure large in his potential appeal.

Raised in Little Rock, Clark was the only member of his West Point class
selected as a Rhodes scholar to attend Oxford University in England, where he
was two years ahead of Bill Clinton. While some of his detractors in the
military came to demean him as one of "Clinton's generals," Clark and Clinton
were only casual acquaintances when Clark rose to prominence at the Pentagon
during the Clinton administration.

As director of policy and plans for the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Clark helped
negotiate the Dayton peace accords in 1995 that ended the conflict in Bosnia.
He led a team the same year that wrote a new national military strategy.

Four years later, having risen to command the North Atlantic Treaty
Organization as supreme allied commander Europe, Clark held the fractious,
19-member military alliance together through 78 days of bombing and led NATO
to victory, driving Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic and his Serb forces
from the province of Kosovo.

But Clark's hard-charging style, his penchant for dealing directly with the
White House and his ceaseless agitation for ground forces during the Kosovo
conflict -- over the wishes of Defense Secretary William S. Cohen -- caught up
with him a month after the end of the war. In July 2000, while dining with the
president of Lithuania in London, Clark was called by Gen. Henry H. Shelton,
chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who curtly informed him that Cohen had
decided to ease him out of his NATO command. The call stunned Clark. It meant
he would have to leave his NATO post three months earlier than scheduled and
without a year's extension, which he had expected.

Clark had clashes outside the administration as well. In the war's immediate
aftermath, when a contingent of Russian troops moved quickly into Kosovo and
occupied the airfield at Pristina, the provincial capital, a British officer,
Lt. Gen. Michael Jackson, refused a direct order from Clark to block the
runway so the Russians could not fly in reinforcements.

Clark, who believed additional Russian troops could have led to a
confrontation with NATO and possibly jeopardized the nascent allied
peacekeeping mission, insisted. But Jackson stood firm, believing the Russians
were isolated at the airfield and did not represent a threat. "Sir, I'm not
starting World War III for you," Jackson replied.

"I saw the problem in strategic terms," Clark wrote in his 2001 memoir,
"Waging Modern War: Bosnia, Kosovo and the Future of Combat," noting that he
had approval to issue the order from the Pentagon and NATO. "This could be a
defining moment for the future of NATO. Would we not be able to conduct our
own peacekeeping missions? Would Russia be co-equal with NATO in this
operation? Would Russia get its way by deception and bluff or by negotiation
and compromise? Would we have an effective operation or another weak U.N.-type

Much later, after retiring from active duty in 2000, Clark allowed as how he
had had only two bad days in 38 years of service: the day he was shot in the
hand, shoulder, leg and hip on patrol north of Saigon, and the day Shelton
called him to say he would have to retire early.

"For me the [Kosovo] war was professional, but it was also personal," Clark
wrote. "It drew on the experience and insights of my full 37 years of military
service; it placed heavy demands on character and stamina, and it strained my
relations with some American colleagues."

Clark saw Cohen and the Joint Chiefs as overly cautious in their opposition to
the use of ground troops or Apache helicopters in Kosovo, which he advocated
as options to force Milosevic to capitulate as his Serb forces proved skilled
at surviving NATO bombing from 15,000 feet. At least one member of the Joint
Chiefs, Clark wrote, "was almost looking for reasons why the ground attack in
Kosovo would not work rather than how to make it work."

And his ease at interacting directly with civilians "across the river" at the
White House only made things worse. "Some in the Pentagon had worked for two
years to restrict my interactions within the broader U.S. government for
reasons that were never entirely clear," he wrote.

One retired four-star general, who knows Clark well and represents a sentiment
expressed by a number of his peers, said he fully understood Clark's ultimate
clash with Cohen, Shelton and, particularly, the leadership of the Army.

"The guy is brilliant," said the general, who agreed to speak candidly about
Clark only if his name were not used. "He's very articulate, he's extremely
charming, he has the best strategic sense of anybody I have ever met. But the
simple fact is, a lot of people just don't trust his ability" as a commander.

While his strategic analysis is "almost infallible," his command solutions
tended to be problematic, even "goofy," the general said, "and he pushed them
even when they weren't going to work."

The general said Clark "needs to win, right down to the core of his fiber,"
which tends to make him "highly manipulative."

"There are an awful lot of people," added another retired four-star, who also
requested anonymity, "who believe Wes will tell anybody what they want to hear
and tell somebody the exact opposite five minutes later. The people who have
worked closely with him are the least complimentary, because he can be very
abrasive, very domineering. And part of what you saw when he was relieved of
command was all of the broken glass and broken china within the European
alliance and the [U.S.] European Command."

Clark's many supporters inside and outside the military dispute the contention
voiced by critics that his ambition and drive to come out on top made him
untrustworthy in the eyes of his peers.

"I have watched him at close range for 35 years, in which I have looked at the
allegation, and I found it totally unsupported," said retired Gen. Barry R.
McCaffrey, who taught with Clark at West Point in the 1970s. "That's not to
say he isn't ambitious and quick. He is probably among the top five most
talented I've met in my life. I think he is a national treasure who has a lot
to offer the country."

McCaffrey acknowledges that Clark was not the most popular four-star general
in the Army leadership. "This is no insult to Army culture, a culture I love
and admire," McCaffrey said, "but he was way too bright, way too articulate,
way too good looking and perceived to be way too wired to fit in with our
culture. He was not one of the good ol' boys."

One fellow cadet at West Point said there is a photograph on the credenza
behind the sofa in Clark's living room. It shows Clark, as a West Point cadet,
standing next to retired Gen. Maxwell D. Taylor, chairman of the Joint Chiefs
under President John F. Kennedy, and peering out across the academy's storied

"It gives you a sense of where Wes saw himself going," recalled the classmate,
who is also retired from the Army. "There are people who are put off by the
silver spoon in his mouth, which he uses, and those who say it was
unavoidable, because the big guys couldn't resist him."

One was William J. Perry, who as deputy defense secretary first encountered
Clark in 1994 when he was a three-star general on the Joint Staff. "I was
enormously impressed by him," said Perry, a mathematician and legendary
Pentagon technologist who later served as secretary of defense under Clinton.

Perry was so impressed, in fact, that with Clark facing retirement unless a
four-star job could be found for him, Perry overrode the Army and insisted
that Clark be appointed head of the U.S. Southern Command, one of the
military's powerful regional commanders in chief, or CINCs. "I was never sorry
for that appointment," Perry said.

A year later, Gen. John Shalikashvili, chairman of the Joint Chiefs who held a
similar view of Clark, overrode the Army once again and made sure Clark became
supreme allied commander Europe, traditionally the most powerful CINC, with
command of all U.S. and NATO forces on the continent.

Army Col. Douglas Macgregor is thankful he did. An author and strategist who
has also had his fights with the Army brass, Macgregor said he will forever be
indebted to Clark for taking a chance and naming him as director of planning
at NATO headquarters in Belgium in 1997.

"There is this aspect of his character -- he is loyal to people he knows are
capable and competent," Macgregor said. "As for his peers, it's a function of
jealousy and envy, and it's a case of misunderstanding. General Clark is an
intense person, he's passionate, and certainly the military is suspicious of
people who are intense and passionate. He is a complex man who does not lend
himself to simplistic formulations. But he is very competent, and devoted to
the country."

© 2003 The Washington Post Company

More information about the FoRK mailing list