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General Wesley Clark – Legitimacy: First Task for American Security

May 16, 2007

Hosted by: Center for Politics and Foreign Relations, Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS), The Johns Hopkins University



Guy Dinmore: Thank you very much General. It’s very nice to see you. I don’t know if you remember but I was actually the FT correspondent in Belgrade in those days in ’99…


Guy Dinmore: …and occasionally we used to chat over the phone with the General in preparing for the bombardment and me in Belgrade also preparing.

GENERAL WESLEY CLARK: Sorry to have interrupted your tea time a couple of times there.

Guy Dinmore: Um, this question of legitimacy is a very complicated subject and I’m going to ramble slightly, then I’m going to ask a very hard question at the end so wait for the punchline. But first of all on Milosevic, I remember there was actually no UN resolution when NATO started bombing Serbia. In that sense there was a lack of, you might call, international community legitimacy. I mean, it did follow later, but it was not there. Um, I think Milosevic is an interesting example. I mean Milosevic, like Saddam, eventually went on trial for war crimes and they were the losers. Um, you have enumerated a list of what a lot of people would count as crimes in this administration’s conduct of the Iraq war. You’ve accused them of deliberately, um, distorting intelligence, leading this country to war under false, um, premises, breaking international laws. You have called for justice. And there is one single act that this country could do which would actually restore its legitimacy, whatever that is exactly in the eyes of the international community. Quite simply, and I will get on to that in a moment…a few weeks ago, Dennis Kucinich was here and he spoke very eloquently. Um, he’s a man who is trying to impeach Dick Cheney but we all know that this is not really the American way, is it? The American way is that a president comes in, like Gerald Ford, and he pardons his predecessor. The American way, on the whole, as we will probably see with Paul Wolfowitz at the World Bank, is ask the man to quietly go and then give him a large sum of money. So, General, if you were the president, and you come to office, would you pardon Mr. Cheney and Mr. Bush for their actions or would you put them on trial for war crimes? Thank you.

GENERAL WESLEY CLARK: Well, I could hardly stand the suspense as you went through the thing. And you have sort of approached it from different…let me just answer a question you didn’t ask first and then I’ll come to the question you did.

Guy Dinmore: No, no, no, no, no…

GENERAL WESLEY CLARK: I want to make…I want to be very clear because I’m asked this occasionally, especially by some of my friends in the Tory party in the UK. They say ‘well look, I mean, here you are citing all these things about Iraq, but you went to war in Kosovo without a UN resolution’ and I want to take just a second and say that the two cases are exactly the opposite. In Kosovo, there was every effort made for diplomacy first. We used force only as a last resort. We used minimum force. We gradually escalated it only when it was clear that minimum force wouldn’t work. We were scrupulously careful to try to avoid civilian casualties. We fully accounted for the civilian casualties that occurred and when the fighting was over, we rushed in a force that already had plans and did everything it possibly could to protect property and they’re still there today guarding these Serb monasteries and other things. So it’s exactly the opposite of the case of Iraq.

Now, with respect to the consequences for those who led the nation.

I think that…I think that it’s premature to talk about these kinds of issues – impeachments and pardon. But I don’t think it’s premature to call for a thorough inquiry and I think that is the American way. We have something here which simply can’t be washed away and covered up. I’ve met with too many parents who’ve lost their children. I’ve met with too many foreign leaders whose faith in America has been damaged. I’ve met with too many military leaders who are struggling to come to terms with what they felt were the pressures and orders from above and what they knew in their hearts and had reservations about as a consequence and tried to resolve it.

This doesn’t…this is not an issue that’s going to go away so I think it needs to be followed step-by-step and I think the way to begin is to first finish the Senate investigation that was promised on whether or not the administration properly used the intelligence information that was available. No point in having everybody write his own memoirs on it – we’ve just had George come out with his – and…let’s get the facts out. We have a Congress in place that is not of the same party as the executive branch in the American system. That normally means that you could provide greater trust and reliance on the adversarial system of inquiry that’s in place.

Let’s have it…let’s have it done. And then let’s go back and find out about those memos written in the Executive branch. What exactly did they mean when they said…when they say the Geneva Convention was an anachronism, when they redefined the definition of torture, when they indicated that…what was going through the Secretary of Defense’s mind when he was talking about how we needed more information, not more people in Iraq? And what did he think that meant to the people on the ground? Where did the abuses at Abu Ghraib come from? What are the secret findings that are out there in the intelligence community? Why are these rumors still surfacing of people being beaten up and abused and conduct that’s just not…and what did the President in a signing statement in the 2006 Act on Military Commissions and the 2005 Act on detainee treatment? What have been the actual consequences of those signing statements?

These are legitimate matters of public inquiry and in our political system, we have a lot of people in office who do have political courage and I have confidence that our leaders will ask these tough questions because it’s the only way we can move our country forward and regain the trust and good faith of others in the world.

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