THE DEMOCRATIC PARTY'S PRESIDENTIAL CONTEST:
WESLEY CLARK AS ANOTHER JAMES STOCKDALE
By Nicholas G. Jenkins
We’ve met a latter-day Stockdale in this presidential campaign. He is fellow Vietnam vet and political newbie Wesley Clark. But, whereas Stockdale knew who he was, the corpo- rate-haired Clark seems genuinely clueless. Best documented, of course, is his stance on the use of force in Iraq, surely the defining “who am I?” issue for all Democrats this time around. In less than a week, the former CNN military analyst went from "probably would have voted for" to "I don't know if I would have or not" to "there was no reason to do this" to "I would never have voted for this war.” Not exactly the stuff of John Kerry–he of the “I authorized the President to threaten the use of force” when he voted to “author- ize the president to use force” in Iraq–but disingenuous all the same. Then again, this is the same general/military analyst who predicted that a quick military victory in Iraq "was not going to happen," so perhaps things military just aren't this general's thing.
Mr. Clark’s explanation of why he’s running for President doesn’t inspire much confi- dence, either. I don’t buy the argument that he’s a Clinton pawn, mostly because it smacks so much of the conspiracy theories journalists are so fond of contriving. But there’s no denying that Clark himself said he wouldn’t be there--as a candidate for the Democratic nomination, anyway--if “Karl Rove had returned (his) phone calls." That's politically troublesome for Democrats, since it’s generally not a good idea to give the Democratic presidential nomination to someone who’s an admitted phone call away from the Republican Party. And it’s factually troublesome for all Americans because, accord- ing to White House call logs, the phone calls never happened. For his part, Rove doesn't remember ever talking to Clark. Who Clark may or may not have called, and who didn't return his calls, and what color the sky was in that world, is only Clark's guess.
This brings us to a third question, one not normally apropos for candidates for national office but a fair one in Stockdale's case and again in Clark's. That question is: what plan- et is this guy living on? In Clark's case it's apparently the same one as Jayson Blair, be- cause, from where we're sitting, his version of the world bears only a passing resem- blance to the rest of ours. Clark's tales of phantom phone calls to Rove are bad enough. But he also claims he got a call on September 11, 2001, from "people around the White House" asking him to link Saddam Hussein to the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. Clark did receive a call, alright, but it wasn't from the White House. It was from Israeli-Canadian Middle East expert Thomas Hecht, who called to invite Clark to give a speech in Canada.
Two months later, Clark told a Phoenix radio station that that the White House tried to get him "knocked off" CNN because he might be critical of its conduct in the war. But when pressed to back his allegation, he admitted it was based solely on rumor. No one has corroborated these rumors since.
Then there's the four-star general's declaration that he isn't a military man but "just a person who's served in the United States Armed Forces for most of (his) adult life." Really? Under that logic, Ted Bundy wasn't a psychopathic killer, just “a person who prematurely terminated the lives of young women for most of his adult life.”
I expect the tangle-tongued Mr. Clark and his handlers to spend the next few months "clarifying” who he is and why he’s here. I, for one, would like to hear him spend less time defining himself as the guy on the business end of White House conspiracies and more time defining himself as a man with definite beliefs. If/when he does so, he’d be well advised to use the same English language as the rest of us–that being the one that assigns to a four-star general the appellation “military man.” (Ditto Mr. Kerry, who’d do well to bone up on the difference between authorizing the use of force and the threat of it.) And whatever he does, here’s hoping he declares himself a winner in the ping pong game of realities going on in his noggin, sooner rather than later. If he doesn’t, the flip- flopping conspiracy theorist risks being relegated to trivia question status, alongside Mr. Stockdale. There may be worse stations, but for a man who wants a future in public life, I’m unaware of them.
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