The Clark Critique
Exclusive: In an excerpt from his new book, the ex-general argues that Bush is leading us astray in the war on terror
By Gen. Wesley K. Clark
Sept. 29, 2003 issue
THE AFTERMATH of the attacks of September 11, many in the Bush administration seemed most focused on a prospective move against Iraq. This was the old idea of “state sponsorship”—even though there was no evidence of Iraqi sponsorship of 9/11 whatsoever—and the opportunity to “roll it all up.” I could imagine the arguments. War to unseat Saddam Hussein promised concrete, visible action.
I went back through the Pentagon in November 2001, and one of the senior military staff officers had time for a chat. Yes, we were still on track for going against Iraq, he said. But there was more. This was being discussed as part of a five-year campaign plan, he said, and there were a total of seven countries, beginning with Iraq, then Syria, Lebanon, Libya, Iran, Somalia, and Sudan. So, I thought, this is what they mean when they talk about “draining the swamp.” It was evidence of the Cold War approach: Terrorism must have a “state sponsor,” and it would be much more effective to attack a state than to chase after individuals, nebulous organizations, and shadowy associations.
He said it with reproach—with disbelief, almost—at the breadth of the vision. I moved the conversation away, for this was not something I wanted to hear. And it was not something I wanted to see moving forward, either.
What a mistake! I reflected—as though the terrorism were simply coming from these states. Well, that might be true for Iran, which still supported Hezbollah, and Syria, complicit in aiding Hamas and Hezbollah. But neither Hezbollah nor Hamas were targeting Americans. Why not build international power against Al Qaeda? But if we prioritized the threat against us from any state, surely Iran was at the top of the list, with ongoing chemical and biological warfare programs, clear nuclear aspirations, and an organized, global terrorist arm.
And what about the real sources of terrorists—U.S. allies in the region like Egypt, Pakistan, and Saudi Arabia? Wasn’t it the repressive policies of the first, and the corruption and poverty of the second, that were generating many of the angry young men who became terrorists? And what of the radical ideology and direct funding spewing from Saudi Arabia? Wasn’t that what was holding the radical Islamic movement together? What about our NATO allies, whose cities were being used as staging bases and planning headquarters? Why weren’t we putting greater effort into broader preventive measures?
The way to beat terrorists was to take away their popular support. Target their leaders individually, demonstrate their powerlessness, roll up the organizations from the bottom. I thought it would be better to drive them back into one or two states that had given them support, and then focus our efforts there.
And if we wanted to go after states supporting terrorism, why not first go to the United Nations, present the evidence against Al Qaeda, set up a tribunal for prosecuting international terrorism? Why not develop resolutions that would give our counterterrorist efforts the greater force of international law and gain for us more powerful leverage against any state that might support terrorists, then use international law and backed by the evidence to rope in the always nuanced Europeans that still kept open trade with Iran and the others?
I left the Pentagon that afternoon deeply concerned. I hoped the officer was wrong, or that whoever was pushing this would amend his approach.
That did not happen. After the president delivered his 2002 State of the Union address, the policy was locked in concrete. There were no obvious connections between Iraq, Iran, and North Korea—President Bush’s “axis of evil”—beyond the suspicion that they each harbored ambitions to acquire weapons of mass destruction and the means to deliver them. In fact, in proliferation terms, by early 2002 both Iran and North Korea were greater threats compared to Iraq. The president’s use of the term “evil” was also perplexing to many Europeans. Europeans, living on the same continent, were pragmatic, not ideological, in outlook, seeking survival, democracy, and prosperity. The “axis of evil” label seemed to foreshadow a religious-inspired campaign against sovereign states, something that could not only wreck international commerce but also pose domestic problems in European states with large Islamic populations.
And so, barely six months into the war on terror, the direction seemed set. In Afghanistan and later in Iraq, the United States would strike, using its military superiority; it would enlarge the problem, using the strikes on 9/11 to address the larger Middle East concerns; it would attempt to make the strongest case possible in favor of its course, regardless of the nuances of the intelligence; and it would dissipate the huge outpouring of goodwill and sympathy it had received in September 2001 by going it largely alone. And just as the Bush administration suggested, it could last for years.
From “Winning Modern Wars: Iraq, Terrorism, and the American Empire.” c 2003 by General Wesley K. Clark. Reprinted by arrangement with Public Affairs, a member of the Perseus Books Group.
If you need someone to blame / throw a rock in the air / you'll hit someone guilty