The Truth, Mainly - 05/12/2003

Wesley Clark the Dubya remedy?
by Leon Satterfield

Given the close proximity of George W. Bush today, this may be an indelicate time to confess. But I admit it: I'd really like to have a new president.

And that's why, a week ago Saturday, I shopped around by watching the Lieberman-Braun-Dean-Gephart-Sharpton-Kerry-Graham-Kucinich-Edwards show. Not all the way through, but far enough to get my eyes rolling.

For those of you not interested in having a new president, the nine names are those of the Democrats' declared candidates for the dubious privilege of running against the president in 2004.

I didn't watch the whole show because about halfway through, it became pretty clear that none of them would have much chance of beating the incumbent. How do I know? How does someone in a car falling into the Grand Canyon know that things aren't going to end well?

Trust me.

Didn't you see the president all decked out in his Jolly Warrior flight suit just after his S-3B Viking jet had been tail-hooked on the flight deck of the U.S.S. Abraham Lincoln? That's the image we'll be looking at throughout the 2004 campaign, and it's unlikely any of the Naughty Nine could overcome it.

Because, as President Clinton's Chief of Staff, John Podesta, once observed, there is "a certain credibility on military affairs that is not usually associated with members of the Democratic Party."

So I've been spending a lot of time trying to find a candidate who could come across as a kinder, gentler militarist than the president.

John Kerry is a possibility, but he's got that hair.

The first one I thought of was George Bush the Elder. I remember a photo of him being fished out of the Pacific after his plane went down in W.W.II—and that's an image that would trump the one of his son in his Jolly Warrior flight suit. But Bush the Elder will be 80 by the 2004 election. And Barbara probably doesn't want him to run against The First Son anyway.

Still, I think Bush the Elder could take him, primarily because the father had a genuine military career as opposed to the son's questionable stateside service in the Texas Air National Guard during the Vietnam War.

(Where was he during the last year or so of his six-year obligation?)

And then I watched a C-Span panel discussion about what our foreign policy should be. The panelists were what you'd expect: a couple of academics, a retired ambassador or two, and a pair of former secretaries of state, all of them knowledgeable and well-behaved, nobody hollering at anyone else.

But the most impressive person on stage was the moderator—a man with short gray hair who spoke with all the humility of an English professor, if you can conjure up an English professor knowing anything about foreign policy.

(Imagine Dubya moderating such a discussion.)

"Who's that with the short gray hair?" I asked my wife.

"That Clark guy," she said. "Retired general. Been on CNN a lot."

His questions were so informed, his demeanor so civilized, that after the program ended, I looked him up on the internet.

His name is Wesley Clark and he is, in fact, a retired general. He's 58 years old, and like Kerry (but without the hair), he served in Vietnam. He went on to be the NATO commander during the fighting in Kosovo which led to the downfall of a Saddam-class villain, Slobodan Milosevic.

Clark graduated first in his class at West Point, then earned a master's degree in philosophy, politics, and economics as a Rhodes Scholar at Oxford.

(Imagine Dubya as a Rhodes Scholar at Oxford.)

After Vietnam, Clark moved up the ladder to the NATO command in 1997, winning along the way a Distinguished Service Medal, the Silver Star, and a Purple Heart. And he wrote a book called "Waging Modern War," quoted Bob Dylan in it, and according to Michael Tomasky, wrote "affectionately about the protest folk music that he used…to listen to."

(Imagine Dubya writing a book.)

And get this: Clark's been, Tomasky writes, "a ferocious critic of the Bush administration's national security policy. . . . the administration's cowboy unilateralism, he says, goes against everything the United States is supposed to represent to the world."

In the book, Clark calls terrorism "a multilateral problem. . . .You act unilaterally, you lose the commitment of your allies."

That's the realism. Here's the idealism: "The United States is a 225-year rolling revolution. . . .We are the embodiment of the Enlightenment."

(Imagine a president who knows about the Enlightenment.)

Remember his name: Wesley Clark. Talk him up. He could win in 2004. He could send Dubya back to Texas.

(Imagine Dubya being sent back to Texas.)


Retired English Professor Leon Satterfield writes to salvage clarity from his confusion. His column appears on alternate Mondays. His e-mail address is:

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