Saturday, August 05, 2006

Clark on War and Politics

There's an excellent transcript up on the Wes Clark web site of a recent FOX News Dayside appearance. (I guess that's one of their regular shows. Sorry, haven't owned a TV since 1989, so don't really know what's on.) The entire transcript is reasonably short, and the idiocy of the FOX talking heads is truly a gigglefest, so you should read the whole thing. Here are a few key points I want to tease out of Gen. Clark's answers. Please note that I have edited a few places to remove chatter & irrelevant info:
On Hizbullah: "Well, that's a real problem, because there are still women and children, apparently, in there, and frankly, this is a political movement, not just a military movement. So, the Hizbullah have been providing education and healthcare in the towns. So, maybe the teachers are Hizbullah. The doctors are Hizbullah. Local authorities are Hizbullah. They're all affiliated, and then some of them have weapons."

On the fundamental problems of Bush's approach to the ME:
CLARK: Because we would have been talking to people. ... You see the basic problem that you have here - and since you're asking a political question, I'll give you a political answer.

Juliet Huddy: Oh, or, or just an honest answer. (laughs)

CLARK: A strategic answer. Look, you cannot solve these problems with military force alone, and you cannot limit talking to people that you already know you're going to agree with. You can't say, 'If I don't agree with you, I'm not going to talk to you.'

On treating with other nations: "Well look, nations don't always tell the truth, but you can't educate nations like they're third graders, and you can't treat them like they're third graders. We got very close in the 1990s to a peace agreement that would've ended fighting between the Palestinians, the Syrians and the Israelis, very close. So, there's no reason why we can't keep talking. You don't draw a line and say, 'Okay, that's it. I'm not going to talk to you. We'll see you on the battlefield,' unless there's a direct threat to the United States. Neither Syria nor Iran is directly threatening the United States right now."

On the use of military force: "It, it's why when you use military force, even though you may be going after targets or trying to kill people, it is ultimately a political act. And what you must always aim for is the right political outcome."
Aside from the fact that Gen. Clark can talk coherently about international affairs, which is such a nice change from any of the Cheneyites, there is something else vitally important at work here. This is someone who is unrelenting in defense of the US because he understands and takes seriously that other people believe in their nations (or movements), too, and are willing to go to great lengths to preserve them. Valuing American practices and institutions does not require the denigration of other nations - to the contrary, it places a greater burden on us to inhabit our beliefs - of justice, humanity, peaceful resolution, but also democracy, quality of life and freedom of conscience. He also points out that what we see as "terrorists" locals see as a socially and economically constructive organization, people who deliver food, education and protection. We have to understand that Lebanese have a number of rational reasons to look kindly on Hizbullah.

It is, above all, a pragmatic and unshakeably ethical approach to regional conflict, which is not going to go away anytime soon. Perhaps the middle east can be calmed, but situations like Kashmir and Darfur remain to be adequately addressed. Gen. Clark makes no bones about war is to be used for - achieving political goals. How does this differ from the Bush doctrine? Refer to the above paragraph. If you regard other nations, governments and populations as both rational actors (who can and will negotiate) and as unique yet equal others to yourself (beings who are ends, not means, and who must be treated as such), then there are kinds of war that are off-limits, such as preemptive strikes on other states with whom you can bargain. Invasions of other countries for domestic consumption. Activing out tribal resentments against demonized foes. In short, you will not conduct war the way Bush has done, as an extension of a violent and hateful will.

It sounds so ... simple. Talk to people. Ask them what they want. Tell them what you want. See if there is common ground. Repeat. And repeat. And repeat. Because you always have war to turn to. That's the easy choice, to declare, as one of Clark's questioners did, that "they" are fanatics who cannot be reasoned with, only destroyed. Then you don't have to offer your own reasons or change your views, objectives and desires.

In a time when the Sec. of State is calling bombing of civilians "birth pangs", when End Times nutcases are being invited to the White House as advisors, and when the adminsitration seems to regard wel regulated government and the rule of law as something to avoid at all costs, this simple advice seems exotic.

I don't think it ironic, in the way Billmon does, that the strongest voices against use of the military as the primary tool of foreign policy is to be found among military personnel. My father, a Marine in the Korean War and son of a Navy officer, taught his children to be suspicious of war-mongering and to listen to the vocies of peace. I know from the time I worked at the Naval hospital that no one was as outraged at the waste of life as the people who tried to put the war-torn men and women back together. Gen. Clark has a word on the cost of war as well.
"Clark said he knows what it feels like to be responsible for the deaths of innocents. When he was fighting the air war in Serbia, a cluster bomb accidentally went off over a schoolyard and children were killed. A few days later there was a note on his desk from a child’s grandfather. "I will never forgive you," the man wrote. Clark said he has prayed for forgiveness ever since."

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