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The United States is at a pivotal crossroads, says Gen. Wesley Clark. He believes our country’s history of rallying around conflict will no longer serve us, in the face of crises at home and abroad. After 35 years in uniform, a presidential bid and a return to the business world, Clark says it’s time for a new national strategy. With the eyes of the nation continually looking ahead to the next war, he says, we are paralyzed –- unable to address our most pressing issues, from climate change to China’s ascent. A conversation with Gen. Wesley Clark on why the issues uniting Americans should be energy independence and economic growth, not war.
- Gen. Wesley Clark Retired four-star general in the United states Army and former NATO Supreme Allied Commander; 2004 democratic presidential candidate; distinguished fellow at UCLA Berkle Center.
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Tune in at 10 a.m. (ET) Thursday, Oct. 9, for live streaming video of General Wesley Clark.
MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. General Wesley Clark says the U.S. has been without a strong national strategy since the end of the Cold War relying on overseas conflicts to bring Americans together. He argues for new actions to deal with the country's primary issues today from terrorism to the ascent of China to climate change. None of these, he says, can be solved with the focus on war. General Clark's new book is titled "Don't Wait For The Next War."
MS. DIANE REHMHe joins me in the studio. Throughout the hour, we'll be taking your calls, your comments. Join us by phone at 800-433-8850. Send us an email to email@example.com. Follow us on Facebook or send us a tweet. And we do invite you to watch a live video stream of the interview on our website, drshow.org, that will add to your listening pleasure. General Clark, it's so good to see you again.
GEN. WESLEY CLARKWell, thank you very much, Diane, it's great to be here with you.
REHMThank you. How did we end up relying on war to give us a sense of direction and purpose.
CLARKIt's the way America has always been. You know, we started as 13 diverse colonies and we fought a war to become free from Britain and people in the colonies were in charge and they reluctantly gave up their authority, some of their authorities, to a central government, first in the Article of Confederation and then, finally, in the U.S. Constitution.
CLARKAnd we built a system of checks and balances and separation of powers. We don't like a strong executive and we were fortunate. We had lots of people coming in. We had lots of land out there, which we took from other people, by the way, but it seemed like we had boundless opportunities and we raced across a continent, built a nation. And normally, it worked, except when we came up with an intractable issue like slavery, where we had to fight it out.
CLARKAnd we were protected by two oceans and our presidents recognized this. George Washington warned us against entangling alliances and James Monroe told us others about the Monroe Doctrine, keep out of the Western Hemisphere, he said. America's got the Western Hemisphere. So we were protected. And then, World War I came along and President Wilson didn't want us to fight it and finally, even after he was elected the second time on a nonintervention doctrine, the Germans continued unrestricted submarine warfare and he was force to fight.
CLARKThe country came together in a slam. Ten million men put on their arms. We did the same thing in World War II. And then, of course, when war is over, we go our separate ways. We're Americans. We want freedom, individual. We don't want a state telling us what to do. And Eisenhower managed to craft a national strategy when he became president in 1953. He explained that even though Democrats and Republicans had different ideas and Eisenhower was a Republican, he was a union guy. He didn't like lawyers.
CLARKHe liked big businesses. He liked farmers. And he was a Kansas Republican, but he said, you know, the differences that divide us, they're small compared to the need to come together as Americans to fight against the great evil of Communism, paraphrasing his words. This was in his inaugural speech and that formulation was America's national strategy for the next 40 years. Democrats and Republicans alike, we all recognized the existence of the Soviet threat and we knew that it was a threat that could destroy our country.
REHMBut when Vietnam came along, there was no cohesion. There was a great deal of division and the country began to think more seriously about whether engagement was really going to bring us together.
CLARKIt's true. And Vietnam was one of those major speed bumps in the strategy, but it was an amazing thing. You know, I was a captain at the time and when I was at Fort Leavenworth in 1974 and '75 and Vietnam fell, in that period, of course, we said we'd never fight again and so forth, but at the same time, the Syrians and the Egyptians attacked Israel. We looked at new Soviet technology. We realized that we still had responsibilities in Europe and that the Soviet military had generated a whole new set of equipment and fighting doctrines.
CLARKAnd so when Ronald Reagan became president, we had to -- we seriously addressed that and that buildup and that intensity, along with the crumbling and failures of the Soviet economy and the political system behind it lead to the end of the Cold War. So the strategy that Eisenhower crafted, the idea that Americans have to pull together despite their political differences at home because there's a major threat abroad was a national strategy and Eisenhower coupled that with building the military industrial complex.
CLARKHe knew that you had to do stuff at home to be able to -- he was nervous about the military industrial complex. We'd never had one and he warned us of the possibility it might become too powerful, but that was a national strategy. Now, what happened after that is that Democrats and Republicans went their own way, the '90s were an incredibly prosperous decade and President Bill Clinton whom, I believe, was a brilliant president and he did some amazing things in foreign policy, but he did them often with the neglect of the American people.
CLARKThey didn't understand what he was doing at the time and even active opposition in the Congress. I remember being told by a member of the United States Senate said, you don't want to go over there in there Balkans and fight Bill Clinton's wars, do you? I mean, that's hardly a unified national strategy. And, of course, after 9/11, especially when Secretary of State Colin Powell said it was an act of war, well, the country pulled together.
CLARKBut, unfortunately, we focused on the wrong thing. It wasn't a real national strategy. It was a misguided lunge into the Middle East that I attribute, in part, to this fixation by a portion of the Republican Party to finish the job from the first Gulf War against Saddam Hussein.
REHMAnd since you're book came out, people have, again, been talking about statements you made in 2007 when you, as a retired general, talked about a neocon policy coup aimed at toppling the governments of seven Arab nations. Do you still believe that that policy coup really took over and directed the country from there on?
CLARKWell, I don't know if it took over and directed the country, but I do know there was discussion of it inside the government and it never really reached the American people. I remember testifying in front of the Congress in front the armed services committee with General Shalikashvili and a couple of other retired generals in the fall of 2002 about the resolution for the Gulf War.
CLARKAnd I had been warned by people inside the Pentagon about the thinking. And I looked at the draft resolution that had been proposed and it said the United State was authorized to use force in the region undefined. I talked to Senator Warner at the break. I said, Senator, you can't -- I didn't say this in the hearing because I was trying to be, you know, respected, retired, military officer.
CLARKAnd I wasn't in politics at the time. I wasn't a member of a party or anything and I certainly wasn't thinking about running for office. But I did say to Senator Warner, I said, Senator, you know, you can't let this resolution be so broad. It authorizes military action everywhere.
REHMWell, and you talked...
CLARKHe changed it, by the way, Diane.
REHMI know he did. You talked about the aim of this so-called plot, which was to destabilize these seven countries in the Middle East and that took you back to a conversation you had with Paul Wolfowitz back in 2001. Tell me about that conversation.
CLARKRight. It was actually 1991, even earlier.
CLARKIt was right after the Gulf War and I'd been the commander at the army's national training center so I didn't get to go to the war, but I had to come to Washington for some meetings and I had been in the Pentagon. It was a Friday afternoon, one of these beautiful May Friday afternoons, sunny and warm and I was out of the meetings and I went by to see General Powell and say hello to him and that was about five minutes and then I thought, well, Secretary Wolfowitz was out with us at the national training center.
CLARKHe said to come see him if I got to the Pentagon. Maybe he's available. We called up and Scooter Libby came to the door and said, yeah, the secretary will see you. I came back in and I talked to Undersecretary Wolfowitz and I said, you got to be really proud about how the troops did. He said, yeah, he said, but the problem is, he said, we didn't get rid of Saddam Hussein. He said, President Bush says that his own people will get rid of him.
CLARKAnd at the time, there was a Shiite rebellion in Southern Iraq. But Senator Wolfowitz said, but I doubt it, he said, but we did learn one thing, he said. We learned that we can use military force with impunity, that the Soviets won't stop us. And he said, we've got -- he's musing and thinking out loud maybe. He said, we got five or ten years to clean up these old Soviet surrogate states like Iraq and Syria before the next big super power comes along.
CLARKWell, it was a Friday afternoon and this was a big idea. I mean, I grew up in an army that we said the success of our military is we don't have to fight and here was a man saying, we might fight and do it as a strategy. I said, well, do you mean, use military force? He said, well, if it's necessary. I said, well, you say only five or ten years? I mean, he said, well it could be more than that. I said, but who's the next super power? Is it China? He said, it could be, don't know.
CLARKAnd then, the conversation sort of drifted off and I left there struck by this was a strategist speaking. This was a new approach to American policy.
REHMGeneral Wesley Clark, his new book is titled "Don't Wait For The Next War." We're gonna take a short break here. Don’t forget you can see our conversation by going to drshow.org. We'll be right back.
REHMAnd welcome back. Retired General Wesley Clark is with me. He has a brand new book -- pardon me. It's called "Don't Wait for the Next War." He is of course a retired four-star general in the U.S. Army, former NATO Supreme Allied Commander. He made a bid for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2004. If you're just joining us, a reminder you can see the show live by going to drshow.org. You can join us with your questions, comments, 800-433-8850.
REHMYou talk about five major problems that we need to be focused on right now, terrorism, cyber security, financial system stability, the ascent of China and climate change. Right now we have airstrikes going on in Iraq and in Syria. We have some allied Arabs going with us. We are once again focused on war and not on the issues you regard as important. What do you think of this strategy?
CLARKWell, I think that the American people really want us -- they want to understand the big picture. And ever since 2001 we've been narrowly focused on the Middle East. That's why President Obama tried to execute a pivot in foreign policy in 2011 and say, look, there's so much going on in Asia, we have to pay attention to Asia. But it never really got traction. And there was a little too much military in it. In reality what we need is a national strategy that helps Americans understand the direction the country's moving in.
CLARKYou know, in poll after poll American always say, the country's going in the wrong direction but no one ever can quite fix it. You don't know whether the wrong direction is too much focus on Kim Kardashian or too much focus on the Middle East and not enough wages or too much -- I mean, we don't know. It's not articulated.
CLARKBut what's clear is that there are these five major issues and they're dragging at America. They're long-term issues. You can't fix them by buying an aircraft carrier, sending a diplomat abroad or something like this. They're public and private. They're international. They're long term. They're going to continue past the incumbency of President Obama and the next president.
REHMAnd I understand we will talk more about that, but I'd still be interested in your understanding and your evaluation of the president's strategy now.
CLARKWell, I think we haven't seen the whole strategy, but I think there are components of it that are exactly right. So obviously...
CLARK...we should use the power we have to combat terrorism. And we're very effective at using airpower. Now, everyone says that you've got to have boots on the ground. It's true but what they don't tell you is the boots on the ground are a necessary but not sufficient condition for success. To have a sufficient condition for success you have to establish governance in the ungoverned area. And that governance has to be from people who, they may be Islamic but they're going to commit to not...
REHMThey want to have government, yes.
CLARK...using terrorism. Right. So you've got to have -- so that's the moderate Syrian opposition. So why not do this? Why not empower the moderate Syrian opposition. Tell them to get in there in northern Syria around Aleppo, stake out a free Syria, put the armed forces and the various groups that are fighting under their leadership. Give them the temporary air cover they need to survive. Let the Turks sign an agreement with them and say, okay, you know, while we're building our armed forces we'll invite Turkey to come in on the condition that when we're done, you know, you all leave. This is Syria not Turkey. And work through these issues that way.
CLARKI think that's the strategy we'll probably end up with but it's a long difficult road to get there. And if you take a snapshot every day it may look like ISIS is winning but ISIS is not going to win this. The coalition will be much stronger. And what Gadhafi found, even what Putin's finding when he messes with the west is, we may be slow to get started but once the grip is on, it doesn't relax.
REHMDo you think that the president's strategy early on not to arm those Syrian rebels was the right strategy?
CLARKWell, I think there was a problem early on because when the war started in Syria, it wasn't like a political movement that then took up arms and had a leader and some defined political objectives. It was an inchoate rebellion against Bashar Assad. And so there were many different groups fighting for many different reasons. And it was difficult to give the money and resources to a political leadership that had some goals and had the promise of governing if Bashar Assad was replaced. And you didn't just want to dump the weapons in to these armed groups because you didn't know what they stood for. So it was a dilemma.
CLARKAnd I wasn't there on the inside. I can't tell you how much effort went into it. I have met with the Syrian opposition. When I first met with them over a year ago, I challenged them. I said, can you govern? They said, oh yeah, we've been through classes. I said, well, what are you doing in London and Paris and Chicago and Washington? Get into Syria. But, you know, they didn't quite -- I said, do you understand that President Izebegovic (sp?) would never have retained Bosnia had he not stayed in Sarajevo and taken the personal risks as a leader.
CLARKIf President Izebegovic in the 1990s had gone to Syria and said, hey, we want you Americans to bomb those Serbs in Bosnia so I can have my country back, we wouldn't have done it.
REHMSo but isn't the problem now identifying precisely who the Syrian rebels are in order to be able to assist them?
CLARKSure. But the way you have to do this is not only at the bottom but at the top. So you've got to know who the Syrian political leaders are.
CLARKDo you think you know exactly who they are?
CLARKI know the ones I've met with and our State Department does and we've vetted them. But they're not all that strongly connected to all the fighting forces. So you have to give them the wherewithal and they have to be capable of taking that to coalesce the movement around them. And then they have power over these fighters and they can control them. And they're the ones that have to direct. And when they find the extremists they've got to cut them off.
REHMUltimately do you believe that beyond the current, I don't know, 600 or 2,000 advisory forces on the ground, do you believe U.S. military forces will be there?
CLARKWell, I hope we won't be because one of the things we showed is that our ability to destroy an enemy is virtually unlimited. But our ability to put in a government and resolve disputes and hatreds and factional strife that goes back centuries in this part of the world is very, very limited. We don't have enough people that speak the language. We're not culturally sympathetic to it. They're not sympathetic to us culturally. We're look on as infidels. We can't really understand them and their families the way we did, let's say, in post World War II Germany or Japan. And it's just a different civilization. They have to do the hard work of nation building themselves.
REHMDo you believe that nation building in this country that is strategizing to bring the country together depends on the leadership of the president?
CLARKWell, certainly. I mean, the president sets the -- he sets the tone and gives the message.
REHMAnd do you believe that Barack Obama has thus far been unable to do that?
CLARKWell, I don't believe that he's been unable to do it. I think if you look -- if you were inside the White House and you felt it, you would see that you're barraged by people asking you to do things. It's not like you've turned off and you're not in charge. You're saying yes to this, no to that, maybe this, postpone this, let's see -- make that happen, give me more information.
REHMBut people are accusing him of being disconnected.
REHMNot paying enough attention.
REHMYou don't believe that.
CLARKWell, I'm not in there, Diane.
CLARKAnd that's a personal charge. I can't make it but here's what I can say about this. I think there's a strategy that the United States has to follow in world affairs. And I think we have to be very careful in this time of many distractions to follow this. That strategy is this, we've got to strengthen our relationship with Europe. That's the -- if you look long term out in the future, our challenge to the world as we know it, international law, the United Nations, the ability to have contracts that work across boundaries, the economy itself is dependent on the web of organizations and laws and procedures that we strengthened, and in some cases created, after World War II.
CLARKAs china grows and becomes more powerful, it has to become, along with us, a protector and a developer, an enhancer of this structure. If it decides to go its own way, the traditional Chinese way which says China's the center of the world. You people can come in here and pay homage to the emperor if you choose. Make sure you bring good gifts and then be gone. If they take that view of the world and they're much more powerful than we are, it could be very damaging to everybody.
REHMConsidering what's happened in Hong Kong over the last few weeks, to what extent or which role is China playing now?
CLARKWell, they're not going the way that we had hoped in the early 1990s. We saw a flash of this at Tiananmen Square in 1989. We recognized, hey, they look like they're going toward a modern economy but -- and they should be going toward democracy but they can't tolerate descent. They can't tolerate the challenge to the authority of the communist party. We hoped during the 1990s when we opened up the world economy to them and they joined the World Trade Organization that there would be some amelioration of these harsh Chinese policies. We hoped that they would feel more secure. But at least so far they don't.
REHMYou ran for president in 2004. Do you intend to run again?
CLARKYeah, I'm quite sure.
REHMYou have no intention whatsoever.
CLARKNo intention whatsoever.
REHMWould you -- if Hillary Clinton decides to run, will you support her?
REHMShe is your candidate.
CLARKShe is my candidate, yeah.
REHMNobody else out there on the Democratic side that you would support.
CLARKWell -- and let me explain. First of all, I've known Hillary for over 30 years. I've watched her growth. I've admired her from a distance. She was a remarkable lawyer in private practice in Little Rock. I live there now. I've talked to people who worked with her. They'll tell you, she was smart, she was absolutely determined on her cases. She saw deeply in. She's extremely effective in dealing with small groups. She's a leader. She's fearless in speaking out. And I watched her as first lady, Senator, Secretary of State. I think there's never been anybody quite so experienced and capable who would stand for the office of President of the United States. I hope she'll run.
REHMAnd you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Do you think her husband would be a great asset or would he perhaps impede Mrs. Clinton in the presidency?
CLARKWell, I think he'd be a tremendous asset, tremendous. I know there are people who'll probably say that otherwise and then try to use, you know, his presidency against her, which is unfortunate because I think he is a remarkable man, remarkable leader. He's brilliant. He's incredibly capable of bringing people together. He's visionary, got an amazing mind. I think it would be a great thing for America if we elect Hillary Clinton to be our next president.
REHMAll right. Here's an email from Reed in Tallahassee, Fla. who says, "I fully support General Clark's thesis that war is not the way to unite a diverse electorate. But how does he suggest we avoid committing ground troops in the midst of the ISIS presence on the border of a NATO ally?
CLARKWell, first of all, I think it's a really good question because she points out that Turkey is a NATO ally. We need to use that relationship and assure Turkey that they're going to be safe. We also have to understand we have an obligation to protect Turkey in the event they get attacked.
CLARKNow turkey has asked us to put in some -- a no-fly zone over northern Turkey so that they're safe. They don't want to get in a war with Syria, and especially not with Russia and have Russia against them because there are too many interconnections and vulnerabilities.
CLARKSo we should listen to Turkey on this. They want some help. They want a no-fly zone. Then empower the moderate Syrian opposition, put them in on the ground say, you know, Turkey will help you while you're building up your forces. You, Turkey, sign that you're going to withdraw on time. And let's give the moderate Syrian opposition a chance to produce a real alternative to Bashar Assad. Because if we put our own troops in there, what's going to happen is that Assad's forces are going to grow in power. They're going to take advantage of our presence to attack their opponents. And ultimately we'll be turning Syria back over to Bashar Assad. That's precisely what the United States has said we don't want to do.
REHMHere's an email from Dan who says, "Please ask General Clark to explain how Eisenhower's Military Industrial Complex affects the U.S. economy in 2014."
CLARKWell, the Military Industrial Complex he created through the R and D tax credits, through the development of programs like the Defense Advance Research Projects Agency through spending more money year after year on defense programs in peacetime, that complex generated some amazing results that have changed the economy. The whole move in modern electronics was really built out of government-funded, defense-funded R and D.
REHMI'm waiting for the but.
CLARKThere's not that much of a but in this. It's an amazing thing. You know, I used to work with DARPA a lot and they would also complain, we've got all these technologies and we paid this money and nobody wants it. DARPA had an electric car that ran 300 miles without needing recharge. They paid a company to develop it in 1994. DARPA went to the army and said, hey, we've got a car for you. It'll go -- the army said, we're not interested in cars. They went to the marines -- if the army doesn't want it, we don't want it.
CLARKSo this little company was stranded up in New Jersey for 15 years with this incredible battery technology. But by and large this has been a great gift to the American economy.
REHMI'll have some comments on that when we come back. I'm sure you will as well. General Wesley Clark. His new book is titled "Don’t Wait for the Next War."
REHMAnd welcome back to a conversation with retired Gen. Wesley Clark about his new book, "Don't Wait for the Next War." And if you're just joining us, a reminder, you can video stream us at drshow.org, you can watch the program, as well as listen. Let's go now to the phones, to John, in Northville, Mich. Hi there, you're on the air.
JOHNHello. I kindly disagree with the panelist. You know, you mentioned earlier that why not train the moderate rebels. Because it doesn't work. That's what we tried to do to begin with. And when (unintelligible) went down to help fund and, you know, train the rebels, you had some that became extremists. Just like in, you know, Afghanistan in the '80s. We trained them to fight the Cold War, our war. And it backfired on us in 2000 or '99.
JOHNSo this training of the rebels, I'm very against it. Because you've got people who aren't even Syrian who are with the moderate rebels. What business do they have being there, you know?
CLARKWell, I couldn't -- I agree with you. You know, we failed in Afghanistan in part because we only trained people to fight. We didn't think about what happened after they won. We didn't look at the end state we wanted and work toward it. The same is what I'm trying to point out we need to be doing in Syria. It's not about simply killing ISIS. We've got to re-establish governance in the area. Now, if we can -- if there is a moderate Syrian opposition -- which I think there is -- they're -- they believe in Islam.
CLARKThat's their religion. But they also want to adopt Western values. They say they believe in democracy and elections and things like this. And they're tolerant of other faiths. Fine. Then maybe we can empower them and they can provide governance in the region. We can't.
REHMAt the same time, surely we cannot impose democracy on a society that has a different form of governance.
CLARKYou're exactly right. This has been one of the big mistakes we've made. You know, we started in using human rights as a rallying cry during the Cold War. And after the 1975 Helsinki Accord it was very affective in the dissidence in Eastern Europe. They brought down communism using the Helsinki Agreement and the contradictions between that and what was actually going on on the ground. That was human rights. When you apply it to the Middle East it doesn't work.
REHMAll right. Let's go to Pat, in Dorchester, N.H. You're on the air.
PATHi. I served under Gen. Clark over Kosovo as a fighter pilot.
CLARKThank you. Thank you very much.
PATAnd -- thank you. It was very apparent at that time that you had political ambitions, as well. I'm wondering, you talked a lot about -- General, about things you thought about current policies and -- later on. I -- my question is, though, why general officers -- we don't actually want you to be insubordinate, but why do general officers appear very reluctant to ask the hard questions and take the controversial positions until after they retire?
PATThe impression it gives it gives the troops is that you are much more interested in your current career and your future political ambitions than you are in making the things right both for the troops and for the nation.
REHMThat's really interesting.
CLARKIt's a great question.
CLARKAnd, well, first of all, I've seen a lot of people who will speak out strongly in uniform. Often you don't know about it because when you're a leader and you give your opinion and your boss says, "I've heard you, but this is my decision." Your job is to implement faithfully and loyally his decision. Not to go to the troops and say, "Hey, I don't really believe in this, but here's -- we're going to attack the hill anyway."
CLARKSo you're put in a difficult position. But, Diane, can I -- I just want to answer this. But you have to reach your own balance as to, you know, when it becomes that significant that you're so convinced that it's wrong, then you have to stand up and do it. Look, when I was in Kosovo -- and I don't know what your comments is about my political ambitions -- and that -- we can talk offline. And I hope you'll give me a chance to talk to you about that offline.
CLARKBut I was trying to do what the president of the United States told me to do. He put his arm on my shoulder at the 1998 Commanders Conference and he said, "Wes, you'll take care of the Kosovars, right?" This was September of '98. I said, "Yes, Mr. President." That was my duty as a NATO commander. Now, when Admiral Ellis and Mike Short came to me and said, "We're not bombing enough. We don't have enough targets. Boss, we want to turn out their lights in downtown Belgrade like we did in Baghdad." I said, "Okay."
CLARKI took it to the North Atlantic Council and the North Atlantic Council and Secretary General Solana, Javier Solana, said to me, "Wes," he said, "you understand if you come in officially and you want to strike 400 targets the first night," he said, "we'll listen to you. But the end result of that will be the answer is no. And if that's your precondition, as the military commander for starting military operations, then there will be no military operation. You think about what's the right course of action."
CLARKSo I was required to see it from his perspective, as well. That's why we went after 50 targets the first night. That's why we couldn't what Mike Short wanted to do, which was knock out those lights and take down all those bridges.
REHMAll right. Now, what I want to ask you about is our entry into Iraq. Because that seems to have begun this long and disastrous road we seem to be on. If General Colin Powell, as he himself said, told President George W. Bush, you break it, you own it -- in regard to Iraq -- advising him not to go in, if Gen. Powell had at that moment said, "Mr. President, my oath of allegiance, of course, is to you, but it's also to the American people. I think this is the wrong decision, therefore I resign." Do you think that would have been an honorable choice?
CLARKI think it would have been an honorable choice, but I don't think that -- first of all, as Secretary of State he wasn't in the chain of command. Secondly, he didn't have the legal authority to stop it. He had tremendous moral authority…
CLARK…with the troops. But chain of command runs from the president to the secretary of defense. And Secretary Rumsfeld, Vice President Cheney and President Bush were bound and determined. Before 9/11, one of the first National Security Council meetings they had was on invading or doing something about Saddam Hussein. Gen. Powell went to the region. It was his first overseas trip, as I recall. He came back and he said, "We need to have smart sanctions.
CLARK"The sanctions program is not working exactly the way it could against Saddam Hussein, but we can make it more precise and more effective and we can tighten it up." And he was sort of blown off. And they were like, no, no. We're not that interested in sanctions. We're looking for other things to do. And then, of course, 9/11. On the day of 9/11, Sec. Rumsfeld reportedly sent a note to the White House saying, "Isn't this what we need to go after Saddam?"
REHMBut you don't think that Gen. Powell's resignation as secretary of state -- would that not have alerted the American people that something was wrong?
CLARKCertainly it would have alerted the American people. And it would have created a huge stir in Washington. But for all the people that supported him, others would have, you know, probably felt the other way. You know, there was a split in the Republican Party, as I relate, going back into the early 1990s. And there were always those in the Republican Party who said when, you know, Colin's a great guy, but. And there were always those who took a much harder line, you know.
CLARKYou can't trust the Soviets, you can't trust this, you've got to use force. You can't do these things. There was a split. And Gen. Powell, you know, he made the best decision by his own reasoning, by his own lights. He's taken responsibility for it. His support meant a lot to the administration.
CLARKBut his objections to it and his public resignation probably wouldn't have derailed it.
REHMAll right. Let's go to Laura, in Bay Village, Ohio. You're on the air.
LAURAI remembered, Gen. Clark, when -- correct me if I'm wrong -- you and I believe Dennis Cozenage were the only two potential nominees who objected to going into Iraq.
CLARKI think that's probably true. I tried to testify against it in a respectful way. I couldn't see the need to do it. It looked to me like an unnecessary war at the time.
LAURAI absolutely lauded you and I wanted you to be out president and I often think of how differently things would have been had you been. And now the question I'd like to ask you is, even on a local level, many of us who are not Muslim, we feel an enormous hostility. We don't know from looking at people, of course, whether they're Sunni or Shiite or even some other branch of their religion, but whenever and wherever we do feel a hostility. Well, in our lifetime, do you think there's any way to eradicate this?
CLARKWell, I think that Islam has to -- and Muslims have to sort out their own religion. We can't do that for them. And, you know, this is schism in Islam that goes back, well, the 7th century. But more than that, it's been exacerbated by Islam's confrontation and collision with the West. They were -- Islam was -- they believe that Muhammad was the last prophet, he had God's word, he told them how to live on Earth. They conquered most of the known world and -- within 100 years after Muhammad's death. And it seemed like, you know, God was empowering them.
CLARKAnd 300 years ago here came the barbarians from the West, the infidels and we were stronger, richer, more technologically advanced. How could God allow this to happen? And Islam has been struggling with that question for three centuries.
REHMHere's an email from Cynthia. It's a question about your support for Hillary Clinton. She says, "Hillary Clinton has been one of the most pro-interventionist secretaries of state we've had. It would seem a Clinton presidency would be a continued focus on foreign policy with wars of choice and meddling from Libya to Ukraine with disastrous results in both places."
CLARKWell, I do think that Hillary is a very strong leader. I think she has a very robust view of what American capabilities and responsibilities are. But I think to characterize her that way would be unfair to the record. She did a lot of things as secretary of state to raise the statue of economic diplomacy. We got talking serious about energy developments. So -- and we've been trying to encourage the Europeans to be less dependent on Russian energy ever since she became secretary of state.
CLARKWe have an assistant secretary of state who works energy policies and things like this. She's worked diligently with the agency for international development to promote development abroad. So she's taken a much broader view than simply intervention. But, on the other hand, there are times -- unfortunately -- in this world where the United States may have to use military power. Hopefully, we just deploy forces, not troops, but I think Hillary as president would be strong enough to make those decisions if required to do so.
REHMAnd you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Let's go to Will, in Miami Beach, Fla. Hi, you're on the air.
WILLYes. Good morning, Diane.
WILLGeneral, a question. We owe China a lot of money. Eventually they'll want to get paid. This strain of this debt is going to be -- create such a strain on the U.S. economy, and it will be eventually perceived as a threat to the U.S. in general. Do you see a war with the Chinese as inevitable in order for us to extricate ourselves from this debt?
CLARKNo. I don't see a war with China as inevitable. I think we have to work with China to help it understand that its interests can be largely synergistic and coincident with our own in a modern world. But that's a process of education. It's going to take years, maybe decades, because they still see the world through the lens of the Communist Party.
REHMBut one of our problems is we've got to get back on a financial foothold that somehow allows everybody in this country to enjoy a measure of prosperity. How do we do that?
CLARKWell, I think you've got to follow Warren Buffet's guidance. He says invest in a company that has the wind in its sails, in the right sector…
REHMBut suppose you don't have monies to invest?
CLARKNo. But as America, we do. We have $7 trillion of unused funds. We have the technology to replace all of the oil we're importing with domestic fuels, both oil, natural gas and biofuels. We should be encouraging the private investment to do that right now and saving that $300 billion a year we're sending abroad. If we just did that, Diane, we create another million jobs in America. We re-energize our economy. We could probably double our GDP growth rate in the next four or five years.
REHMWhat about investing in infrastructure?
CLARKI think that's a great plan, but that plan is blocked and it's hard to get private capital into it. If you go after energy, private capital sees profit in energy. It will go in. We need to expedite the permitting, toughen up the environmental regulations and -- because climate change is a real problem -- we need to put in a carbon tax on liquid fuel. But I think if you did that you could pull a grand compromise off and get this country moving.
REHMAnd you also talk about cyber security. You had JPMorgan Chase attacked, 75 million households affected. What do we do about that?
CLARKWe've tried for several years to have Congress enact some legislation that would empower the U.S. government to look after the broader definition of cyber security. It's like -- the way it is right now, it's like if you had a police force that only protected government buildings and left the neighborhoods empty. The U.S. government can't protect commercial -- the commercial side of the economy. We need to empower it to do that.
CLARKBut, of course, there's a price. So businesses will have to pay. And that's a detraction from their bottom line and that's why the Congress has rejected this legislation. But it's necessary.
REHMIt's necessary, but the Congress is not moving.
CLARKIt hasn't moved yet.
REHMYou're still waiting?
CLARKI'm still hoping because I think if we cast these problems the right way, these five are so compelling together that they will provide a basis for doing what Eisenhower did in 1953.
REHMGen. Wesley Clark. His new book is titled, "Don't Wait for the Next War: A Strategy for American Growth and Global Leadership." Thank you.
CLARKThank you, Diane.
REHMAnd thanks all for listening. I'm Diane Rehm.
ANNOUNCER"The Diane Rehm Show" is produced by Sandra Pinkard, Denise Couture, Susan Casey, Rebecca Kaufman, Lisa Dunn, Danielle Knight, Alison Brody, and Alexandra Botti. The engineer is Timothy Olmstead. Natalie Yuravlivker answers the phones. Visit drshow.org for audio archives, transcripts and podcasts. Call 202-885-1200 for more information. Our email address is firstname.lastname@example.org, and we're on Facebook and Twitter. This program comes to you from American University in Washington, D.C. This is NPR.
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