Commentary

Clark Is No Ike

Retired Army Gen. Wesley Clark has become the great hope for establishment Democrats seeking to stop front-runner Vermont Gov. Howard Dean.

Yet Clark, who has based his campaign on his foreign policy credentials, actually has the strangest foreign policy views of anyone in the presidential race.

While Democrats were firing away at each other in the aftermath of the capture of Saddam Hussein, Clark was at the Hague seeking to hype his candidacy for president of the United States by testifying at the United Nations trial of former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic. Clark, who prosecuted the 1999 war against Yugoslavia, suggested that the tribunal be considered as “one of the venues” for trying Saddam.

That’s actually a foolish idea. Hussein’s crimes were first and foremost against the Iraqi people. Iraqis should hold him accountable.

Moreover, however satisfying it is to see Milosevic in the dock, the idea that the United Nations has a right to create artificial ex post facto law should discomfit anyone who believes in the rule of law. Milosevic deserved to be tried, but in Yugoslavia.

The ultimate absurdity of concocting special international panels with limitless criminal authority was demonstrated when Belgium claimed global jurisdiction over all human rights abuses. Activists filed charges against political figures as varied as Fidel Castro and Ariel Sharon. Belgium finally repealed the law after critics of the Iraq war threatened to target Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld.

But Clark’s greatest foolishness is his bizarre contention that Kosovo warranted military action while Iraq did not.

Clark is presenting himself as the anti-Bush with military experience. Alas, Clark is no Dwight D. Eisenhower.

Whatever Clark’s virtues as a military leader, his experience in Kosovo did not exhibit them. In that conflict Clark led the world’s most powerful military alliance against a small, impoverished country beset by a messy guerrilla war. It didn’t take the least bit of talent to win.

In fact, only a genius could have found a way to lose. As Clark almost did.

First, he, like others in the Clinton administration, thought that a few bombs - indeed, the threat of a few bombs - would solve the problem. When they didn’t, the alliance lacked a strategy.

Second, after the fighting had ended, he ordered British Army Lt. Gen. Sir Mike Jackson to block Russian troops from occupying the airport in Pristina, Kosovo. “I’m not going to start the third world war for you,” Jackson replied.

At least most Americans would have known Clark’s name had he managed to get NATO into a shooting war with Russia after the West had peacefully won the Cold War.

Even worse, however, is Clark’s contention that his war was good while President George W. Bush’s war was bad. I happen to think that neither was necessary, but set that aside. No serious person can claim that Yugoslavia posed a greater threat than did Iraq.

In early 1999, Yugoslavia was suffering through a nasty fight between ethnic Albanians and Serbs in Kosovo. It was a tragic conflict, but far smaller and less deadly than a score of ethnic and religious wars around the globe. Genocide it was not.

Indeed, the mass expulsion of ethnic Albanians that dominated TV screens occurred only after NATO went to war. It was a result, not cause, of the conflict. And Clark’s victory has led to ethnic cleansing of Serbs, Jews, Gypsies and non-Albanian Muslims.

Milosevic was a nasty character, but Clark’s claim that there was “an imminent threat” of war is just plain silly.

Milosevic’s regime was bankrupt and isolated. It made no pretense of developing weapons of mass destruction. It wasn’t capable of conquering its neighbors. It had no means to hurt the United States.

Nor was war a last resort after diplomacy had failed, as Clark said. The United States tried to impose its own settlement, which neither the Albanians nor the Serbs supported. Washington offered an ultimatum, not diplomacy.

Iraq was completely different. Hussein had engaged in a policy of domestic brutality on a massive scale, killing tens, and probably hundreds, of thousands of people.

He ran a police state, attacked two of his neighbors, killing hundreds of thousands more, and, it seemed, was developing weapons of mass destruction. He was capable of cooperating with terrorists, though those connections remain unproved.

Of the two, Clark thinks Yugoslavia posed the greatest danger? And warranted war without international sanction?

Such passes for foreign policy analysis from a leading presidential candidate.

Winning the presidency will require that the Democratic nominee be taken seriously on foreign policy. Clark is not that candidate.

Doug Bandow is a senior fellow at the Cato Institute and a syndicated columnist.