Harrisonburg: Gen. Clark talks up Obama on national security

Story by Chris Graham
freepress2@ntelos.net

The approach of the Bush administration to foreign policy is a solution looking for a problem. Wesley Clark learned that on a visit to the Pentagon in the days following the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.

A former colleague who had worked with the retired general told him in late September 2001 that the administration had made the decision to invade Iraq. “I said, Well, why? Did we get any evidence linking Saddam to the events of 9/11?” Clark told a town-hall meeting in Harrisonburg Wednesday night. “He said, No, there’s no evidence. So I said, Why are we doing this? He said, I don’t know why, but he said, I know we’re not good at fighting terrorists as a government, but we’re really good at invading countries. He said, Maybe it’s if every tool you’ve got is a hammer, every problem has got to look like a nail.”

That fixation on finding problems to solve has been evident in the seven-plus years that the Bush foreign-policy team has been in charge in Washington. As a former NATO commander, Clark said he had seen the relevant intelligence on former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein’s regime. “I knew what he was supposed to have. He just wasn’t an imminent threat to the United States. His army had been cut by half. He was hobbled, he was scared, he was worried,” Clark said.

The sum result of the Bush administration’s ill-fated decision to key on Hussein: “Forty-one hundred-plus Americans dead, hundreds of billions of dollars invested, and there’s no end in sight in Iraq. Osama bin Laden is still in Afghanistan or in Pakistan across the border. And it’s actually getting worse in that country,” said Clark, a 2004 Democratic Party presidential-nomination candidate who is now backing Democratic nominee Barack Obama in the ’08 election cycle.

Obama has made it clear that he would bring an end to the war in Iraq and shift his focus to Afghanistan and other world hotspots if elected. Clark backs that strategy and has what seems to me a solid suggestion for getting the situation in particular in Afghanistan back on good footing. It begins with the recognition that “you cannot win Afghanistan by whacking Taliban,” Clark said.

“I’m not advocating a pullout. I’m saying, Put a success strategy in place,” Clark said, listing as the primary focus of his idea of a success strategy the interdiction of the thousand-kilometer border between Afghanistan and Pakistan that is being exploited by Taliban and Al-Qaeda forces. The strategy is a risky one, as Clark concedes, because “we do not want to invade Pakistan,” a 170 million-resident nuclear-armed quasi-democracy that is itself a political and military rival of the billion-resident, nuclear-powered democratic India to its east. “The last thing you want to have to do is have to send a brigade of the 82nd into Karachi with 3,000 troops to control 170 million people. It cannot be done,” Clark said. The goal should be to “prevent (Pakistan’s) problems from leaking over into Afghanistan,” Clark said. Engaging in working toward a resolution of the Pakistan-India conflict over Kashmir is a key to this effort, Clark said.

The Afghanistan solution needs to recognize that the country has always been a warlord-run country with a weak central government. “We’re not going to change that right away,” Clark said. “Let it stay a weak central government. Just keep people from killing each other. How? By giving them economic hope,” Clark said. And just as whacking Taliban is not proving to be the smart approach to achieving political stability in Afghanistan, neither is spending $200 million a year whacking opium poppies that are the cash crops for many Afghan farmers without providing some kind of viable market alternative. “Why not spend $200 million buying wheat from Afghanistan? And exporting it as a Public Law 480 gift to the rest of the world? People are starving out there. They’d love to have wheat. Why not make Afghanistan a breadbasket?” Clark said.

“We’ve got to have some common sense about this,” Clark said. “We’ve got to restore economic hope. And if we do that, let the Afghans work out amongst themselves what the division of power is between Kabul and the central government and these various tribal entities. Eventually this country will come together, if it’s meant to be. But it’s not going to come together simply by putting another hundred thousand troops in there and killing more Taliban,” Clark said.

That’s a hammer looking for a nail. The Obama idea is one that the military-trained Clark thinks makes much more sense. “Our greatest weapon in our arsenal is who we are as a nation and what our values are,” Clark said. “That’s why, as Colin Powell said on ‘Meet the Press’ on Sunday, people are lining up at embassies all over the world to get visas to come here, because they like what America stands for. We should live those values, including in places like Guantanamo. And when there’s a threat overseas, what we should be doing is using international law and diplomacy and economic power. We should be relying on our allies. And only as a last resort, a last, last, last resort, should we be sending in the men and women of the uniform,” Clark said.

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