When I interviewed Clark that passage was the one that struck me most and the one that stood out in my mind. The analogy hadn’t occurred to me before. But it’s extremely apt. And the backroom politicking over Iraq is something I know a bit about.
Why it stuck in my mind was that it showed not only a deep grasp of foreign policy issues but an equally canny sense of the informal and extra-governmental ways policy gets hashed out in Washington. More than anything it signaled an understanding that what we’ve been seeing for the last two years is part of a much longer history stretching back into the late 1960s.
The point is that the CPD and PNAC advocacy were both cases in which outside pressure groups — groups of neoconservatives — basically B-teamed the given administration, getting around their flank by working congress and the media to force the administration’s hand or make certain policy options politically unviable.
With Iraq policy this involved getting the Clinton administration off its policy of “dual containment” and toward one which, on paper at least, embraced the principle of “regime change” as American policy. This in fact was what happened with the passage of the Iraq Liberation Act in late 1998. The embryonic PNAC and other prominent neoconservatives worked the press, lobbied in congress, coordinated with the INC, and the then-weapons inspectors to push for a harder line against Iraq. And in significant ways they succeeded.
The details of all this are too complicated to go into at the moment. But Clark’s point isn’t “crackpot” or “bizarre.” He’s got it exactly right. The analogy to the late Carter administration is quite apt. And Kristol, Schhuenemann Stoll each know it. Indeed, they were each in their own way part of it.
There’s nothing untoward about this. This is what democracy’s about — organizing people, pressuring elected leaders, shaping opinion, and so forth.
But when you see these slashing words from the neocons against Clark, it’s not because he’s “confused” about anything. It’s because he’s got their number. And they know it.
Talking Points Memo October 2, 2003