By William Safire
We have another retired general and another intriguing verb. Wesley Clark, during a debate in Arizona, was criticized by Senator Joe Lieberman for saying at first that he would have voted for the Congressional resolution that authorized the attack on Saddam Hussein’s regime and later saying the opposite.
Clark denied flip-flopping, explaining that he ”would have voted for a resolution that took the problem to the United Nations.” Pressed by the moderator, CNN’s Judy Woodruff, Clark explained, ”At every stage as we walked down through this resolution . . . I took the situation as it was and necked it down to look for the least worst choice.”
Is this what Clark had in mind? When I queried his campaign, the general was too hoarse to talk to me, but a spokeswoman to whom he whispered his explanation of his reaction to the Congressional resolution had an answer. ”What he meant by necking down was this: at every stage he was faced with an already-made decision, and he reacted to that already-made decision. Necking down means tracking as the decisions evolve and coming up with your reaction. He is saying, ‘Here is my reaction at this stage.’ ”
General Clark was kind enough to draw a diagram of this fascinating process that brings the definition to life with what mathematicians and physicists would find to be graphic clarity, but I am unable to share it with readers because a copy was vouchsafed to me on background. It has nothing to do with hyping a bullet. After close snake-checking, I can report only that the diagram of necking it down looks more like a staircase.
New York Times, November 30, 2003
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By WILLIAM SAFIRE
What if, by some miracle, everyone ‘fessed up to mistakes made about the surprisingly easy overthrow of Saddam and its unexpectedly bloody aftermath, and mistakes now being made in building democracy?
(1) In London, the amalgam of isolationists, pacifists and anti-Blair leftists — once certain they would spoil a state visit by branding the U.S. president a monster militarist — would generously admit that they had been a noisy minority, and that their discourtesy triggered a reaffirmation by most Britons of the ties between two freedom-speaking nations that lead the world in defeating tyrants.
(2) Gen. Wesley Clark would have to admit that his early reading of the Pentagon war plan on CNN was unduly panicky. Other analysts who feared heavy civilian casualties, masses of refugees, environmental disaster in the torching of oil fields and the mother of all battles in the narrow streets of Baghdad were in egregious error.
New York Times, November 19, 2003
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A month later you went up to New Hampshire, campaigning for Katrina Swett, a candidate for Congress in the 2nd District, and said this: “Clark endorsed Democratic Katrina Swett in the 2nd District in New Hampshire.” And “He said if she were in Congress this week, he would advise her to vote for the resolution.” And as recently as September of this year, in response to a question of the press, “On balance, I probably would have voted for it.”
This was the resolution that the president asked for, giving him the authority to go to war. And the record’s pretty clear, General, that you were supporting the president.
GEN. CLARK: Well, I don’t think the record’s clear, that I was supporting the president, Tim. I think the record’s pretty clear in the opposite direction. What I would have supported was taking the problem to the United Nations. I wanted to see the problem of Saddam Hussein taken to the United Nations. Yes, I believe Saddam Hussein was a challenge and a threat but I did not see an imminent threat. I’ve written thousands of words, I’ve spoken dozens of times on CNN and you’ve simply got to pull the whole record out to see this. I even said on the 16th of September on CNN, “Don’t give the president a blank check.”
The resolution I would have supported is a resolution that required the president to return to the United States Congress before he took any military action. I supported a resolution that would have given him leverage with the United Nations but not a resolution that would have authorized war at that time. So I want to make it…
MR. RUSSERT: But you did say, “Our president has emphasized the urgency of eliminating these weapons. I support his efforts.”
GEN. CLARK: I do support the effort to eliminate those weapons and I did then, but I did not see it as a threat that required us to go to war at the time. And I’ve made that very clear, too.
Meet the Press 11/16/03
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MR. RUSSERT: Are you suggesting that if you were in charge, you could have liberated Iraq without the loss of a single American soldier?
GEN. CLARK: No, not necessarily. But I would have worked on Iraq a different way. I would have viewed it as a challenge, but not an imminent threat. I would have taken the problem to the United Nations. I would have put pressure through the United Nations on Iraq. I would have worked for robust inspections. I might have kept a force in the region. And, bit by bit, we would have reduced the imminence of any threat that Saddam Hussein might pose. I was one of those, along with Senator Bob Graham, who believed at the outset that this was a distraction. This was a distraction from the more important war against al-Qaeda. And, in fact, it was a distraction, Tim. When we went into Afghanistan in the fall of 2001, CENTCOM was already planning the operation in Iraq. Instead of planning how to get Osama bin Laden, instead of putting the U.S. troops on the ground in Afghanistan to finish the fight against al-Qaeda and bring back Osama bin Laden, dead or alive, we had our top leadership distracted in preparing what to do about Saddam Hussein. And then, when we could have put the U.S. troops in, we withheld them, because there was uncertainty as to how long we would be in Afghanistan and how soon we might need those troops to go into Iraq.
So we’ve stretched and we’ve accommodated the Afghanistan mission, we’ve done as little as possible. In military terms, it’s been “economy of force.” And the result is today that al-Qaeda and the Taliban are coming back in Afghanistan.
Meet the Press, 11/16/03
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