Wes Clark on the Iraq War

January 22, 2007

Just War Theory

Filed under: Legitimacy, Project for a New American Century (PNAC), speeches, Strategy — faithinwes @ 3:53 pm

Delivered at UCLA, Burkle Center for International Relations, January 22, 2007

Thank you very much for that- Thank you very much for that warm welcome, and thank you very much Dean Schill for your kind introduction and the opportunity to speak here. Now, someone asked me when I was coming up here today was I going to announce for the Presidency. (laughter) The answer’s no. I haven’t ruled out something like that, but I’m not here today in a political purpose. If you want to see the latest, go to my website http://www.securingamerica.com . You can see the speech I gave in Alabama last Monday, and it will- that, that’s the Political side. I’m not here to talk politics.

I’m really here in an academic setting, in a policy setting and a legal setting, because I think that war and law are two critically important regimes of study and practice in The United States of America, and it’s very difficult to find people who really do the crosswalk well. And yet, the failure to do the crosswalk can lead to enormous policy failures.

So, what I’d like to do today is talk about legitimacy, legality and public support in warfare, and I’d like to talk about it – if you’ll permit me to do so – as a scholar, as an academician, as a practitioner but not as a- someone who ran for office or someone who might run for office. So, I’d like to just set aside partisanship. There’s no partisanship in this. I just want to give you my best judgment from my various fields of experience, and it doesn’t matter to me whether you’re Republican, Democrat, Independent or- it, it just doesn’t matter. This is about our country and about our world, not about partisan politics.

I think we’re at an inflection point in American history. This is one of those moments where so much will depend on the outcome, the decisions, the choices made by our government in the weeks ahead. America’s Army is in a crisis. We’re bogged down in a failing war in Iraq. We’re- the President said we’re going to put 20,000 more troops in, but that’s a really hard stretch. No one wants to go to the draft, and yet recruiting’s been difficult in this environment. The Iraq Study Group called for a drawdown, but the Iraq Study Group was taken by many as an admission of failure. It’s driven our Sunni allies in the, allies in the region into despair, and it’s made Iran even more triumphalist than it had already been, and it’s recognition that Al Qaeda is more numerous, increasingly diffused, and still very much lethal. Congress is preparing to vote against and block the President’s policy of surging more troops into Iraq. If they succeed in doing that, then we’re into a different period.

It’s a moment of signal importance. It’s the first real check on the President’s foreign policy by Congress. For the region, it’s a shock as the U.S. is seriously considering a straight run of Neoconservative policies in the region, which saw the invasion of Iraq as the first step in knocking off regimes in the region – Syria, Lebanon, Iraq and Libya, Somalia, Sudan – and a complete reordering of the Middle East, and that’s clearly not likely to happen on the current course of action.

And globally, we’re at a moment where U.S. prestige and power are hanging in the balance. What’s happened to this United States of America since the 11th of September of 2001 when 200,000 Germans demonstrated at the Brandenburger Gate, when people all over the world came out and supported us? What’s happened?

The proponents of robust use of military power have encountered other realities. It’s that simple. Now, I hear the chorus of criticism of the Generals already. It’s coming out. ‘They should’ve asked for more troops.’ ‘The needed to have done more to protect the population.’ ‘The training of the Iraq forces should’ve been more effective.’ ‘They should’ve spoken up to the President.’ Yes, yes, yes. In war, it’s easy to criticize the Generals and in truth, in war, when Generals don’t succeed, they are very much at risk and should be.

But there have been far more serious mistakes made, mistakes that are far more grievous than the- whatever errors of omission or commission the Generals are responsible for, and they’ve caused not only the spiraling defeat in Iraq, but it contributed to our continuing difficulties in the war on terror, the decline in U.S. prestige in the world and the perception that even deeper challenges lie ahead.

What are these mistakes? What could be worse than these Generals not winning the war in Iraq? How about this: The failures to appreciate the importance of law, the concept of legitimacy in the conduct of American affairs abroad and the subsequent impact on public support at home. Those indeed are serious failures. Those are war losing failures, and they are not the responsibilities of the men and women in uniform. They’re the responsibilities of the civilian leaders of the United States government.

I was on the Bill O’Reilly Show the other night, and many of you know I’m on Fox frequently, and I enjoy it. But when I talk about diplomacy and international law, Bill accuses me of chatting. He says, “Oh, we’ll have one of those chats if you want to.” (laughter) Bill is of the realist school. He thinks, I guess, foreign policy is won by the, the bayonette fixed at the end of the rifle. I don’t. I think nations accomplish their purposes in the world by changing people’s minds. It’s a question of how you do that.

Dialog, diplomacy and especially law. Law is like the DNA of our society. We live under it. We don’t fully map it. The law genome has never been fully mapped and computerized and cut and, and you can’t transplant it from one society to another. It sort of seeps across national boundaries. It infects people through the media. It permeates our political societies here and abroad. It’s the influence of law. It builds culture just as it’s drawn from culture. But I’ve seen the power of law and the ideas of legitimacy effect the course of conflict, and I’ve seen the United States use law and legitimacy to succeed where all the military pundits predicted failure. And now what I see is where all the military pundits predicted success, I see our neglect of law and legitimacy leading to our failure.

Now most of us think in terms of legality in terms of our own laws, and that’s certainly the place to begin. You know, in the, in the United States Constitution, the power to make war and go to war is split between two branches – the legislative and the executive. And in Article 1, the legislative has the power to declare war and to support, to raise, maintain the Army and support the Navy. And in the second article, the President is the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces. So, as a result of the sharing of this power, the concept of Democracies going to war is always – in this Democracy at least – is very contentious.

Take 1940 for example. In 1940, the bill to initiate the beginning of conscription, the draft, to rebuild the American Armed Forces prior to World War II passed by a single vote, by a single vote. Roosevelt, then our President, had to create the fiction of Lend-Lease in order to assist Great Britain in, in fighting for its very survival. We gave them destroyers, and they gave us the use of bases through Lend-Lease. But it was a figment of good political craft, because it went against the prevailing mood of the Congress which was staunchly isolationist right up until the attack by the Japanese on Pearl Harbor that finally generated enough public support for the President to go to Congress and seek the declaration of war.

Or consider what happened in the 1970s. The Gulf of Tonkin Resolution was a- well, it was build on an incident that has been looked at and questioned many times, but it served as the legal authority for the United States government, two successive administrations, to prosecute that war until in 1973, as a result of the invasion of Cambodia in 1970, the action to support Vietnamese invasion of Laos in 1971, the fighting in Quang Tri and, and, and the Northern part of Vietnam in 1972, and finally the discovery of the secret bombing campaign in Laos, Congress passed, over the veto of the President, the War Powers Resolution Public Law 93-148.

The purpose of the act was to ensure that Congress would have a, a voice in the decision to use military force. Now, the War Powers Act is the great, it’s the great problem for the Executive Branch. When I was in Washington at the Pentagon it was debated endlessly. It was always talked about. ‘We’ve got to report this under The War Powers Act. Do we report it or do we not report it? What’s the threshold? How do we ask the question without acknowledging that it has to be reported?’ And staffers and lawyers just delved endlessly into this, and these issues have never adequately been resolved.

The truth is, The War Powers Act says that if the President introduces forces, he has to terminate that military operation in 60 days unless there’s a declaration of war or unless Congress votes to extend it in some way, or the President certifies he needs another 30 days to safely remove the troops.

The War Powers Act has been invoked 114 times, and it remains highly controversial, but it was not an issue in the case of Iraq, because the President won Congressional support for his action – House Joint Resolution 144 on October 11, 2002. It gave the President of the United States what he needed which was the authority to use force. He took it to the UN and then he used it.

So, U.S. law hasn’t been an issue thus far in the intervention in Iraq, and international law – at least so far- has not technically been an issue. The U.S. action had international legal authority through a whole series of UN Security Council resolutions issued under the authority of Chapter 7 of the UN Charter, and dealing with the issue of Iraq’s compliance with the obligations enforced by the UN Special Commission that was sent into Iraq at the end of the Gulf War to search for and demobilize Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction.

UN Security Council Resolution 1441, dated 8 November 2002, gave the U.S. authority to act under Chapter 7 which is the the chapter of the UN Security Council, UN Security Charter, UN Charter which deals with the use of force or threats of force. And so, typically when you take action under Chapter 7, what that means is you’re authorized to use force, and in the- in this resolution if you read it, it, it states that it’s the final warning to Iraq. So, the administration did take that as the full authorization it needed.

Many nations sought a second resolution, but we don’t recognize this very often in our own domestic politics, but UN Security Council Resolutions have the force of international law, and some governments cannot take military action without it being authorized by the UN Security Council. It’s supposed to bind nations, and that’s the signatory of the, that’s what the signature of the Charter means when nations are admitted.

So, we went to war on legally sufficient grounds, both nationally and internationally. The problem wasn’t legality. It was legitimacy, for U.S. actions went against the broad notions of legitimacy which have emerged at the heart of Just War Theory, the adherence to which may be for more important than technical legality.

So, here’s the heart of what I’m trying to say. We were legal in Iraq, but are we legitimate? Let me develop the case.

Go back to the Old Testament, for the beginning of Western Just War Theory. God often directed Israel’s armies, telling them who to fight, telling what to do with people they captured or killed, telling them to put whole nations to the sword and drive them out. It was the start of Just War Theory with a theological foundation, and I guess if you see Mel Gibson’s Apocolypto you might see the same kind of Just War Theory in, in, in practice in the sense that it has some different theological base to it.

If you look at, at a non- such a non strict theological basis, you start with Cicero, the Roman statesman who wrote on Just War Theory, and we trace in Western philosophy our modern roots of Just War Theory to St. Augustine and then St. Thomas Aquinas and then a few other writers up through Hugo Grotius and then into the modern era, and the gradual incorporation of what was Just War Theory into international law.

So, St. Augustine formulated it this way. He said a war’s justice depends on its purpose, its authority and its conduct. In his view, rulers had an obligation to maintain the peace. In other words, you couldn’t fight, you couldn’t be a good Christian and fight to defend yourself. You were supposed to turn the other cheek. That’s what Christ said. But the ruler who had authority in the realm temporal for his subjects had the obligation to maintain the peace, and it was just for him to fight so long as the purpose was to restore the peace and the use of force wasn’t excessive or cruel. He couldn’t go to war for, for spoils. He couldn’t go to war for aggression, but he could go to war to maintain the peace. It was a huge step forward in, in the formulation of Christian theology.

Five centuries later, Thomas Aquinas saw legitimacy in the ruler’s obligation to act for the common good, and here’s it’s not so much the obligation conferred on the ruler as responsible to God, but it’s the authority’s responsibility for the people that he rules. Aquinas, Thomas theory was later taken on by other theologians and philosophers who formulated ideas about proportionality – that the force used and the effort expended must be proportional to the fault to be corrected or the threat to be dealt with or the retribution that is justified. They, they, they put forward ideas about protecting the innocents so that you couldn’t do what Tamberlain did to Baghdad in the 14th century which is to slaughter every man, woman and child. That wasn’t fair and just. And people put in the idea that force should be used only as a last resort.

These ideas all bubbled up during the formulated 15th, 16th, 17th centuries, the Hague Conventions of 1899 and 1907 codified these ideas in law, for the first time in international law. So, the Hague Convention of 1899, for example, called for the peaceful settlement of disputes. It codified common understandings in the conduct of war. So, pillaging and plunder was outlawed. Hospitals weren’t to be attacked, nor were medical personnel. Prisoners were supposed to be safeguarded, not tortured and, and slaughtered. Poison gas was outlawed.

The 1949 Geneva Conventions and the 1977 Protocols further incorporated into international law the general understandings that had emerged from Just War Theory. The Protocol of 1977, for example, states explicitly that civilian populations shall not be subject to attack. When Curtis LeMay was doing the fire bombings of japan in the 1940s, he remarked to a colleague that maybe if the United States were to lose, he might be held accountable. But that was then, and this is now. We cannot legally, it’s codified in law, we cannot attack civilian populations, and in every target list I did as the Commander in Kosova, for that operation in 1999, we had to have it passed by a lawyer who was intimately familiar, every target, with this 1977 protocol.

Taken together, all of these laws basically express the increased efforts to restrict the destructiveness of war, to protect the innocent and further inhibit the use of war or the threat of war as instruments by nation-states. We’ve gone further. We established, for example, a convention on torture, and we backed it up with a U.S. law that was designed to enforce those standards. The 1996 War Crimes Act in the United States as well as the Federal Anti-Torture Statute.

In general, Islamic law has the same kinds of notions of legitimacy imbedded in it, and I don’t have the exact citations here. But for example, in Islam you can take just war against regimes that prevent people from choosing their ideals and practicing their beliefs, but you must not harm civilians. You must not destroy crops and property, and livestock. So, there are restrictions as well on the, on the, the use of unrestricted force. There are laws that suggest that you must protect the innocent. In general, these are ideas which cross cultural barriers, maybe not as explicitly as they’ve been articulated in some of the Just War Theory in Western philosophers, but these ideas cross cultural boundaries.

And what happened to us, I would submit, is that we begin immediately after 2002, after the UN Security Council resolution was passed, we begin undercutting our own legitimacy in the operation in Iraq. Even in 2002, the Neocon movement discussed broader aims and more intrusive motivations for the intervention in Iraq, and by February 2003 the President had begun talking about his aim of establishing Democracy, undercutting the Just War premise of the purpose for the operation which was directed at enforcing the UN SCR about weapons of mass destruction.

In the Neocon publications and the rumors circulating throughout the region, states in the region understood that the United States was going to Iraq as a first step, not a last step and that it wasn’t about weapons of mass destruction. It was about broader geostrategic issues. So, we had, from the outset, undercut the legitimacy of the legality that we received.

It was tough that any, and any of us who testified testified when you put a Christian army in an Arab country, you better work really hard at convincing the population that what you’re doing is legitimate. That should have drawn extraordinary measures, especially after the President had used the word “crusade” in 2001, and they called the Afghanistan operation, initially the name for it was “Operation Infinite Justice” which has, in the Muslim theology infinite is a word that belongs to The Almighty, not to be used to describe human operations. So, they had to change the name. And we should’ve been much more culturally sensitive to the idea of legitimacy than we were.

When we pushed to initiate operations in the Spring of 2003, prior to achieving a second resolution, and when the word leaked out from the White House that, in fact, some people in the White House were worried that Iraq might go along with the UN inspections. And what would we do then? How would we be able to invade if they actually agreed with the inspections? We further undercut our legitimacy, because we failed the war as a last resort standard.

When we went in on the ground of course, we made the announcement that we didn’t do body counts. Now, to us in the military who’d lived through Vietnam and the body count syndrome, that was a perfectly reasonable thing to do, but culturally it was incredibly insensitive, because what it said is, ‘We’re not concerned about how many civilians we may have hurt.’ So, we lost legitimacy on the protecting the innocent. And the pictures were splashed all across news media throughout the world except in the United States, the pictures of the civilian casualties. Some people said it was propagandistic, that it wasn’t actually true. We don’t know, but we know what the impact was. They further cut- undercut our legitimacy.

The administration begin to talk about the need to change a regime, but that wasn’t the purpose of the operation in international law. The administration tried to take credit for capturing Saddam and bringing him to justice, but that wasn’t the purpose for the operation. And when we failed to find weapons of mass destruction it furthered the sort of triple blow against the legitimacy of the operation.

Then we came along and insisted our soldiers not be susceptible to war crimes charges under the International Criminal Court. We made our allies sign statements to this. The actions at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo further undercut the idea of legitimacy. We were going against the very international conventions that we had promoted ourselves, and then the news on the renditions and the secret prison sites, which violate U.S. and international law.

For the Iraqi people themselves, of course, I was at a- I remember giving the, the, a talk a Davos in January of 2003 and sketching out how the war was going to end up, and at the end of the conference, Ahmed Chalabi jumped up and said, “You forgot about me! You forgot about me!” He said, “We’re going to welcome the Americans as liberators!” He said, “We own all of Iraq up to and through Baghdad. You said there’ll be resistance in these cites. There won’t be.” He said, “The Americans will be welcomed as liberators.” But of course, that was only partially true, and in fact every bit of research suggests that the Iraqi people have a very complicated view of the American presence there.

Yes, there’s some good that’s been done. There’s some bad that’s been done, and people then come down on, on different sides of the issue. But what you’d like to have is the mission viewed as vital and legitimate by the population, and that’s what we haven’t succeeded in.

And finally, there is the standard in Just War Theory that after all is said and done, the operation has to be successful or effective. Otherwise, it’s manifestly unjust. If you fail – you kill people, you destroy and you fail, then that’s not a just war.

So, by virtually every standard, if you add it up – purpose, effectiveness, the use of minimal force, the protection of the innocent, proportionality, last resort – by every standard, we have undercut the legitimacy which should have been derived from the legal authority to undertake these operations. And without that legitimacy, public support eroded. The reputation of the United States abroad has fallen steadily since the invasion in 2003, with recent polls pegging the United States as the greatest threat to peace, and in some instances President Bush as more dangerous than Osama Bin Laden.

Without public support abroad, the United States cannot succeed in the war against terror. Al Qaeda recruitment feeds on the resentment of the United States. Terrorist recruits are drawn in. Local Iraqis support militias and the insurgents. Nominal U.S. allies are unable to reinforce the U.S. effort effectively, and the U.S. finds itself increasingly isolated and ineffective, which in turn undercuts public support at home.

That’s a mission in deep, deep trouble. And I want to reemphasize, I’m not speaking and I don’t want to speak from a partisan perspective. I simply want to make the observation as someone who spent his life in this area, that this country has squandered its mantle of legitimacy in this conflict.

Contrast it with what happened in 1999, 98 and 99, the NATO led action in Kosova. Actually we had a really rough time at home and at the United Nations. We never got a Congressional Resolution of both Houses of Congress just clearly endorsing the action. We did report it under the War Crimes- under the War Powers Act, and the Senate voted in support. Congress denied. The House tied. Tom Delay led the vote against supporting the President in the Kosova campaign. We never got a UN Security Council resolution that fully authorized this. But we scrupully adhered to the principles of Just War Theory, and we won.

We used force as a last resort. We warned. We cajoled. I personally went to threaten Milosevic. I asked him to pull his forces back. He did. We put in negotiations after a massacre in January of 99. We, we then went out and did another round of negotiations led by the French at the palace of Rambouillet. It was all for nought, and there was nothing to do when Milosevic started the ethnic cleansing but resort to force.

We used minimum force. My Air Force colleagues believed in Shock and Awe, and we had a lot of problems inside the campaign. They came to me and they demanded, ‘Sir, we got to get more targets. We got to turn off those lights in Baghdad. We got to take it downtown.’ I know I said Baghdad, Belgrade. (laughter) But it was right out of the Gulf War model, but the Europeans weren’t buying it. They didn’t buy it, and in NATO all political, political authority approves every military plan, and the Europeans didn’t buy it. They forced us to use minimal force.

They, gradually we were able to ratchet up the force, but that was in keeping with the principle of proportionality, because Milosevic escalated his fight and his oppression of the Albanian minorities. We worked hard to protect the innocent. We scrupulously investigated every incident of so-called collateral damage where innocent civilians were killed. We put our pilots on television to discuss those incidents. We expressed profound regret.

I got a letter from a Serb grandfather I never forgot, where we had a malfunction in a cluster bomb over the schoolyards at Nis. And he wrote me a letter, and he said, he said, “You killed my granddaughter. I hate you, and I’ll kill you for this.” And when you go to war, it’s permanent and this is how people feel. He was probably no great fan of Milosevic, but we lost his support, and I knew it.

We arranged so that every neighbor opposed Milosevic, and in the end, the International Criminal Tribunal on Yugoslavia indicted Milosevic on the 25th of May, 1999 for war crimes. It was the final nail in the coffin. At that point he could not negotiate his own way out of the box. So, we sent a diplomatic mission in from Finland and from Russia and induced his surrender.

Two Brookings scholars wrote a book. They called it Winning Ugly. Well, nothing against the scholars, they’re both friends of mine, but the emphasis has to be on the first word not the second. We won. We broke Milosevic’s will. We saved a million and a half Albanians. We didn’t lose any American troops in combat, and it was over. We did it by following Just War Theory and working to strengthen the legitimacy of our mission.

In the end, Slobodan Milosevic paid. He was removed from office, sent to the Hague for trial as a war criminal, and today he’s gone. Kofi Annan, former UN Secretary General, said it this way. He said, “The war in Iraq is legal, but it’s not legitimate.” What he said about our war in Kosova was, “It was illegal, but it was legitimate.” We used the power of legitimacy to hold an alliance together and to break the will of a dictator. It’s the way to win, integrating all elements of U.S. power.

Today, as we struggle inside Iraq, some in the administration are looking to the next challenge. They’re looking at Iran. The saber rattling’s begun. We’re refusing to talk to our potential opponent. We promised Patriot missiles at Defense, sent a second patriot ba- aircraft carrier battle group into the region, assigned a Navy Admiral to take charge. The President’s used some threatening words, probably more tomorrow night, but we have to understand that there are limits to what pure force or the threat of pure force can accomplish, and there are limits to what force can be applied.

To succeed in war is to cause the enemy to surrender his aim. It is not about the killing. It’s about changing minds. In the struggle against Iran, we’ve got to have legality, and we’ve got to have legitimacy if we’re going to persuade Iran to back off in its quest for nuclear power and nuclear legit- and, and, and regional hegemony. The military option, sure it remains on the table, but this is the time to strengthen U.S. legitimacy as we move forward in addressing this issue, not the time to threaten and saber rattle.

And in winning the war on terror, I think we have to understand that our greatest weapons are our ideas – the U.S. Constitution, our Bill of Rights, our adherence to international law, our respect for others who have different cultures and different religious faiths. Those weapons, those ideas are powerful enough to have brought three and a half million Asian Muslims to live in The United States of America. If they’re properly applied, if they’re nourished by the principles of legitimacy the recruiting base for Al Qaeda will dry up. They’ll be left with a small hardcore band of fanatics that eventually will be hunted down or come in from the cold on their own. They’ll lose their mass appeal. They’ll lose their following. It’s not a matter of killing, although we may as a last resort use military power. It’s a matter first of the power of ideas and especially of understanding the linkages between legality, legitimacy, public support and success in modern warfare.

Thank you.



Michael Intrilligator: General Clark, I’m Michael Intrilligator. I’m Professor of Economics, Political Science and Public Policy here at UCLA. I’m also Diploma Director at the Burkle Center. Wonderful to have you here in this Burkle Center-

GENERAL WESLEY CLARK: Thank you very much.

Michael Intrilligator: (inaudible) But I do want to challenge your one point. You made the point that this war is illegitimate but legal. I question the legality of this war. As I understand the situation, we are members of the, the UN treaty. We signed the UN Charter. The UN charter’s part of our Constitution as a, as a treaty that we, that we agreed to. The Charter says that a member state does not attack another member state unless there are two conditions: One that they’re attacked and in self defense and second is that they can, they have the approval of the Security Council. Now your, your fellow General Colin Powell went to the UN Security Council on February 5th, 2003 and made an impassioned speech to try to convince other members of the Security Council to endorse our attack of Iraq. They did not agree to that. So, by rules of the Charter, we are- this is an illegal war. We are as much an outlaw as Saddam was when he invaded Kuwait in our attack on Iraq. What is your reaction?

GENERAL WESLEY CLARK: Well you know, I’d hate to disagree with the Eminent Former Dean of the Burkle Center. (laughter) I think it gets into the technicality of what is legal and what- I’m accepting the administration’s case that their war is legal because of the wording of the UN Security Council Resolution which does have the force of law and which they cited, as well as the U.S. Congressional resolution. Now, you could go deeper into it and say that the UN Security Council resolution was buttressed by false evidence, and that evidence was debunked until (inaudible) should rightly come back and withdraw its authority to act. But I think that, were I to get lost in that discussion, it doesn’t help illuminate the more fundamental point that I’m trying to make. So, I’m accepting for sake of argumentation that there can be a case made that the war is legal, but even if you accept that case, you can’t help but recognize that we’ve lost legitimacy in the action we’re pursuing. And the legitimacy is far more important in winning the war than the administration’s technical claim of legality, and that’s my premise.

Yes, sir.

Capt. Rio Miner: Sir, Captain Rio Minor, Assistant Professor of Military Science here at UCLA.

GENERAL WESLEY CLARK: Great to see you here, Captain.

Capt. Rio Miner: Thank you sir. Having, having said what you have said about legitimacy, is there any way at this point for us to regain some legitimacy at this point in the war?

GENERAL WESLEY CLARK: Yeah, I, I think there’s a, there is a path that we could follow. It might or might not bring legitimacy, but it would restore, it would start us moving in the right direction. What I believe we should be doing is aiming for strategic consent in the region and inside Iraq for the presence of U.S. forces. In the Balkans in, in the mid 90s we’d begin to talk about strategic consent. Strategic consent is when the top leadership basically acknowledges that the Americans or the international force should be present and they won’t oppose them, and they sign documents and other commitments to that effect. What I’d like to see us do is send a team of high level U.S. diplomats into the region. I’d like us to talk to all the parties in the region – Iran, Syria as well as the other counties that we have more in common, more agreement with. I’d like us to explore competing visions for what the future of the region should be based around a statement of principles that we bring to the discussion – that every nation should have it’s security respected for example, that one nation shouldn’t interfere in the internal affairs of another and then (inaudible) to pull together as a way of common perspectives in addressing the problems in the region. If we were to do that, we might find that our purpose would be perceived as more constructive, and if it were perceived as more constructive, we might both regain some of the legitimacy that we’ve lost and reduce the opposition our soldiers are facing on the battlefield.


Student: As far as the, my name’s (inaudible) major, as far as the engagement of the Iranians, how would, what are some of the aims that we should go out for (inaudible) you know, negotiations?

GENERAL WESLEY CLARK: Well, this would be a very tough problem with the Iranians right now. People think of diplomacy as being tit for tat – I’ll give you this of you give me this, or as they quoted former Secretary of State Baker allegedly saying to the Syrian Ambassador during the Iraq Study Group process, “What’ll it take for you boys to help us out here?” (laughter) Now, that may work for Texas oil boys. (laughter) That is, that’s not the kind of diplomacy I’ve ever seen work.

Instead, I think in this region the, the fears, the passions, the hatreds, they’re so endemic that this is a process, not a visit. This is not a list of demands and a list of carrots and sticks and you say, ‘Pick A, B, pick one from each of the above: You’d like to A) be nuked, (laughter) B) be attacked, C) Have your diploma- diplomatic mission reestablished, D) receive your frozen funds. Now choose one from the other list. I will..’ You know, that’s not the way diplomacy works. This is going to require dialog moving throughout the region to see what are people’s interests. What are they willing to risk to attain those interests?

But it’s going to be very tough now. The window’s closing in dealing with Iran. Iran three times approached the United States prior to 2005 looking for dialog. We labeled them as a member of the Axis of Evil. We refused to dialog with them. This was a regime we wanted out. We even campaigned and hoped the Iranians wouldn’t elect Ahmadinejad. Of course they did. So, and when you go to Congress and ask for 75 million dollars to overthrow the regime, you might understand how that regime may feel that you’ve more or less declared war against it. So, this could be a tough conversation. (laughter)

So, it can’t be simply walking in and say, ‘What are you prepared to give up to have us stop threatening you?’ Because you can’t address a proud nation that way. This is a dialog about a differing vision for the region. Isn’t it possible that the people in this region could live together without threat? Isn’t it possible that Iran could see much more economic development and a better life for its people if it were able to moderate in some way its hegemonic quest? Isn’t it possible that Iran could see its energy needs fully met if it were able to moderate its pursuit of the nuclear fuel cycle and making nuclear weapons capabilities?

But those aren’t questions that can be asked without in turn being forced to confront our own policies in the region. Has our administration backed away from its effort at regime change in Iran? What are we actually doing that the Iranians know about and that we’re not consciously aware of? Are we for example doing over flights? Are we juking to make them turn their radars on and scaring them? Are we, we putting Special Forces in on the inside? What, what are we doing? We don’t know those things, but we wouldn’t want to go into the region in a diplomatic mission without being briefed on them, because they’ll certainly be thrown back at us.

I, I was asked on Fox television one time, he said, “Look, don’t you think we need to bomb, attack Iraq, because they’ve got a pistol at our heads?” Look, I think if you look at it from from the, from the, from the 300 mile level in outer space, you would see that they only aircraft carriers deployed near the borders are American aircraft carriers off the coast of Iran, and the only ground troops deployed are not Iranian troops in Mexico, at least not yet, but they are American troops in Iraq. And so, I think we have to keep the threat of Iran in perspective, and when we deal with Iran we have to recognize we’re the most powerful country in the world. We have incredible economic strength. We hold the key to the G8, The World Trade Organization, The International Monetary Fund. We hold the key to advanced technology, energy development. He have that.

So, when I hear rumors that the President is unable to talk to Iran right now because we don’t have leverage, and so he wants to arrest eight Iranian diplomats in Erbil, I, I, you know, if it you have, if you have 1,000 feet of leverage, do you need another half inch? And we have 1,000 feet of leverage over Iran. We’re completely dominant over the country. Can’t the most powerful nation in the world deign to speak to an aspiring regional power?


Student: I’m (inaudible) at the Law School. It seems like Al Qaeda is a, a maybe a different type of enemy than we were facing in Kosovo in that they’re more international and also more politically savvy, with reports of we’ve recovered their handbook that talks about allegations to make. Is there any way that we can maintain legitimacy when we’re fighting such a political or media savvy opponent?

GENERAL WESLEY CLARK: Well, we do have a media savvy opponent, but let me just be clear, the Serbs were very media savvy too. I mean, for every incident that we created civilian casualties, they were quick to take international reporters there, and they broadcasted instantly. We never heard about Serb military targets we hit. They always denied we ever hit a military target, but if we killed a civilian and in one case we clipped a corner of a hospital, they had every corespondent in 500 miles interested in looking at the corner of the hospital where a bomb had gone 20 feet off course. And so, we felt like we were dealing with a pretty media savvy group.

It was, it was a different war. Every conflict is a, is its own chess game, and because you’ve won one doesn’t mean you’re automatically starting in the leading position in the next. Every one has to be approached as a distinctly different problem.

In this case though, the idea of legitimacy is fundamental to winning the war on terror. We simply must not take actions that can be portrayed in in the Islamic world or among Islamic minorities in Europe as illegitimate actions. Actions have to be explained. They have to be explained in, in terms that culturally resonate, and they have to be in accordance with Just War Theory. They have to be proportional. You have to use force as a last resort. You have to emphasize justice, not simply repression, and you have to respect people of different views. So, there’s no telling what harm the pictures of Abu Ghraib or Guantanamo have done in the effort to cast the United States as a legitimate power in the region.

But remember we were starting at a disadvantage, because many countries have invaded Iraq, the latest being – well, Iran – but also the Brits in the 1920s, and the Brits were forced out. Western powers typically don’t do well when they invade Islamic countries, and they’re not viewed as legitimate. So, when we started, all the red flags should have been waving and the light bulbs flashing and people saying, ‘My God. This war can’t be about killing people,’ and we should’ve looked beyond Ahmed Chalabi’s protestations that we’d, we’d be welcomed as liberators.

Audience Member: You mentioned that you think ideas are our most potent weapon against or enemies in, in today’s conflict. Do you think that- A lot of Neocons say that our ideas, our Western ideas, the Wilsonian Triad can’t resonate with an Islamic society. Do you put much credence in that and do you think that our illegitimate effort is undercutting the ability of our ideas to be effective there because they now associate the United States and these ideas as being one and the same and they can’t separate the two because of the administration’s policies?

GENERAL WESLEY CLARK: Well, I think that their Western ideas do resonate to people of Islamic faith, because otherwise so many wouldn’t come to live in the blessings of the United States. I remember driving in New York City, getting into a taxicab last year and a Pakistani driver recognized me. He said, “You know,” he said, “We came here from Pakistan, my three brothers and I.” or “my two brothers and I.” He said, “We had nothing, nothing, no chance. We were the poorest of the poor in Pakistan.” I didn’t ask him how he got to New York, but (inaudible under laughter) had that money for airfare. But he said, “We had nothing.” He says, “Now,” he said, “I’m the last one driving a taxicab. My two brothers own a building and with a restaurant, and soon I’ll be giving up this cab and I’ll be working with them in the restaurant.” And he said, “Only in America could we achieve something like this.”

It’s a wonderfully flattering compliment to hear of your country spoken in those terms by an immigrant, and it may be true. I think it is true in many respects, and maybe it is we’re the only country. Maybe we are the only country where that can be done, but, but I’ll tell you this, that we’ve done ourselves incalculable harm in the way the operation in Iraq has unfolded, the, the detentions at Abu Ghraib and other places, because it makes it impossible for us to go to ordinary people on the street and counteract the propaganda that comes from Al Qaeda.

Ultimately, you’re wrestling for the loyalties and commitment from the minds of other people. You’ve got to reach them in their hearts and in their minds, and they’ve got to, they’ve got to say, ‘Oh, that’s ridiculous, and you people say America’s the Great Satan, that’s ridiculous. My cousin lives in New York. He’s perfectly free. No one’s ever bothered him. He’s more free than he is on the streets of (pick a city).’ And that’s the response that you want, but I’ll just tell you, to do that we have to protect our own Constitution, You know, we’ve got to be very sensitive to the rights and liberties that we enjoy as Americans, because if we give those liberties away in the name of greater security, we’re undercutting our greatest weapon in the war on terror.


Mike: Sir, Mike (inaudible last name) class of ’95 from (inaudible), getting a PHD here. In this morning’s newspaper, here on campus, there was a story of a young Lieutenant, 23 years old, who graduated from the ROTC unit here. He went to Iraq because he though he was fighting a just war. He believed in, you know, helping the Iraqi people. What do you tell new Lieutenants?

GENERAL WESLEY CLARK: Well, I don’t want to comment on that story, because I didn’t see it. But The United States needs a strong Army, and I think that if you’re a Lieutenant and you’re leading a platoon and you’re given a mission in Iraq, you must do it to the very best of your ability, and you must take care to obey all the laws of land warfare. If you follow the laws of the Geneva Convention that we’re taught, you will be following Just Warfare Theory, at least within the purview of what you can do as a platoon leader on the ground in Iraq, and that’s the most we can ask of any of our Lieutenants.

I’m still encouraging people to join the Army and to join ROTC. I think it’s good for the country. I think it’s good for them, and I think that we have to support our Armed Forces regardless of whether we agree or disagree with the policies of the Commander-In-Chief. Commander-in-Chiefs come and go, but The United States is still a great power. We have worldwide interests, and the Armed Forces are one element of protecting those interests.

Yes Sir.

Audience Member: General Clark, how to the principles of Just War Theory apply when the adversary isn’t a country that can be easily identified, when for example there’s a danger that North Korea might sell weapons of mass destruction to a group like Al Qaeda and it’s, it’s unclear what the address is?

GENERAL WESLEY CLARK: Well, I, I don’t think that the principles of Just War differ in that respect. For example, I mean, would you be saying that because you couldn’t identify precisely where the weapon came from, you should just attack a country anyway? I mean, in some countries’ doctrine the idea is that terrorism always has a state sponsor, and so if we don’t know who you, who the state sponsor is we’ll just pick a state and attack it, and then that will force them to clamp down on terrorist that may be operating from their territory.

But that’s not an approach that will work for The United States of America. It may work for a small country in the Middle East. It won’t work for us. We’re the most powerful country in the world, and our power is based not on our military, not even on our economy, but it’s based on the belief that America is slow to anger and slow to act and righteous and fair in what we do. And when we go against that, we undercut our influence that’s, it’s an undertow that’s more- it cannot be offset by any number or aircraft carrier battle groups or Tomahawk missiles or Army divisions, and that’s the power of doing the right thing.

You may not always prevail without the use of force, but the use of force should be the last, last, last resort, and it should be used in a way that buttresses the other elements of national power, not undercuts them.

In the back.

Aaron: My name’s Aaron, I’m a Political Science major here. I’m also in Air Force ROTC. My question to you was, considering that weapons of mass destruction (inaudible) determining which nations are a threat – Iran going for nuclear weapons as well as Korea – how do you advocate (inaudible) our legitimacy and maintaining the nuclear balance when we’re endorsing and enabling India to get their own nuclear weapons as a balance against China.

GENERAL WESLEY CLARK: This is always- these are typical of the kinds of policy problems we seek to, to resolve, and every administration faces these problems. If it had been my choice, I wouldn’t have authorized the Indian nuclear agreement quite the way it is. I would’ve sought to bring Pakistan into the agreement and get more grip on Pakistan’s nuclear and tie that together with a regional initiative to reduce the risks of war between India and Pakistan over Kashmir and on other incidents that may trigger action along their borders.

So, I think that, you know, we are where we are on the issue of proliferation. I think it’s important to stop proliferation before it goes any further. I understand what the Bush administration has done. I understand it was approved by the United States Congress. In my view, it wasn’t the wisest of decisions, although I’m a strong supporter of India. It’s just in this case, I think we should’ve used that initiative to help advance the cause of peace in the region, and we didn’t.

So, these are, this is a, an area, when you’re dealing with counter proliferation or anti-proliferation policy, it’s an area that starts with a clear perspective on where The United States must lead. In the 1960s, we committed ourselves to eventual nuclear disarmament, and in return we asked nations to give up their nuclear aspirations and a number did. We implemented the move toward nuclear disarmament by pursuing a Test Ban Treaty, and then we sought a Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty. But it was never approved, and we’re now pursuing our own modernization of our nuclear war heads.

So, we’ve undercut, in the nonproliferation area, our legitimacy. We’re in trouble on the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty. It needs a fresh look, and it probably can’t happen for a couple years. But it will get a fresh look if there’s a Democrat in the White House I’m sure in 2008.

Thank you all very much.

Clark Community Network


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