Rose: General Wesley Clark is here. From 1997-2000 he was the Supreme Commander of the Allied Forces in Europe. He led the NATO campaign in Kosovo in 1999. In the updated version of his book “Waging Modern War” he writes about the lessons of Kosovo and the challenges of the military in the post Cold War era and the war on terrorism. I am pleased to have you at this table. Welcome. Great to have you here.
I want to come to this book in a minute, but you, a military man, seem to be urging the President to go slow and not…and to be sure that they have evidence that Saddam has nuclear capabilities or.. or weapons of mass destruction. Too, don’t do it without NATO and don’t do it without the UN.
Clark: Well I am on that side of these issues because well for a lot of reasons, and I think fundamentally it’s a strategic issue for the United States. In other words, what is the greatest threat that we face and what’s the best way to come to terms with it? I think that the greatest threat is still Al Qaida.
We don’t know where Osama bin Ladin is and we don’t really have a good system for combating terrorism. Look, we walloped the Taliban and we know now that most of Al Qaida boogied out of there. Somehow they got over the mountains, they slipped back into Afghanistan and we’re still pursuing them. We know the finances have moved all around through uh Iran…
Clark: and now they’re in Sudan apparently with gold. So I mean there are a lot of things about Al Qaida we don’t know how to beat yet but we’re…we’re very good at using our military power. The problem is that when you use military power, you make mistakes and you create enemies, and you end up then bogged in another situation. So keeping in mind strategic priorities- focus on Al Qaeda. Then, if necessary, you go after Saddam Hussein or his weapons of mass destruction capability. I think it’s high time we force Saddam Hussein to comply with the UN Security Council resolutions. But, in doing that, as always, the use of force should be a last resort, and you should use force only when you have to. We’re just, as far as I can see from the information available, not there yet.
Rose: Have you seen everything everybody else sees, you think?
Clark: No, and the thing I learned in the government was you never know what you don’t know. But…it…. Apparently there is no smoking gun evidence. There’s no indication at this moment that he’s about to (clasps hands) put the nuclear components together, stick them on top of one of his remaining SCUD missiles, and point it in the direction of Israel (unintelligible). And, he’s been trying to develop nuclear weapons for a long time. You know, the CIA said that he was about to get nukes in 6 months. Well that was 1991 and apparently it’s harder to get highly enriched uranium than we think. We’re pretty good at controlling that stuff.
Rose: And the administration seems to worry about the fact that if we wake up and he has them, then it may be too late because he may then use them in blackmail.
Clark: Well I think…..
Rose: So how do you go into that blue-gray area?
Clark: It’s a significant concern and if he has nuclear weapons, it definitely changes the political calculus for the United States and the countries in the region. It’s not just the nuclear blackmail, but what it really does is make it much more difficult for the United States to use its military power in the region, because it means we’re vulnerable to being struck.
He might or might not use these weapons. We don’t know whether we can deter Saddam Hussein or not. But I think everybody agrees that it’s much preferable to stop him before he gets the nuclear weapons.
Rose: Do you believe he would use them based off of what you know and what intelligence you had about him in your prior life? That he would use them in the first strike knowing that it would mean assured destruction of him and the Iraqi people?
Clark: Well I would say not. I would say unlikely. He’s calculating, he’s cunning, he’s a man dedicated to his own survival but there is about him a certain irrational ability- a certain messianic streak that’s reported by people who’ve followed his behavior for years. And you can’t rule out the possibility that he might just that thinking that he was going down or that it was the end of his life or whatever, or that the appointed hour had arrived that he might try to do something dramatic to bring the region to catastrophe.
Charlie Rose, September 23, 2002