Monday, October 13, 2003

Courage in the trenches

I was out of town this weekend so I missed the debate on Thursday. Liberal Oasis has the best run down on it I think. LO focuses attention on the attacks by Dean, Lieberman and Kerry on Clark vis-a-vis his position on the war. Dean brought up an interesting point that I didn't know: Clark apparently advised NH congressional candidate Katrina Swett to support the authorization. This AP story from 10/2/2002 explains:

MANCHESTER, N.H. (AP) — Retired U.S. Army Gen. Wesley Clark said Wednesday he supports a congressional resolution that would give President Bush authority to use military force against Iraq, although he has reservations about the country’s move toward war.

Clark, who led the allied NATO forces in the Kosovo conflict, endorsed Democrat Katrina Swett in the 2nd District race.

He said if she were in Congress this week, he would advise her to vote for the resolution, but only after vigorous debate. The resolution is expected to pass the House overwhelmingly. Swett has said she supports it, as does her opponent, incumbent U.S. Rep. Charles Bass.

The general said he had no doubt Iraq posed a threat, but questioned whether it was immediate and said the debate about a response has been conducted backward.

I agree with LO that Clark's position on the war was essentially the same as Kerry's.

Clark has essentially the Kerry position, a nuanced view that strongly preferred patient, multilateral action against Iraq (more legit) yet supported the war resolution at the time as a way to get UN backing (less legit).

Clark, however, has one advantage that Kerry does not: he didn't have to vote on the authorization, so there is no permanent record of his support or opposition to it. In other words, Clark can say now that he wouldn't have voted for it and the only proof he has for this is his word.

This is not, by the way, a criticism of Clark's or even Kerry's position. I just don't think we should just take Clark's word for it that his anti-war credentials are as strong as he wants us to believe. At the same time that Clark was advising Swett to support the authorization, Dean was openly criticizing the Democrats for not asking more questions. Dean demonstrated political courage by opposing authorization at a time when the polls and the tone of the time said that it was political suicide to do so. Clark has yet to demonstrate the courage of his convictions on this point.

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