In the October 9 debate on CNN, General Wesley Clark claimed his “position on Iraq has been very, very clear from the outset,” adding, “I fully supported taking the problem to the United Nations and dealing with it through the United Nations. I would never have voted for war.”
But that doesn’t square very well with what he said on earlier occasions. He said he supported a resolution authorizing President Bush to invade Iraq when Congress was about to vote on it, and he wrote that “President Bush and Tony Blair should be proud” as Saddam Hussein’s statue was being toppled by American soldiers in Baghdad.
Clark was emphatic in the Oct. 9 debate:
Clark: The answer is very clear. The answer is, I would have voted for a resolution that took the problem to the United Nations. I would not have voted for a resolution that would have taken us to war. It’s that simple.
But what he said earlier was different:
October 9, 2002 One Year Earlier:
The Associated Press reported:
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.
At the time, Clark was backing Democrat Katrina Swett of New Hampshire in her ultimately unsuccessful bid for election to Congress. The AP quoted Clark as saying that if Swett were in Congress he would advise her to vote for the resolution then before the House.
The AP said Clark did call for a vigorous debate on the resolution, that he questioned the need for immediate military action, and that he said “he shares the concerns he hears from many Americans about whether the country should act against Iraq without United Nations support.”
But the resolution then before Congress – which passed overwhelmingly the day after the AP article appeared – did not require President Bush to get U.N. support before going to war.
Clark ’s remarks to Swett were also reported by James W. Pindell of PoliticsNH.com, a web site devoted to New Hampshire political news.
Pindell reported that Clark voiced support for the much-debated war resolution in Congress.
“Probably” or “Never?” What Clark might or might not have voted for:
H. J. RES. 114
To authorize the use of United States Armed Forces against Iraq .
…SEC. 3. AUTHORIZATION FOR USE OF UNITED STATES ARMED FORCES.
(a) AUTHORIZATION- The President is authorized to use the Armed Forces of the United States as he determines to be necessary and appropriate in order to—
(1) defend the national security of the United States against the continuing threat posed by Iraq ; and
(2) enforce all relevant United Nations Security Council resolutions regarding Iraq . …
April 10, 2003, as Baghdad Falls:
After a three-week campaign waged almost exclusively by U.S. and British troops, with no U.N. involvement, an article by Clark appeared in The Times of London calling it “a great victory.”
Clark: Can anything be more moving than the joyous throngs swarming the streets of Baghdad? Memories of the fall of the Berlin Wall, and the defeat of Milosevic in Belgrade flood back. Statues and images of Saddam are smashed and defiled.
Liberation is at hand. Liberation -the powerful balm that justifies painful sacrifice, erases lingering doubt and reinforces bold actions. Already the scent of victory is in the air.
. . . As for the political leaders themselves, President Bush and Tony Blair should be proud of their resolve in the face of so much doubt.
The article contained no hint that Clark opposed the “great victory” and no suggestion that he would have preferred U.N. diplomats handle the job instead. He did write a few days earlier that for an occupation of Iraq to succeed “we must gather legitimacy from institutions such as the United Nations and NATO.” That article appeared in the Washington Post on March 23. Clark has posted that article on his campaign Web site, but not the gushing Times of London article.
September 19, Clark Starts Campaign:
Clark told several reporters he “probably” would have voted for the resolution.
From: The New York Times, September 19, 2003 :
At the time, I probably would have voted for it, but I think that’s too simple a question.
A moment later, the Times quoted him adding:
I don’t know if I would have or not. I’ve said it both ways because when you get into this, what happens is you have to put yourself in a position — on balance, I probably would have voted for it.
From: The Washington Post, September 19, 2003:
Clark said today that he “probably” would have voted for the congressional resolution last fall authorizing war . . .
Clark said his views on the war resemble those of Democratic Sens. Joseph I. Lieberman (Conn.) and John F. Kerry (Mass.), both of whom voted for the war but now question President Bush’s stewardship of the Iraqi occupation.
September 20, One day later:
Clark scrambled to stake out a different position, telling The New York Times:
I never would have voted for war . . . What I would have voted for is leverage. Leverage for the United States to avoid a war. That’s what we needed to avoid a war.
At the CNN debate, Clark had this exchange with moderator Judy Woodruff:
Clark: Let me tell you what my story is. I always supported taking the problem of Saddam Hussein to the United Nations and bringing international resolve to bear. I would never have voted for war. The Congress made a mistake in giving George Bush an open-ended resolution that enabled him to go to war without coming back to the Congress . . .
Woodruff: But you acknowledge there were some changes in your statements about Iraq . . .
Clark told Boston Globe reporter Scott Lehigh:
The thing was, I would have voted for it for leverage, but had I been there and been part of that process, I would never have voted for it for war. The resolution I wanted was a resolution that would have brought them back to the United States Congress and showed cause before you went to war.
Lehigh reported that Clark “then stressed several times that he would have voted only for ‘leverage’ but never for war.”
October 23, One day later:
According to Globe reporter Lehigh, Clark called back to volunteer this:
I would have voted no on that resolution . . . I had serious concerns that the president had no intention of really building an international coalition.
Lehigh reported asking Clark why he said at the time he supported the resolution and would have advised Swett to vote for it had she been in Congress, and got this response:
Because I wasn’t following the resolution and I didn’t even know what was in the resolution … Had I been in Congress I would not have voted for it because I would have recognized that the administration was going to use it as an authorization to go to war.
(Note: Former House candidate Swett disputed Clark ‘s account. “At that time, frankly, he spoke with great knowledge about Iraq and the upcoming vote,” she said, according to The Associated Press. “My impression is that he knew more about it than most of us.” But Swett is a national co-chair of the presidential campaign of Sen. Joe Lieberman, a Clark rival who voted for the Iraq resolution).
Stephen Frothingham, “Gen. Clark supports Swett, raises concerns about Iraq,” The Associated Press State & Local Wire 9 Oct. 2002.
James W. Pindell, “Former NATO commander backs Swett in rare political endorsement,” PoliticsNH.com 9 Oct. 2002.
Wesley Clark, “Occupation No Model for This One,” Washington Post 23 March 2003.
Wesley Clark, “What must be done to complete a great victory,” The Times (London) 10 April, 2003: Features 30.
Adam Nagourney, “Clark Says He Would Have Voted for War,” The New York Times 19 Sept. 2003: A18
Jim VandeHei, “Clark ‘Probably’ Would Have Backed War; On First Campaign Stop, Democrat Lacks Specifics but Rallies Crowd,” The Washington Post 19 Sept. 2003: A5
Jodi Wilgoren, “Clark Explains Statement on Authorization for Iraq War,” The New York Times 20 Sept. 2003: A9
Scott Lehigh, “Clark ‘s Scrambled Message on Iraq,” Boston Globe 24 Oct 2003: A23.
Nedra Pickler, “Swett said Clark knew the facts when advising on Iraq resolution,” The Associated Press 24 Oct 2003.
Presidential Debate, CNN. 9 Oct 2003.