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RNC’s Gillespie Gets It Wrong on Clark and Iraq

He claims Clark's House testimony in 2002 shows he supported military action, but Richard Perle was there and he didn't think so.


Republican National Committee chairman Ed Gillespie has been saying retired Gen. Wesley Clark was really for war in Iraq — but the record doesn’t bear that out.

“Wesley Clark claims to have always been against the war in Iraq. Y et, testimony he gave to the House Armed Services Committee two weeks before Congress passed the Iraq Congressional Resolution says otherwise,” Gillespie writes on the RNC Web site. Gillespie made similar remarks in a speech given Jan. 15, saying of Clark ’s testimony “There was no stronger case made” for going to war.

But Gillespie gives only selective excerpts of Clark ’s testimony to the House Armed Services Committee Sept. 26, 2002 . Actually, Clark repeatedly urged patience and diplomacy, criticized the Bush administration for undercutting “friends and allies” and said “I think it’s not time yet to use force against Iraq .”

Don’t take our word for it: Pentagon adviser Richard Perle, a strong supporter of  going to war, testified with Clark at the same hearing and said, “I think Gen. Clark doesn’t want to see us use military force … The bottom line is he just doesn’t want to take action. He wants to wait.”


Gillespie’s attack on Clark is a classic case of ripping quotes out of their full context in order to create a false picture.

Quoting Clark Out of Context

In a speech given Jan. 15 in Little Rock, Arkansas, Gillespie quoted at length from Clark’s 2002 testimony:

Clark: There’s no question that Saddam Hussein is a threat . . . . Saddam Hussein is not only malevolent and violent but he is also to some large degree unpredictable at least to us. I’m sure he has a rationale for what he’s doing, but we don’t always know it. He does retain his chemical and biological capabilities to some extent and he is, as far as we know, actively pursuing nuclear capabilities, though he doesn’t have nuclear warheads yet. If he were to acquire nuclear weapons, I think our friends in the region would face greatly increased risks as would we . . . . The problem of Iraq is not a problem that can be postponed indefinitely, and of course Saddam’s current efforts themselves are violations of international law as expressed in the U.N. resolutions.

Then Gillespie said, “There was no stronger case made (for going to war) than that expert testimony, the testimony of General Wesley Clark.”

The Rest of the Story

But Clark actually was making a case for waiting, and using strong diplomacy backed by a threat of force, not for going to war.

Here’s some of what else Clark said (with emphasis added by FactCheck.org):

Clark: I do believe that the United States diplomacy in the United Nations will be strengthened if the Congress can adopt a resolution expressing U.S. determination to act if the United Nations can not act. The use of force must remain a U.S. option under active consideration. Such congressional resolution need not, at this point, authorize the use of force.

. . . . In the near term, time is on our side and we should endeavor to use the United Nations if at all possible. This may require a period of time for inspections . . .

. . . . We have to work this problem in a way to gain worldwide legitimacy and understanding for the concerns that we rightly feel and for our leadership.

. . . .We should not be using force until the personnel, the organizations, the plans that will be required for post conflict Iraq are prepared and ready . . . . We need to be ready because if suddenly Saddam Hussein’s government collapses and we don’t have everything ready to go, we’re going to have chaos in that region.

Clark said any military action should be with the support of NATO allies, and criticized the Bush administration for decisions “which have undercut its friends and allies around the world and given the impression that the United States doesn’t respect the opinions of others.”

He made a clear distinction between threatening force and using it: “I think it’s not time yet to use force against Iraq but it is certainly time to put that card on the table, to turn it face up and to wave it.”

Last year, soon after he began his campaign for the White House, Clark stumbled by saying he “probably” would have voted for the war-authorizing resolution that Congress passed soon after his testimony, then amended his words several times. (See our earlier article on that.) But in his House testimony at the time he pushed for patience and diplomacy, not war.

Clark: The yellow light is flashing. We have a problem . . . . but time is on our side in the near term and we should use it.

‘He Wants to Wait’

Also testifying at the same hearing was Richard Perle, a Pentagon adviser and leading advocate of the military action that followed.

“What I would like to see us do is go into Iraq (and) liberate the people of Iraq from the scourge of that nightmare regime,” Perle said. “I don’t believe that time is on our side and I don’t believe that this fuzzy notion that the most important thing is building legitimacy . . .  should be the decisive consideration.”

And how did Perle summarize Clark’s position?

Perle: I think General Clark simply doesn’t want to see us use military force and he has thrown out as many reasons as he can develop to that but the bottom line is he just doesn’t want to take action. He wants to wait.


Ed Gillespie “Clark’s flip-flops on Iraq” Republican National Committee Web site 16 Jan. 2004.

Ed Gillespie “RNC Chairman Ed Gillespie’s Remarks in Little Rock, Ark.” Republican National Committee Web site 15 Jan. 2004

Wesley Clark and Richard Perle, testimony before the House Armed Services Committee 26 Sept. 2002.