Ballot Box

The Worldview of Wesley Clark

His instincts on foreign policy and national security.

Slate has been running several series of short features explaining who the 2004 presidential candidates are, what they’re saying, and where they propose to take the country. The “Worldview” series sketched how they would manage America’s role in the world. It’s difficult to anticipate which hot spots a candidate would have to deal with as president, but it’s possible to get a sense of how he approaches war, diplomacy, trade, and other challenges abroad. This series pieced together a picture of each candidate’s instincts based on his words and his record. Today’s subject is Wesley Clark, who entered the race on Wednesday.

Deceit and resolve: Clark opposed the Iraq war on the grounds that it was “elective.” Among the major candidates, he has used the strongest language in accusing President Bush of deceit. Clark has said that the war was launched under “false pretenses” with “deceptive advertising.” However, he simultaneously concludes that because U.S. troops now occupy Iraq under fire, they can’t pull out until they get the country back on its feet.

Pre-emptive attack: Among the major candidates, Clark has proposed perhaps the highest, clearest standard for justifying pre-emptive war. On July 13, 2003, ABC’s George Stephanopoulos asked Clark, “What kind of weapons of mass destruction [must be found in Iraq] in order to justify in your mind the invasion?” Clark replied that the United States would have to find “not only the capabilities to produce the weapons but the weapons, and then I think you’d need something more. I think you’d need the documents or the discussion that there was in fact a program to threaten the United States or its allies with those weapons in the immediate future.”

International courts: In the September 2002 Washington Monthly, Clark wrote, “Soon after September 11, without surrendering our right of self defense, we should have helped the United Nations create an International Criminal Tribunal on International Terrorism. We could have taken advantage of the outpourings of shock, grief, and sympathy to forge a legal definition of terrorism and obtain the indictment of Osama bin Laden and the Taliban as war criminals charged with crimes against humanity. Had we done so, I believe we would have had greater legitimacy and won stronger support in the Islamic world. We could have used the increased legitimacy to raise pressure on Saudi Arabia and other Arab states to cut off fully the moral, religious, intellectual, and financial support to terrorism. We could have used such legitimacy to strengthen the international coalition against Saddam Hussein.”