Public Nuisance

Random commentary and senseless acts of blogging.

The first Republican president once said, "While the people retain their virtue and their vigilance, no administration by any extreme of wickedness or folly can seriously injure the government in the short space of four years." If Mr. Lincoln could see what's happened in these last three-and-a-half years, he might hedge a little on that statement.
-Ronald Reagan

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Monday, September 22, 2003
Smear of the Day

Robert Novak has assembled some old and discredited lies along with some new ones to create the latest hit piece on General Clark.

Novak focuses first on Clark's 1994 meeting with Bosnian Serb leader (and war criminal) Ratko Mladic. Without citing sources for his claim, Novak states, "U.S. diplomats warned Clark not to go to Bosnian Serb military headquarters to meet Mladic, considered by U.S. intelligence as the mastermind of the Srebrenica massacre of Muslim civilians (and still at large, sought by NATO peacekeeping forces)." As others have pointed out, this sentence is at best extremely misleading: at the time that Clark met Mladic, Mladic was not yet an indicted war criminal, was not sought by NATO peacekeeping forces, and was not mastermind of the Srebenica massacre, which had not yet taken place. But there also seems to be little or no support for the claim that any warning against meeting Mladic was given to Clark. Here's what Clark said in Waging Modern War (pp 38 - 40):

I checked with retired General John R. Galvin, a former Supreme Allied Commander who had been serving as an on-call military adviser to [US special envoy] Chuck Redmond[sic - the correct name is Redman]. Galvin recommended that I see the generals on bith sides, including Ratko Mladic.... I checked with Redmond to be sure I had his support for the trip.... The visit to Bosnia proved critical to my later understanding of the issues in the region. I met almost all the key players, from the U.N. team, the Bosnian Muslims..l. [and] General Mladic...

Meeting with Mladic was especially useful.... How many people, I reflected at the time, have the opportunity to size up a potential adversary face-to-face? He carried a reputation among the U.N. forces for cunning and forcefulness, I found him coarse and boastful. He knew far less than he thought about NATO, airpower, and the capabilities of the United States.

But I learned even more about the problems of the Balkans...two days later... A Washington Post reporter called. He'd been tipped off about a cable from the American Embassy in Sarajevo, complaining that contrary to instructions I had visited Mladic. It seemed that even though I had checked with Chuck Redmond about my itinerary, and I understood that it had been "worked", the U.S. ambassador hadn't approved the visit. Following my Army public affairs training, I tried to say as little as possible. ...

The story ran in the next morning's paper: Despite Warning, U.S. General Met With Serb War Crimes SUspect". This was untrue - there was no warning - but the story generated several phone calls...

The fact was that I had not received instructions not to visit."

Novak offers no support for his statement that Clark was warned against visiting Mladic, nor does he bother to mention that Clark has denied it. Novak and his fellow conservatives piss and moan eternally about bias and inaccuracy in the press, but, when it suits their agenda, are perfectly willing to pick up one obscure, unconfirmed article and treat it as unimpeachable fact.

Novak also says, "The incident cost Victor Jackovich his job as U.S. ambassador to Bosnia, even though he protested Clark's course. " Novak clearly implies that Jackovich was dismissed, but in fact Jackovich was given another posting as Ambassador to Slovenia. Nothing in the record supports the claim that this was a punishment or demotion. Jackovich was also given a Distinguished Presidential Award for his Balkans service in 1994, and subsequently received another prestigious appointment.

Novak also states,

This was what U.S. Ambassador Richard Holbrooke's team seeking peace in Yugoslavia tried to avoid by instituting the "Clark Rule": whenever the general is found talking alone to a Serb, Croat or Muslim, make sure an American civilian official rushes to his side. It produced some comic opera dashes by diplomats.

No source is given for this claim. No such 'rule' is mentioned in Clark's account, or Holbrooke's or any other I have seen. Did the Mladic incident cause Holbrooke to lose confidence in Clark and shuttle him off to the side of the negotiations? In a word, no. In fact, Holbrooke formed his team in 1995, after the Mladic meeting. From Holbrooke's account, Clark seems not to have conducted major negotiating meetings independently, but that's hardly unusual: Clark was, at this time, a military adviser to negotiations being managed by the State Department. Furthermore, throughout his own memoirs, Holbrooke is consistently generous in praising Clark, and the text makes clear that he repeatedly trusted Clark with crucial assignments. The following quotes are all from Holbrooke's To End A War, with page numbers in parentheses:

As we talked, General Wesley Clark joined us. He was in a complicated position on our team. A West Pointer, a Rhodes scholar from Arkansas, and a Vietnam veteran, he had been one of the fastest rising officers in the United States Army - the youngest brigadier general at the time he got his first star....With three stars, Clark was at the crossroads of his career; this assignment would lead him either to a fourth star - every general officer's dream - or to retirement. Assignment to a diplomatic negotiating team offered some exciting possibilities, but it could be hazardou duty for a military officer, since it might put him into career-endangering conflicts with more senior officers. Clark's boyish demeanor and charm masked, but only slightly, his extraordinary intensity. No one worked longer hours or pushed himself harder than Wes Clark. Great things were expected of him - and he expected them of himself. (9)

A short time later President Clinton called from Jackson Hole, Wyoming...I told him he could be especially proud of the actions of his fellow Arkansan, and put General Clark on. (14)

So our seven-person core team was set: myself, General Wes Clark, [and five others].... As I was soon to discover under conditions of the highest stress, I could not have wished for a stronger team. (83)

General Clark, on the other hand, believed the bombing should resume. This put him in a difficult position. For a three-star general to make unwelcome suggestions to men with four stars on their shoulders was not normally a wise career move, but after Mount Igman [the incident where Clark repelled down a hill trying unsuccessfully to rescue Robert Frasure, Joseph Kruzel, and Nelson Drew] Clark was committed. ... To ensure that no damage would be done to Clark's career, Strobe [Talbot], Sandy Berger, and I all talked to General Shalikashvili. When, a year later, Clark received his fourth star... General Shalikashvili told me that Clark's performance in Bosnia had, in the end, been the key factor in his promotion. (118)

I asked Clark, Owen, Hill, and Pardew to work on a document that would end the siege of Sarajevo....Milosevic and I watched as General Clark began to read his draft to the Serbs, pausing regularly for translation. (150)

As Clark, who openly disagreed with his own military colleagues on this point, observed, " We are leaving a huge gap in the Bosnia food chain." Events were to prove him right. (252)

Clark and his colleagues had prepared well for the meeting. (283)

President Clinton and Secretary Cohen chose as NATO's new Supreme Commander none other than Wes Clark. In naming Clark they had, in effect, sent Dayton to NATO - an important signal of determination. (349)

Clark is also mentioned in Holbrooke's acknowledgements, and is shown standing next to Holbrooke in the book's cover photo.

One passage in Holbrooke suggests how Novak's story might have begun: "The Bosnian Serbs were essentially isolated at Dayton. Dark and brooding, they hovered on the edge of the conference... trying to communicate with Carl Bildt and Wes Clark, who they thought would be more accessible." (238) In other words, after their positions were rejected in the peace conference, the Bosnian Serb leaders tried to renegotiate the same rejected demands with Clark in a back channel. Naturally, this attempt was blocked.

Novak repeats a long-discredited smear: "Clark attributed one comment to a Middle East "think tank" in Canada, although there appears to be no such organization." Not only do such groups exist, the name of the Canadian who made the call was publicly revealed several days ago - and revealed on this blog almost three weeks ago. (See earlier post.)

Novak also alleges, " After claiming that the White House pressured CNN to fire him, Clark later said, `I've only heard rumors about it.`" This is a smear created by Fox to 'Perot' Clark and then spread around by the Wurlitzer. In fact, Clark has never claimed to have direct knowledge of a White House attempt to fire him from CNN, only to have heard rumors of it. The very Fox story in which the charge was first made makes this clear, although you wouldn't know it from the headline:

Clark Alleges White House Pushed CNN to Fire Him
The White House pressured CNN to fire former military analyst Gen. Wesley Clark, the retired Army chief told a Phoenix radio station on Monday.

"The White House actually back in February apparently tried to get me knocked off CNN and they wanted to do this because they were afraid that I would raise issues with their conduct of the war," Clark told Newsradio 620 KTAR. "Apparently they called CNN. I don't have all the proof on this because they didn't call me. I've only heard rumors about it."

CNN had no immediate comment on the general's allegations. White House officials told Fox News that they are "adamant" that they "never tried to get Wesley Clark kicked off the air in any way, shape or form." Beyond that, the White House "won't respond to rumors."

Here is a classic example of the Mighty Wurlitzer at work. Clark said that he suspected the White House had tried to fire him, while being explicit in stating that he had only rumors, not direct confirmation. Fox then claimed that he had made the charge as a fact. Other news sources carelessly treated Fox as journalism rather than propaganda, and repeated the headline without fully repeating the story that made it clear that the headline was spin. And now Novak repeats Fox's distortion of Clark's words as fact, then treats Clark's actual statement as a retraction!

Incidentally, all these accounts take for granted that the story isn't true. Note however, that CNN hasn't denied it. The White House has denied trying to get Clark "kicked off the air", which isn't really the same thing as denying that they tried to have Clark kicked off CNN. Given the careful parsing that this administration routinely uses to show that their deceptive statements aren't actually lies, that really doesn't count as a denial.

Only a tiny number of people can really say with certainty whether Clark was asked not to meet with Mladic or whether there was a 'Clark Rule' on the Holbrooke team. Since Novak hasn't troubled to find out basic facts concerning charges he makes, is either deliberately deceptive or ignorant of the time line for events he describes, repeats documented fictions, doesn't mention or seem to be aware of Clark's version of events, deliberately fills his article with slanted language, and offers no sources or evidence for allegations inconsistent with the known record, these claims can be dismissed, at the very least until they reappear (and they will reappear) in some more credible form.