A forthright Gen. Wes Clark

OXFORD, England, July 3 (UPI) — Gen. Wesley Clark has served the United States with honor for 45 years — 38 of them in the military.
He was valedictorian of his class at West Point. He was supreme allied commander Europe. He is a great military strategist, a great commander.

Wes Clark was my choice for president in 2004; I co-hosted him in Geneva. He was my choice again in 2008. I have gotten to know him. I like the man.

Like all great leaders, Clark can be a very difficult compatriot. He has great character. He is temperamental. He is tough, smart and forthright.

Three weeks ago I met Clark in downtown Washington. In typical D.C. fashion his car stopped at 13th and K streets; Clark was driving himself. I hopped into the front seat next to him. During the 20-minute drive to Reagan National Airport we touched on Korea, Iraq, Abkhazia, Russia, our European allies and missile defense.

Last Sunday, when I got back to Europe, I was sitting with fellow members of Magdalen College watching his interview on CBS’s “Face the Nation.” Wesley Clark is one of us. He was a Rhodes Scholar at Magdalen. The college celebrated its 550th anniversary on the weekend. Several of us have served and come from military families. We are proud of “our general” and our respective countries.

Clark’s recent comments about John McCain are purposely being taken out of context. There are many who are keen on damaging him as a leading voice in an Obama administration. McCain’s strategists fear him.

Anyone who watched the interview knows Clark’s comments were accurate. They were also fair.

Here is exactly what Clark said on “Face the Nation”:

“Because in the matters of national security policy making, it’s a matter of understanding risk. It’s a matter of gauging your opponents, and it’s a matter of being held accountable. John McCain’s never done any of that in his official positions. I certainly honor his service as a prisoner of war. He was a hero to me and to hundreds of thousands and millions of others in Armed Forces as a prisoner of war. He has been a voice on the Senate Armed Services Committee, and he has traveled all over the world. But he hasn’t held executive responsibility. That large squadron … in the Navy that he commanded, it wasn’t a wartime squadron. He hasn’t been there and ordered the bombs to fall. He hasn’t seen what it’s like when diplomats come in and say, ‘I don’t know whether we’re going to be able to get this point through or not. Do you want to take the risk? What about your reputation? How do we handle it publicly?'”

Had the Bush administration had more men with character; had those who have it not been afraid to use it; and those who received the information not been terrified to stand by it; the United States would not be in the disastrous muddle it’s in today. A Democratic president — any new president — needs men and women around him who will tell the God’s honest truth — blunt, unfiltered and accurate.

Europeans are startled that a man of such great distinction, who they know and worked with, would be left in the lurch by those who should be standing behind him. They see it as a character weakness on the part of Democrats that he is not being publicly supported, especially by those who aspire to positions of high leadership. “I find it a distressing sign of weakness that he was not supported by Senators Obama and Clinton, or by any leading Democrat for that matter,” a European foreign minister said to me.

An appropriate response to his comments on McCain would have been: Clark has served our country for 45 years. He is a man with experience, with great character. Clark called McCain a great war hero — a man to whom he and millions of soldiers look up to. I agree with Clark that McCain is a great war hero. I also agree that he does not have executive experience. Questioning McCain’s executive experience does not diminish his war record. It is an appropriate question that should be asked. I stand by Clark, who has served our country with distinction.

Because of his military expertise, Clark is one of the few people who can raise issues about McCain that others dare not. In an interview just hours after his first comments, Clark stated:

“As I have said before I honor John McCain’s service as a prisoner of war and a Vietnam veteran. He was a hero to me and to hundreds of thousands and millions of others in Armed Forces as a prisoner of war. I would never dishonor the service of someone who chose to wear the uniform for our nation.

“John McCain is running his campaign on his experience and how his experience would benefit him and our nation as president. That experience shows courage and commitment to our country — but it doesn’t include executive experience wrestling with national policy or go-to-war decisions. And in this area his judgment has been flawed — he not only supported going into a war we didn’t have to fight in Iraq, but has time and again undervalued other, non-military elements of national power that must be used effectively to protect America.

“As an American and former military officer I will not back down if I believe someone doesn’t have sound judgment when it comes to our nation’s most critical issues.”

When queried by the journalist if the lack of executive experience doesn’t also apply to Obama, Clark said firmly and confidently, “Barak Obama is not running on the basis of his national security experience, he is running on the basis of good judgment. I support him.”

Well done, General Clark. The United States needs men and women like you.

Presidents need advisers who will tell them what they must know, not what they want to hear.

(UPI International Columnist Marc S. Ellenbogen is chairman of the Berlin-based Global Panel Foundation and president of the Prague Society for International Cooperation. He is a founding trustee of the Democratic Expat Leadership Council.)