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Changing with the Seasons

A look at Wesley Clark's ever-changing views on the war in Iraq.

9:10 AM, Oct 28, 2003 • By MATTHEW CONTINETTI
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AT THE CONGRESIONAL BLACK CAUCUS presidential debate on Sunday, Huel Perkins, an anchor at WJBK TV in Detroit, asked General Wesley Clark a pointed question. How, Perkins wanted to know, can Clark run as a national security candidate when his position on the Iraq war changes so frequently?

"I think I've been very consistent from the beginning," Clark said. "I've been against this war from the beginning. I was against it last summer, I was against it in the fall, I was against it in the winter, I was against it in the spring. And I'm against it now."

It's true that Clark is against the war these days. Or so he says. And he may have been against the war last summer. But the record shows that Clark wasn't against the war last fall, or last winter, or even last spring. Let's look back at Clark's positions on the war, using the seasons that Clark mentioned as benchmarks.

Last fall: As Congress debated whether to authorize the use of force against Saddam, Clark, an adviser for New Hampshire congressional candidate Katrina Swett, told the Associated Press that although he had "reservations" about war, he supported the President's proposal. "Certainly in certain cases we should go to war before our enemies strike," Clark said. "And I think this situation applies here, but I am not sure we should write it down and publish [the doctrine of preventive war] as policy."

Last winter: As Huel Perkins mentioned during his initial question to Clark, according to a voting guide put out by James Zogby's Arab American Institute, the general said last February that "Saddam Hussein has these weapons, and so, you know, we're going to go ahead and do this, and the rest of the world has got to get with us."

Last spring: After the fall of Baghdad, Clark waxed poetic about the results of Gulf War II: "Liberation is at hand," he wrote in the Times of London. "Liberation--the powerful balm that justifies painful sacrifice, erases lingering doubt and reinforces bold actions." Later in the same essay, Clark praised the president he's now trying to unseat. "As for the political leaders themselves, President Bush and Tony Blair should be proud of their resolve in the face of so much doubt." Not quite a ringing--nor consistent--indictment of Bush foreign policy.

And in the fall of 2003: Clark joined the presidential contest last September. Shortly after he announced his candidacy, the general gave a 45-minute talk with a group of reporters. In the course of the discussion, the Washington Post later reported, Clark said he "probably" would have voted to authorize the war if he had been a member of Congress last fall. He added that his views resembled those of Senator John Kerry and Senator Joe Lieberman, both of whom voted to authorize the conflict.

Two days later, on September 19, Clark said he "never would have voted for war." But, you see, that doesn't quite mean he would have voted against the Congressional use-of-force authorization. "What I would have voted for," Clark said, "is leverage. Leverage for the United States to avoid a war."

Got that?

Clark eventually admitted that he had spoken out of both sides of his mouth. "I don't know if I would have or not. I've said it both ways," he said. "On balance, I probably would have voted for it." So why all the confusion? Well, Clark told the Boston Globe, "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."

"I've seen [Iraq] both ways," Clark once told an interviewer, "Because [when] you get into this, what happens is you have to put yourself in a position." Indeed.

Matthew Continetti is an editorial assistant at The Weekly Standard.