The Magazine

Wesley Clark, Chicago Tribune, and more.

Nov 17, 2003, Vol. 9, No. 10
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More Baloney from Clark

Sometime in November 2001, Gen. Wesley Clark, former NATO supreme commander and future Democratic candidate for president, visited the Pentagon. Whereupon, in conversation with "a man with three stars who used to work for me," Clark stumbled across the Bush administration's secret "five-year plan" to remake the Middle East, Central Asia, and northern Africa. The administration's radical vision in the wake of the September 11 attacks, Clark was told, would include taking military action not only against Afghanistan and Iraq, but also "Syria, Lebanon, Libya, Iran, Somalia, and Sudan." Clark's source told him, "We're not that good at fighting terrorists, so we're going after states." What's more, "There's a list of countries."

Or not. Clark, who tells this story in his new book, "Winning Modern Wars," as well as in a September 2003 interview with Rolling Stone magazine, has no proof of any of this. And how does THE SCRAPBOOK know Clark has no proof? Easy. He admits it.

Last week, when a reporter for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette asked the general whether he had ever seen the target list himself, Clark replied that no, he had not. And, what's more, he wasn't even interested in seeing it. So aghast at the administration's plans for unending war was he, Clark told his friend to be quiet. "I said, 'Stop, I don't want to see anything more,'" Clark explained to the Democrat-Gazette. "I just didn't want to get into it."

The lack of evidence, Clark hastened to point out, doesn't mean the list was imaginary. Or that there was no "five-year plan." Because, after all, "they told me there was something, some kind of memo or something." And really, the general noted, "You only have to listen to the gossip around Washington and to hear what the neoconservatives are saying, and you will get the flavor of this."

THE SCRAPBOOK gets the flavor of what Clark is saying. It tastes like baloney. Which, come to think of it, is the flavor of a lot of his gossipy innuendo about the Bush administration.

A couple of weeks ago, after USA Today published Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld's leaked memo on the war on terror, Clark said that Rumsfeld "had to leak his own memo," because otherwise "no one would have believed him" that the Bush administration doesn't "know how to measure success" in the war on terror. How, the reporters trailing Clark wanted to know, did the general learn that the memo was leaked by the secretary of defense himself? "Well," Clark answered, "that's what the rumor is, and it's been talked about on the Sunday talk shows."

Q.E.D. (Not that we have anything against the Sunday talk shows.)

You may be wondering why Clark's charges haven't received more attention from the press and the other Democratic presidential candidates. Well, we hear that the general has already been written off as a serious contender for the Democratic nomination.

That's what the rumor is, anyway.

They Finally Found a General to Admire

In late October, the New York Review of Books published the first chapter in Gen. Wesley Clark's campaign biography, an attack on the Bush foreign policy entitled "Iraq: What Went Wrong." It was replete with photos of Clark in uniform--steely-eyed, meditative, determined. The cover of its latest issue (November 20) is given over to Elizabeth Drew's adverbially effusive paean to the general, which praises him as "exceptionally intelligent," "highly ambitious," and "exceptionally independent."

Drew thinks the big question confronting Clark's candidacy is whether voters can overlook the widespread negative judgments that are now being voiced by those who served over, under, and with him in the Army. These negative judgments arise from jealousy, in Drew's view, which in turn arises from Clark's gifts.

The NYRB's editors, at least, have been able to set aside the bad marks, and are willing to admit Clark to the Oval Office on the basis of his test scores. Drew is impressed by something Clark told her recently: "A president has to have, like any chief executive, an ability to focus on the decisive issues in some degree of detail--he can't just preside and chair meetings while his aides grapple with all the details."

This ability to grapple with detail apparently is a decisive difference between Clark and President Bush. And, for that matter, between Clark and NYRB illustrator David Levine, whose cover sketch shows the general saluting with his left hand.

Newsroom Choices

Earlier this year, we reprinted a memo from Los Angeles Times editor John Carroll to his newsroom, owning up to and condemning his paper's bias against pro-lifers. Carroll mentioned a reference to "so-called counseling of patients" by pro-lifers, noting, "I don't think people on the anti-abortion side would consider it 'so-called,' a phrase that is loaded with derision."

We're not yet prepared to call it a trend, but Carroll now has company in the Midwest. The Chicago Tribune's public editor, Don Wycliff, has weighed in with a November 6 column responding to reader complaints about the Tribune's one-sidedness on the abortion issue, specifically an AP story about partial-birth abortion several days before President Bush's November 5 signing of a ban on the practice.

Here are some excerpts: "What provoked the ire of . . . letter-writers were the headlines. In some editions the headline read, 'Anti-choice groups celebrate victories.' In others it was 'Anti-choice victories alarm pro-choice groups.'"

"In either case," wrote Wycliff, "the flaw was the same: The perspective of those who define the issues involved in terms of 'choice' was taken as normative, and the position of those who disagree with them and define the issues differently was characterized in 'choice' terms. The result was two headlines that couldn't have been more slanted if they had come directly from the public relations office of NARAL Pro-Choice America."

This was "not the only recent example of the difficulty the Tribune has in writing about the issue of abortion or, if you will, 'life' or 'choice.'

"On Sept. 7, there was the publication . . . of a letter from Bill Beckman, executive director of the Illinois Right to Life Committee, in which each of his uses of 'pro-life' was changed to 'anti-abortion,' to conform to the Tribune stylebook proscription against use of the term pro-life. Happily, editor Ann Marie Lipinski has since decided that that rule need not be applied to letters to the editor."

Wiggles Revisited

Our recitation last week of the good works of Chief Wiggles--the pseudonymous Utah national guardsman in the 141st military intelligence battalion who started a toy drive for Iraqi children--moved several readers to make detailed inquiries about how they could contribute. Full information can be found at the website of the non-profit www.operationgive.org. For those not yet online, toys and useful items like school supplies can be sent directly to Operation Give Warehouse, 7155 Columbia Gateway Drive, Columbia, MD 21046.