The Magazine

Does Clark Have a Prayer?

From the January 26, 2004 issue: With the general in New Hampshire.

Jan 26, 2004, Vol. 9, No. 19 • By MATTHEW CONTINETTI
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"And these," he continues, gesturing toward the journalists surrounding him, "are the explorers." A bunch of us snicker at the bizarre analogy. But the clinic workers don't seem to mind.

After the roundtable, I ask Janet Clark what she thinks of the candidate. She tells me that she is a Democrat, and is planning to vote in the primary, but today, she's "just an impartial observer." Rebuffed, I turn to a 12-year-old boy who's here because his mother works at the clinic.

"And you?" I ask. "What did you think?" He looks at me and shrugs.

THE NEXT DAY finds General Clark at the Franklin Pierce Law Center in Concord, where he is scheduled to speak on homeland security. Outside, a Kerry volunteer hands out flyers labeled "What Wes Clark Told the Concord Monitor About 9/11." They summarize an interview in which Clark stated, "We are not going to have one of these incidents"--meaning a 9/11-magnitude terrorist attack--if he is elected president.

It was an imprudent thing to say--can anyone guarantee there won't be another big attack on U.S. soil?--and after the other campaigns pounced, Clark was forced to backtrack. Not for the first time.

Start with his stance on the war in Iraq. These days, Clark is vehemently antiwar. The U.S. invasion, he says, was part of a "bait and switch" executed by the administration on the American people. "I've been against this war from the beginning," he tells audiences.

Clark's position, in fact, has been considerably more nuanced. Last September, shortly after he announced his candidacy, the general had a 45-minute talk with a group of reporters. In the course of the discussion, the Washington Post reported, Clark said he "probably" would have voted to authorize the war if he had been a member of Congress in the fall of 2002. He added that his views on Iraq resembled those of Senators John Kerry and Joe Lieberman, both of whom voted to authorize the conflict.

And both of whom, in all probability, would have agreed with Clark in 2002, when he told the Associated Press that, although he had "reservations" about a possible war, he saw some logic to President Bush's position. "Certainly in certain cases we should go to war before our enemies strike," Clark said. "And I think this situation applies here, [italics added] but I am not sure we should write it down and publish [the doctrine of preventive war] as policy."

In the spring of 2003, as American tanks rolled into Baghdad, Clark wrote several columns for the Times of London in which he praised the U.S. military effort. "Liberation is at hand," he wrote. "Liberation--the powerful balm that justifies painful sacrifice, erases lingering doubt and reinforces bold actions." Later in the same essay, Clark praised the war's architects: "President Bush and Tony Blair should be proud of their resolve in the face of so much doubt." (Last week, Clark reassessed the Bush presidency, telling an audience in Dallas that "I think we're dealing with the most closed, imperialistic, nastiest administration in living memory. They even put Richard Nixon to shame.")

Another misstep came on January 11, when a videotape surfaced of Clark in October 2002 saying, "Certainly there's a connection between Iraq and al Qaeda." Since running for president, Clark has said otherwise.

What he meant, Clark explained to the New York Times, was: "I never thought there would be any evidence linking September 11 and Saddam Hussein. Everything I had learned about Saddam Hussein told me that he would be the last person al Qaeda would trust or that he would trust them."

Then there's the interview Clark gave to the editorial board of the Manchester Union Leader in early January. When asked his position on abortion, Clark said, "I don't think you should get the law involved in abortion--"

"At all?" asked a puzzled Joseph W. McQuaid, the Union Leader's publisher.

"Nope," Clark said.

"Late-term abortion? No limits?"

"Nope," Clark said.

"Anything up to delivery?"

"Nope, Nope."

"Anything up to the head coming out of the womb?"

"I say that it's up to the woman and her doctor, her conscience. . . . You don't put the law in there," Clark said.

Again, Clark was later forced to "clarify" his position, which, it turns out, does not sanction infanticide.