Clark, Kerry match military records
by Seth Rogovoy

(GREAT BARRINGTON, Mass., November 20, 2003) – Senator John Kerry and General Wesley Clark are both largely basing their campaigns for the Democratic nomination on their military experience, positioning themselves as the candidates most likely to defeat the current commander-in-chief, whose greatest personal military adventure was avoiding National Guard duty.

The New Yorker

“For many Democrats today, the uniform is a kind of talisman, a tool for neutralizing George Bush’s perceived strength on national defense,” writes Peter Boyer in the November 17 issue of the New Yorker. In “General Clark’s Battles,” Boyer examines Wesley Clark’s “celebrated and controversial” military career, which as much as “the justification for his candidacy,” writes Boyer, “may also be a liability.”

While on the one hand Clark is a decorated Vietnam War veteran, a former Supreme Commander of NATO, and “the triumphant commander of Kosovo,” on the other hand several high military officials who served with Clark cast ominous doubt on his qualifications to serve as president. One raises troubling questions about “integrity and character issues,” and Boyer himself finds Clark to be so “tightly wound” as “almost physically to exude an inner tension.”

Clark has his defenders, however, who dismiss his military critics as “jealous generals,” and who say that as a West Pointer (first in his class) and a Rhodes scholar, Clark has been the victim of cultural resentment in the upper echelons of the Pentagon. “It is difficult to be an intellectual and to be perceived as being a warrior,” says one retired general who defends Clark.

Clark himself gets “testy” when talking to Boyer about his military critics, and his much-rumored thin skin becomes practically transparent when he says, “I was the first person picked for brigadier general [in his West Point class]….A lot of people love me.”

The Atlantic Monthly

Historian Douglas Brinkley’s upcoming, book-length account of John Kerry’s Navy career, “Tour of Duty: John Kerry and the Vietnam War,” is excerpted in the December issue of the Atlantic Monthly. Brinkley’s piece includes extensive quotations from letters Kerry wrote from Vietnam to friends and relatives back home in which he gave vent to the anguish and frustration caused by the senseless waste of lives while engaged in a fruitless effort.

“The main theme throughout Kerry’s correspondence from Vietnam…was how disturbing it felt to be an unwelcome soldier in a foreign land,” writes Brinkley. Kerry’s letters recount scenes of utter chaos and purposelessness right out of “Apocalypse Now.” In one letter, Kerry wrote, “I know that most of my friends felt absolutely absurd going up a river holding a loaded weapon that was supposed to be used against someone who had never really done anything to you and on whose land you were now trespassing.”

The excerpt in the Atlantic only deals with Kerry’s contemporaneous thoughts and writings. The missing element is how and what he thinks today. But in combination with the New Yorker article on Clark, the two articles portray battle-hardened, experienced war veterans who probably have a lot to say about the waging and conduct of war based on their personal experience. It’s going to be a very fascinating presidential campaign.

The New York Review of Books

Clark put his own thoughts on postwar Iraq down on paper in the October 23 issue of the New York Review of Books, comparing the relative success of NATO’s Kosovo campaign with the Vietnam-like boondoggle that Iraq is fast becoming. In “Iraq: What Went Wrong,” Clark outlined a series of mistakes that contributed to the current quagmire, including the slow, half-hearted “rolling start,” the overeagerness of the Bush administration to go it alone without international support, and the lack of postwar planning.

While it’s impossible to know for sure if Clark himself really wrote this well-
reasoned essay, it certainly is beyond imagination that President Bush could hold his own in a face-to-face debate with Clark about the conduct of the war and the postwar rebuilding effort.

Claremont Review of Books

Mark Helprin isn’t running for president, but he’s a deeper thinker, a more sophisticated historian, a sharper critic and, as one of our finest contemporary novelists (“Winter’s Tale,” “A Soldier of the Great War”), a better writer than all the would-be presidential candidates put together. And in the fall issue of the Claremont Review of Books, Helprin combines all those characteristics in “War in the Absence of Strategic Clarity,” an incisive critique of U.S. foreign policy.

Helprin – whose military service includes stints in the British Merchant Navy, the Israeli infantry, and the Israeli Air Force -- says we are currently waging war “as if accidentally,” and with “reluctance to identify the enemy” out of “sensitivity to the electoral calculus in key states with heavy Arab-American voting, to a contemporary aversion to ethnic generalities, to the fear of speaking truth to oil,” among other political and philosophical omens of bad faith.

Helprin argues, and quite convincingly, that the enemy is militant Islam, and far from being limited to a few ad hoc terrorists and evil dictators, the return address of this war is “the intelligence service in aid of it, the nation that harbors his training camps, the country that finances him, the press filled with adulation, the people who dance in the streets when there is slaughter, and the regime that turns a blind eye.”

The entire text of Helprin’s essay is available at

[This review originally appeared in the Berkshire Eagle on November 22, 2003. Copyright Seth Rogovoy 2003. All rights reserved.]

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