Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Wesley Clark: Why NATO Commander was not the 2nd Coming of Ike

One of our colleagues in class covered the NATO Operation Allied Force in Kosovo for their presentation, and did a fine job incorporating the dynamic that Supreme Allied Commander-Europe of NATO Wesley Clark played in the conflict.  While his qualifications were outstanding, having graduated Valedictorian from West Point and a Rhodes Scholarship from Oxford, Clark's legacy has not played out like that of former President Eisenhower.

Clark's star has largely fallen since the turn of the century, from his bright days during the Democratic primary with mega-stars like Madonna holding fundraisers for his campaign. There was a brief time during the 2004 Democratic primaries that traditional/conservative democrats were fawning over the prospects of Clark for President, seeing him as a plausible choice to the fiercely anti-war Howard Dean.  The Atlantic's Jack Beatty wrote “I can’t think of a man and moment better matched than retired General Wesley Clark and the 2004 presidential election.  Dwight Eisenhower in 1952 is the only possible comparison. Clark, like Ike, was the Supreme Allied Commander of NATO."  The love affair was rather fleeting, for as we discussed in class, Clark made some questionable decisions while he was in command.  The historical judgment has been that involvement in Kosovo was justified, but at the time Prime Minister Tony Blair was the only NATO politician who seemed fully invested in such a collaborative Atlantic effort.  The ambivalence over involvement in the Balkans from Bill Clinton and others is not Clark's fault, but maybe he shouldn't be exalted for Eisenhower level brilliance either.  

It has come to light that Clark seemed to consider his post as NATO Commander as a separate entity from the American defense apparatus.  Former Chairman of the JCS Henry Hugh Shelton and Defense Sec. William Cohen have both hinted that Clark had problems with the Pentagon’s chain of command. Clark took their orders more as suggestions to be duly noted.  National Review's Jim Geraghty writes, "He (Clark) argues that his job as NATO commander was a “two-hatted” position, partly a U.S. military role and partly a diplomatic post, leading the 19-nation coalition."  Clark's judgement was also seen as dubious when he advocated for a ground invasion of Serbia, a strategy that was soundly rejected by President Clinton and the War Council. 

Another distinction between Ike and General Clark is the reverence their subordinates have for them.  Clark might have fancied himself a political talent, but his eventual banishment from the Joint Chiefs after they tired of his constant campaigning for a Serbian ground war suggests otherwise.  His tattling to Madeleine Albright and Sandy Berger when he was told no on issues regarding Kosovo was resented by his military superiors, peers, and subordinates.  The RAND research institute report, “NATO’s Air War for Kosovo: A Strategic and Operational Assessment" presents a very effective critique of Clark's managerial flaws, such as a combative nature with nearly all his colleagues.  Additionally, the fact that he was an army general who also fancied himself an expert on air campaigns showed his penchant for micromanagement.

The straw that broke the camel's back was the Pristina Airport scenario, when the Russians pulled their proxy soldiers back from Kosovo.  The airport was right in the center of the province.  Wired's Spencer Ackerman says, "It was a provocative move — the Russian military line might demarcate a partition of Kosovo — one that risked the conflict between NATO and Russia that the Cold War successfully escaped."  Clark ordered British Lt. Gen. Sir Mike Jackson, to block Russian access to the airport runways.  Jackson reciprocated with, “I’m not starting World War III for you.” Exemplifying the little regard the chain of command had for Clark, they sided with the British Lt. General, and Clark was gently fired several weeks later. 

Its ironic that a victorious general can have such a dizzying fall from grace, absent some scandalous personal revelation.  That fact proves what a shallow impact the Kosovo conflict had on the American public, as it supports the assertion that Clark's actions alienated military personnel. 

No comments: