On Tuesday night, at the bandshell decked with bunting over at the American Legion Post in Rochelle Park, Gen. Wesley Clark stood quietly as his bio was read to a crowd of about 100 veterans of many wars, including the war in Iraq, and some of their family members. Clark the only general in history ever to win an air war, and he told The Jewish Standard that that was a war in Serbia and Kosovo he almost lost.
The former Supreme Allied Commander of NATO and former presidential candidate came to the American Legion as the guest of Paul Aronsohn, the Democratic congressional candidate in the fifth district. But the upcoming election was not the topic. Instead, Clark spoke about how the war in Iraq was being prosecuted and charged that the Bush administration was failing to address the needs of the soldiers on the ground in Afghanistan and Iraq as well as those of veterans of all America’s wars.
Regarding Iraq, Clark said it would be virtually impossible to beat a hasty retreat. He quoted former Secretary of State Colin Powell as saying, "If you break it, you own it," and said the United States forces should not leave without making sure that there would be at least some kind of stability in the region. "We are over-committed and off by a factor of seven," he said, meaning it would take seven times as many men as there are on the ground to get the job done properly.
When it came to the war in Lebanon, Clark said that American diplomacy should have been used to assist Israel in preventing the Hezbollah build up in southern Lebanon and forcing the Lebanese government to clean up the state within a state. The general said that Israel’s diplomatic credentials are boosted when they are backed by the American diplomatic corps.
Until recently, Bush’s hands-off policy in the Israel/Palestine conflict was part of the problem, said Clark. "Israel doesn’t need our guns. They need our diplomats to get the rest of the world to stand up to terrorists and their state sponsors and to stop the problems before they escalate into the kinds of violence and deaths of innocents that we are seeing today. What we should have done is turned the Lebanese government against Hezbollah."
Clark said he knows what it feels like to be responsible for the deaths of innocents. When he was fighting the air war in Serbia, a cluster bomb accidentally went off over a schoolyard and children were killed. A few days later there was a note on his desk from a child’s grandfather. "I will never forgive you," the man wrote. Clark said he has prayed for forgiveness ever since.
He did not go into a description of how he would prosecute the war in Lebanon, but did say he was willing to talk to anyone who would listen. "America is the country in the region that is holding the gun to everyone’s head," he noted. The problem, as he explained it, was that that gun wasn’t being used properly.
Addressing veterans’ issues, Clark said that America’s security relies on its armed forces and those forces need more than they are getting, in the field and at home. He told of a soldier whose mother he had recently met. The young man came home from Iraq without visible wounds, although he’d witnessed comrades die. One day he left a note for his mother, pulled the trigger on his gun, and committed suicide.
Clark, who had suffered from post-traumatic stress after his service in Vietnam, said that the Israelis have psychologists and psychiatrists for every man in the army, and the United States owes "it to our men and women to take better care of them."
Asked if he planned to run for president and address these problems when he got in, he didn’t say yes. He said he was "not not running."