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Wesley K. Clark was Supreme Allied Commander of Europe and Commander in Chief of U.S. European Command from 1997-2000, in which capacity he oversaw the campaign against Serbia. He spoke with Global Viewpoint editor Nathan Gardels on March 19.

NATHAN GARDELS: Like the war with Iraq, the U.S.-led military campaign against Serbia that you commanded didn’t have U.N. approval. What are the differences between these two wars?

WESLEY CLARK: There are three fundamental differences.

First, Slobodan Milosevic was an active threat. He was (ital) in the process (unital) of executing an ethnic cleansing program against the Kosovar Albanians that would have brought instability to the region and undermined NATO peacekeeping activities in Bosnia.

Second, we really did try to solve the Kosovo conflict diplomatically and peacefully, with force as a last resort. That has been different in the case of the lead-up to this war with Iraq. All along there has been a reported split in the Bush administration, with some key players apparently intending from the outset to use military force against Saddam. The issue seemed to be whether the diplomatic option should be used first, or whether that was just a waste of time. During the Kosovo campaign, it was not a waste of time. We did try to avoid the bombing.

Third, we were solving a problem that had our NATO allies engaged. Everyone recognized there was an imminent danger that had to be faced in one way or another. In the case of Iraq, we don’t have our allies engaged through NATO. Some don’t see the problem as urgent.

GARDELS: In other words, the case that Saddam is an imminent danger has not been convincing enough to justify a preemptive strike?

CLARK: It has clearly not convinced most people in the world.

GARDELS: If you give credence to the doctrine of preemption in the case of a regime that possesses mass destruction weapons, then does President Bush’s lack of credibility in going to war discredit that notion, making any future use of American power in the name of that doctrine suspect?

CLARK: In principle, you can’t deny preemption as a legitimate form of self-defense. But that preemptive action has to be proportionate to the significance and imminence of the threat.

GARDELS: And the case for war with Iraq does not meet that test?

CLARK: As many people have suggested, it really hasn’t.

GARDELS: French President Jacques Chirac, among others, has questioned the legality of this war. Is the United States on solid ground in terms of international law?

CLARK: I believe the administration is on solid ground in a technical legal sense. There is a Security Council resolution, under the provision of Chapter 7, to use to ‘‘all necessary means’’ to make Saddam comply. It is the broader lack of international public support that is the problem.

GARDELS: From a military standpoint, what are the dangers of going into war in diplomatic isolation without the support of most of the world?

CLARK: It makes the fight more difficult and the follow-on more problematic. If the Iraqis feel the world is not on the side of the United States, their morale in battle will be boosted. Reconstruction and stability will be more burdensome, not least in terms of the economic costs, if the United States has to go it alone.

GARDELS: Even if a compelling case for imminent danger has not been made, do you believe invading U.S. troops will find mass destruction weapons?

CLARK: Yes, I do.

GARDELS: Will that vindicate the Bush policy, then, in retrospect?

CLARK: Right now, the most important thing is to win the war. Finding weapons will partially validate the action because many in the world have questioned whether Saddam had these weapons. Others will ask if the weapons discovered are of such a significant scale and the threat was so great that an invasion was warranted. But even if is validated in that case, it does not follow that it will be validated on the (ital) imminent intent (unital) of Saddam to use those weapons. The question for me has always been, why strike Saddam now? What is the urgency? That has never been fully answered.

After all, other nations have weapons of mass destruction -- Syria, Iran and perhaps even Egypt. Are we going to invade them? And, of course, there is North Korea. These factors complicate the focus on Iraq.

GARDELS: NATO is not involved in this war, as it was in Serbia. Some in the United States say that is just a well since NATO is a Cold War anachronism in an era when the threat to American security comes from outside Europe. Is the Atlantic alliance still important to American security?

CLARK: It is critical that the United States and Europe work together. If we do, we can face anything, anywhere. The point is not that the main threats to America are no longer in Europe, but that we are a community of nations that share values more closely than we do with other nations. In any global endeavor, the United States should strive to have Europe at our side.

GARDELS: In the initial stages of war, what is the greatest risk?

CLARK: That Saddam will use chemical weapons in a way that would put the United States at a disadvantage -- either against our troops directly, or against his own people and blame it on us in order to raise the pressure of global public opinion to halt the U.S. advance.

(c) 2003, Global Viewpoint. Distributed by Tribune Media Services International.
For immediate release (Distributed 3/20/03)