(guest blogged by Bill W.)
On Sunday's Late Edition with Wolf Blitzer, Gen. Wesley Clark reflected on Gen. Petraeus' testimony on Iraq last week, the MoveOn ad controversy, and Clark's recent endorsement of Hillary Clinton. Having served as the NATO Supreme Allied Commander under Clinton from 97-00, during which he had to testify before a Republican led House and Senate about the conflict in Kosovo, Wesley Clark shares a seasoned perspective into last week's pro-surge sales-pitch by the White House, and offers up some real insight into where we are in Iraq today and where he thinks we ought to be headed.
He then talks candidly about the need for broad diplomatic efforts in the middle east, including Iran. Just as several new reports over the weekend asserted that the White House is considering military strikes against Iran, Clark's sober assessment of the overall picture of the situation really is in Iran and how we ought to be dealing with them couldn't be more different and reassuring. He was also asked about this damning passage in his new book, " A Time to Lead." about the neo-con underpinnings for the Bush administration's war in Iraq:
"Here's the paper from the Office of the Secretary of Defense outlining the strategy. We're going to take out seven countries in five years!' And he named them, starting with Iraq and Syria and ending with Iran. It was straight out of Paul Wolfowitz's 1991 play book, dressed up as the search for weapons of mass destruction and the global war on terror."
Partial transcript below the fold:
Asked about how he would choose to deal with Iran Wesley Clark had this to say:
CLARK: Well, there's a lot to talk about and I think he's certainly willing to talk. If he's not, other people are. Iran is in a deep hole economically. They don't have their oil industry in order. Their finances are being constrained. Their neighbors are opposed to them.
They're surrounded on four sides by either American troops, American forces or the potential of American military intervention. They have regional ambitions but they have a limited time.
BLITZER: So you're saying that Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is only one voice there. There are other voices in Iran.
General Petraeus testified, Ambassador Crocker testified that Iranians were helping to kill American soldiers and Marines in Iraq. And others are now saying that Iranians are doing the same thing in Afghanistan, trying to send in their improvised explosive devices, et cetera. Does that affect your thinking about having a dialogue with Iraq?
CLARK: Absolutely. It makes it much more imperative that we talk because there's no question Iran is fighting back. From the time we went into Iraq, the Iranians' understanding was they were somewhere two or three or four down the hit list.
So as soon as we could digest the problem of Iraq, we would knock off Syria, take over Lebanon and come after Iran. That was the sort of loose talk around Washington and, of course, they understood that.
So their first line of defense has been to -- and it's not just military aid inside Iraq, by the way.
It's political engagement. It's economic support. It's medical support. It's education support. It's a continuous dialogue of people. This is their nearest neighbor, and they have a vital interest in Iraq. And so, yes, they're engaged. And we need to talk to them. That doesn't mean negotiating anything away. What it means is real, hard-headed dialogue about what their aims are, what our interest and aims are, and see if there's any common interest at all.
BLITZER: Here's a quote from the book, your new book, "A Time to Lead." And you write this: " 'Here's the paper from the Office of the Secretary of Defense outlining the strategy. We're going to take out seven countries in five years!' And he named them, starting with Iraq and Syria and ending with Iran. It was straight out of Paul Wolfowitz's 1991 play book, dressed up as the search for weapons of mass destruction and the global war on terror." Now, that jumped out at me. Explain to our viewers what you're referring to when you make a very serious charge like that, that this whole war in Iraq was basically built on a lie.
CLARK: Well, not exactly a lie. But a theory about how to deal with terrorism. It was the "drain the swamp" theory that emerged after 9/11 and people talked about it. But before that, in 1991, I remember being in Secretary Wolfowitz's office when he was the number three guy in the Pentagon.
And he said, yeah, the Gulf war, well, we didn't get rid of Saddam, but what we did learn is we can use military power to clean up these old client states. We've got maybe five or ten years to clean them up, Syria, Iran, the rest of them, before the next superpower comes along.
I said, five or ten years? You mean, China and -- the discussion sort of wandered off. But it was one of those nuggets you remember. And then I'm in the office with this senior general in the Pentagon, and he says, well, he says, sir, I just -- this is after I'm retired. Sir, I just got this memo down from the office upstairs. He's pointing upstairs. And they're on the second floor, and the civilians are on the third floor.
And he says, seven countries. I said, is that classified? And he read the countries. I said, is that classified? Stop. He was going to show it to me. I said, don't show that to me. I don't want to see that. And so it wasn't a plan. Maybe it was a think piece. Maybe it was a sort of notional concept, but what it was was the kind of indication of dialogue around this town in official circles, just like unofficial circles, that has poisoned the atmosphere and made it very difficult for this administration to achieve any success in the region.