Is simplism the new integrity? I guess it is.
According to the prevailing chatter, Wes Clark has been waffling on his position on the war. CBS said as much: “Clark Waffles On War.”
Frankly, I don’t think I’ve ever heard anything quite so stupid.
The idea seems to be that there are really only two positions on the war, the Dean position and the Bush position.
Either you were against the war from the beginning, against even threatening force under any and all circumstances, soup-to-nuts, or you were for it, more or less under the same range of conceivable circumstances. If you have a position that falls between these two monochromatic options, you’re indecisive, a waffler or a trimmer.
I could see this coming when someone sent me this fact sheet from the media watchdog group FAIR, which argues that Clark has somehow been mislabeled as “anti-war” or that he’s falsely labeled himself thus. The fact sheet then goes on to catalog various of Clark’s statements over the last year and argue that he’s stated contradictory opinions at different times. One of these contradictory statements, according to FAIR, was one praising the audacity of the original war-plan notwithstanding his disagreement with launching the war in the first place.
This last criticism goes to the heart of the matter — the difference between thinking that this war was ill-conceived and poorly planned (which I think is Clark’s position) and being ‘anti-war’ in the sense of some broader political ethic (which seems to be how FAIR is defining the phrase.) Expecting a retired four-star general to fall into this latter category seems a bit much to expect.
The truth is that Clark’s position on the war is at least as consistent as any other candidate in this race. He is one of the few candidates who strikes me as having given any serious thought to the question — outside the context of the politics. And he is the only one who’s written extensively on the national security challenges which face the country, Iraq, and the strategic and diplomatic shortcomings of the president’s policy. (In other words, not just “me too!” or “no way!”) And — imagine that — his arguments are the same now as they were a year ago.
Republicans and a number of Democrats who support a certain candidate have teamed up — made common cause, really — to argue that it’s not possible to have voted to authorize the president to use force and then to criticize the circumstances and manner in which he chose to do so. The supposed flip-flop isn’t one at all. What he’s saying is that he probably would have voted to give the president the power to use force but never would have voted for the war he actually ended up waging. (We’ll discuss in a later post why there’s nothing necessarily contradictory about this.)
To my mind, Clark came off quite well in the articles in today’s Times and the Post. Word I got from various groups he spoke with at University of Iowa today gave similar reports. And I suspect he’ll continue to do well so long as he doesn’t let himself get drawn into this foolishness.