U.S. candidate offers new approach on IraqClark calls for NATO to lead rebuilding
WASHINGTON - Wesley Clark, the former NATO commander, said Thursday that if elected president of the United States he would convert the occupation of Iraq into a U.S.-led NATO operation, turn over Iraqi reconstruction to a civilian from an allied country and quickly establish an interim Iraqi government.
These steps, announced by the retired general in a major policy speech in South Carolina, would mark radical changes from the current U.S.-dominated approach in Iraq. His speech also helped fill in some blanks on the Iraq policy of the Democratic presidential candidate who has the deepest military background. "First we must end the American monopoly on the occupation and reconstruction," Clark said. "Then we must develop the right force mix to fight and win guerrilla war. Finally, we must give Iraqis a rising stake in our success." Clark, saying he was drawing from his experience leading North Atlantic Treaty Organization forces in Kosovo, laid out his most detailed plan for restoring order to Iraq. He said he would reconfigure military forces, do more to secure borders, rebuild the Iraqi military, shift troops from the search for banned weapons to improving intelligence, and improve control of weapons dumps.
He also said, however, that the United States needed to resist pressure for an early exit from Iraq. While many of his fellow Democratic presidential candidates opposed the war, most now agree that U.S. forces must remain until the country can be stabilized and a democratically elected government can take power. "Early exit means retreat or defeat," Clark said in excerpts released before his speech at South Carolina State University in Orangeburg. "There can be neither." He proposed creating an interim Iraqi government, as some European countries favor, with greater control over oil revenues.
"Let the Iraqis have control over their own affairs just as rapidly as possible," he said earlier in an interview with CNN. This would give Iraqis a larger stake in containing violence and unrest, he said.
Clark called for closer dialogue with countries like Syria and Iran. The United States has denounced both as sponsors of terror, blamed them for allowing terrorists to cross into Iraq, and warned them about developing weapons of mass destruction.
Clark said that too much U.S. pressure on these countries could produce dangerous results, and that a new approach was needed. "Right now, governments like Syria and Iran believe that if the United States is successful in Iraq, they might be next," he said. "We have to change that dynamic and have some kind of a constructive dialogue with those governments." Clark also called for revitalizing the security partnership with Europe. As president, he said, he would call an early summit meeting of world leaders to bridge divisions over the war and help deal with what he called "the mess in Iraq." In a clear slap at the Bush administration's move toward war with Iraq as unnecessarily unilateral, he said that he would favor a change in the NATO Charter to stipulate that while the United States reserved the right to act alone, it should always seek first to work with its allies. "We have seen that it is foolish to act alone as a first resort," said Clark.
In Iraq, he said: "First, we must end the American monopoly on the occupation and reconstruction. Then we must develop the right force mix to fight and win guerrilla war. Finally, we must give Iraqis a rising stake in our success." Clark's speech was part of a series in which he laid out his positions on a series of major issues, and have helped fill in many blanks for voters.
Supporters of the retired general have assumed that his military background would make him one of the Democratic candidates best-positioned to take on President George W. Bush in an election campaign sure to be dominated by military, security and foreign-affairs questions. International Herald Tribune