Politics, current affairs and riffs and reflections on the news.
General Wesley Clark's candidacy is still a work in progress. In his debut debate on September 25th, the Man from NATO said he needed more time to hammer out policies on healthcare, trade and social security. But what if he had been asked about his favorite song? (When journalist Farai Chideya posed that seemingly trivial question in the previous debate, the replies turned out to be far more interesting than expected.)
Would Clark have had a clear and resolute answer? Maybe. After all, he quotes Bob Dylan's Blowin' In the Wind toward the end of his memoir, Waging Modern War, and writes affectionately about the protest music (Peter, Paul and Mary, Trini Lopez and Dylan) that he used to love to listen to as a young man. Of course, Clark could play it safe and select a traditional military fave: Garryowen (the song of the seventh cavalry and the most famous fighting song in the US Army), or the Theme from Superman or Off We Go Into The Wild Blue Wonder.
But, it's much better to answer from the heart than to have your expert advisers focus group the question to death before coming up with the politically correct answer. So I hope the general will stick with Dylan, although he may want to opt for Don't Think Twice, It's All Right over Desolation Row, Sitting On A Barbed Wire Fence or You Ain't Goin' Nowhere.
The Dalai Lama recently ended a twenty-day trip to the United States that at times resembled a rock tour more than the series of scientific, spiritual and political meetings which took up much of the Tibetan leader's time in this country.
And whether he was talking to scientists at M.I.T. studying the impact of meditation on human happiness, delivering a sermon on nonviolence and compassion to tens of thousands in New York City's Central Park or conducting an all-day series of discussions about the "ethical revolution and the world crisis," with politicians, activists and media figures at Manhattan's Town Hall, the Dalai Lama drew tremendous (and mostly reverential) attention wherever he went.
The Town Hall event, held on a torrential Tuesday, was organized by Tibet House and its founder Robert Thurman and featured a four-part series of conversations on environmentalism, the media, the politics of war and the ethics of business. The invitees might be best be described as eclectic: Presidential candidates Al Sharpton, and Dennis Kucinich, Co-founder of Ben and Jerry's Ice Cream Ben Cohen, environmentalists Randall Hayes, David Crow and Paul Hawken, Nobel Peace Prize nominee Helen Caldicott, hip hop mogul and entrepreneur Russell Simmons and socially responsible investor Amy Domini. I joined Democracy Now's Amy Goodman and actress Susan Sarandon on the media panel.
Sarandon kept the leader of Tibetan Buddism laughing loudly with jokes about the Compassion Diet and what a bundle the Dalai Lama could make if he played his cards right. More seriously, she addressed the fear instilled in people by this Administration and the failure of the press--though she kindly noted a few exceptions, touching my knee and looking at Amy--to investigate and expose the deceit we confront everyday.
Goodman spoke in compelling terms about different September 11 anniversaries around the world--from Chile to Guatemala--and vividly stressed the contrast between what was happening in Town Hall that morning and what was going on across town.(Bush was addressing the UN.) She also made an impassioned case for the importance of independent media through the story of the Pacifica Radio Network and the role it has played these last decades, in allowing voices of dissent to speak against the grain--for example, the great Paul Robeson, who was given a voice on Pacifica when he was shut out of the mass media of his time. (Through his interpreter, the Dalai Lama asked, what years were those?)
Through this, the Dalai Lama sat cross-legged on a striped silk armchair, wrapped cocoon-like in a saffron monk's robe listening carefully. The Dalai Lama is a very good listener. He also seemed very human, yet spiritual; political, yet apolitical; humorous, yet full of a sadness that comes from being the leader of an occupied country; but also joyful, with a mischievous laugh. And, after each set of remarks, he'd respond, sometimes briefly and directly to the point; other times at length in digressive, yet pointed messages.
He confessed that he was a fan of BBC World News ("I trust it more than CNN."); that while he is a resolute opponent of violence he felt the use of force by an elected government is preferable to its use by stateless organizations, and that he has aspirations of drawing together a Nonviolence Swat Team comprised of Nobel laureates who could be mobilized quickly to be dispatched to the world's hot spots.
He responded to Goodman's comments about the US government's brutal interventions abroad by noting how good it is that we Americans have the freedom to criticize our own government. (And he joked that even if anyone was to be arrested for this meeting, at least he'd be on a plane the next morning!)
In the short time I had to offer remarks to the Tibetan spiritual leader, I tried to make sense of the theme of media and ethics while also addressing the Dalai Lama's call for compassion and nonviolence.
Following is an abbreviated version of my remarks:
I want to be honest. I edit a weekly political magazine and these are times when our politics fill me with what you call afflictive emotion--anger, outrage about injustice and deceit. I confess that I believe intelligent anger, focused on serious problems, anger which provokes indignation and action by people, has a role to play in our world. Please forgive me. I also believe that while we live in this world, another world is possible--a more compassionate one--a world in which it would be easier for people to behave decently-and that the media has a role to play in building that world.
This morning, I come here with more questions than answers. And I hope with a humility that our government has abandoned in its engagement with the world, with its own citizens and with the media.
My central question: How do those of us in the media revitalize the civic powers that are so important to an ethical society? How does a citizen, a journalist living at a time when his or her government lies and deceives its own people search out the truth? How does a journalist feel anger at the daily outrages we witness--and still act as an effective, humane watchdog? To not only expose but also propose our vision of a society that is both plausible and visionary? To be critical-minded but not relentlessly oppositional? To say something about the democracy we are for, not just why today it is gravely imperiled? To create a media that does not make citizens passive, fearful spectators but rather informed and compassionate ones?
At The Nation, we refuse to concede that idealism is irrelevant, and like the abolitionists who founded the magazine in 1865, we believe there is no force so potent in politics as a moral issue. We take seriously the power of ideas, of conviction, of conscience, of fighting for causes lost and found. And we're not alone.
We also value our independence. And as the line between news and entertainment has forever been blurred, at a time when conformism and conglomeratization have led to the marginalization, even the suppression of rebellious, questioning, honest voices, that independence seems ever more important. And while it may not be revolution, we believe that it's a small, beginning step to come forth, as we do, with independent perspectives, constructive ideas and radical rethinking of the assumptions underlying conventional thinking and our media.
Sadly, most of our media-especially in these last few years-has lacked the courage to question authority, to raise tough questions, to perform the basic duties required of a free press in a democracy. It has been too easily intimidated by an Administration that has used fear to make its case for war, to label its critics traitors, to silence dissent, to pervert the meaning of patriotism and compassion, and to push for legislation that would invade our privacy and destroy our dignity.
But as in life and history, I believe there are always alternatives. So I'd like to propose an alterative framework. Media can also mean the "surrounding environment in which something functions and thrives." Scientists, for example, use the term to refer to substances they use to nurture a particular organism. Media in a petri dish might be used to grow penicillin. Or anthrax. I choose those two germs because our media is in some ways just as neutral a transmission belt: it can carry news that enlightens as easily as it carries news that poisons minds. If we understand our media of mass communication as helping to create the environment in which mass society functions, then the question for our time, as it has been ever since the invention of mass communication, is what kind of information is to be disseminated, by whom, and for what purpose?
In the forward to Bruce Shapiro's new book about investigative journalism Shaking the Foundations, New York columnist Pete Hamill describes the reporter as a member of a tribe who is sent to the back of a cave to find out what's there. "The report must be accurate," Hamill writes. "If there's a rabbit hiding in the darkness, it cannot be transformed into a dragon. Bad reporting, after all, could deprive people of warmth and shelter aned survival on an arctic night. But if there is, in fact, a dragon lurking in the dark, it can't be described as a rabbit. The survival of the tribe could depend on that person with the torch."
We Americans are very lucky to have a rich tradition of torch-bearers poking around the dark corners of the caves of the powerful. Men and women who are determined to speak documented truth to power, and who have a fierce belief in the ability of readers, of citizens, to effect change. I'm thinking of Jacob Riis, who told us how the other half lives in his meticulous documenting of the poverty of New York City slums in the 1890s. Of muckrakers like Lincoln Steffens, Ida Tarbell and Upton Sinclair, who rooted out political corruption, corporate greed, and dangerous working conditions, sparking vital movements for reform. Of Ralph Nader, who was first published in The Nation, and who in 1959 wrote an expose for us called The Safe Car You Can't Buy that helped set off the modern consumer movement. Of Michael Harrington's book The Other America, which galvanized a federal commitment to end poverty.
There are many more torchbearers I should mention: Rachel Carson for her pioneering work on the environment; I.F. Stone for revealing that the Tonkin Gulf incident was a lie; Seymour Hersh and Ron Ridenour for unearthing the massacre at My Lai; Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein for uncovering Watergate. Allan Nairn for showing the connections between the CIA and Latin American death squads. And the list goes on.
I am glad to see your holiness that in your book you endorse investigative journalism, saying it is appropriate to have journalists, "their noses as long as an elephants trunk, snooping around and exposing wrongdoing where they find it."
Citizens cannot make wise choices--in their lives, at work, in politics--without full information about their leaders, their policies, and the truth or falsehood of their statements. Wrongs cannot be corrected without first being exposed. The powerful will naturally be tempted to exploit their power to its fullest if they do not fear that someone is watching them.
And In order to perform these functions, our media must be free--independent not only of government interference, but also of the more subtle pressures imposed on the one hand by would-be moralists who think they know what is best for the public to read and see, and on the other hand by base considerations of private profit which are causing many news outlets to turn away from hard news and towards what we call infotainment.
As we have been documenting in The Nation's pages for some time, while the quantity of media outlets and formats has grown, the number of owners keeps shrinking. Today, a handful of multinationals rule the media cosmos. A media system that enlightens us, that tells us what we need to know, would be a system dedicated to the public interest. Such a system would not be controlled by a cartel of giant corporations which places unlimited power in the hands of limited minds.
But, as I said before, there are always alternatives. And I refuse to believe this is the media world we are stuck with--not only because I try to be a realistic idealist, but also because I see extraordinary changes which breed hope. The tradition of independent investigative reporting is not dead, and you can find vibrant examples of it in both the alternative media--on Amy Goodman's Democracy Now!--as well as in some corporate outlets. For example, it was careful investigative reporting by two journalists at the Chicago Tribune in 1999 that revealed the systemic problems with the state's capital punishment procedures and ultimately led to the commutation of the sentences of all death-row inmates in Illinois.
At the same time, the new technologies of the Internet and digital video have fostered a new generation of independent journalism that is being created directly by the participants in political movements and campaigns. Instead of being subjects of the mass media, millions of people are talking back to the official journalists in ways that are slowly changing and broadening the definition of news.
And something remarkable is taking place. Perhaps the most promising sign of positive change is the emergence of a real media democracy movement, a democratic revolution against media concentration. After years where government agencies basically were able to do whatever the private media giants wanted them to do, this year the sleeping giant--millions of people---awoke to reclaim the airwaves---telling Congress loud and clear that it did not want to live in informational company towns where one company might own all the media. The backlash hit the FCC like a tidal wave, and so far, for once it seems that the forces of democracy and diversity are winning.
Can the Internet, with its culture of free-wheeling grassroots debate, and the media democracy movement, with its goal of breaking up the giant media monopolies, somehow supplant the top-down, profit-oriented, power-following media conglomerates? I don't know, but I believe it is our best hope. Media that is made by people who are responsive to the real interests of their audience, as opposed to the interests of their owners or their advertisers, is far more likely to be media that brings about a peaceful world, nurtures civic society, looks for solutions to problems, doesn't see the world in black and white but more in terms of its complex interdependence, and holds the powerful to account for their actions.
If there is to be an ethical revival in the media, it won't be because we've somehow changed the human nature of the people who work in the media, it will be because we've changed the structures that they have to work in, so they can be their own better selves.
In the end, as Pete Hamill writes, "the full story will come out--it always does--because someone is heading into the cave with a torch."
"Is California Crazy?" was how The Week magazine billed its political discussion yesterday. Journalists (and gossip columnists, politicos, NYC fixtures and one of California's 135 gubernatorial candidates--porn star Mary Carey) filled Michael Jordan's Steakhouse in Grand Central Station for an afternoon panel on the California recall.
Harold Evans moderated a spirited, serious, chaotic, sometimes comical debate between the scions of two political families (Barry Goldwater, Jr and Ron Reagan, now a fighting independent liberal sort), longtime California state legislator and activist Tom Hayden and profiler of the Kennedy family Ed Klein.
I still don't know if California is crazy, but there were moments when California's carnivalesque politics seemed to fill the room, and it was certainly a lively and fairly enlightening discussion among an eclectic group of panelists.
Ron Reagan (RR): The recall is a terrible, infantile idea. The California public is like a two year old--last year they wanted Mommy to buy them a Gray figure, and this year it's the Arnold doll.
Barry Goldwater (BG): It's democracy, it's revenge, it's a good expression of the peoples' will.
Tom Hayden (TH): We don't need this recall. It's been hijacked by money and celebrity. I've known Gray Davis for thirty years. I've fought with him on many issues. This recall has national implications in that Davis took the advice of the centrists in the Democratic Party--scouring money from corporations--and moving the party to the right--that is, to the center. He abused the grassroots and wound up in the middle of the road, alienating his base. New York should listen; there's a lesson here for the rest of the country, for the Democratic Party. We're looking at the results of the failed strategy of the so-called centrist Democratic Leadership Council. Davis went to the limits with deregulation, with fundraising, and alienated his core base. I still want Gray to win because of what Arnold stands for. I know Arnold and he's a decent guy, but look at his after-school program. It required balancing the budget before it starts up. It's like Bush's No Child Left Behind legislation and that's what we'll have if Arnold's course is followed in California.
Bill Simon, Jr, (who ran unsuccessfully against Davis last year was piped in by speaker phone: Davis should be recalled for his incompetence. He lied about the deficit. Those are adequate grounds for recall.
BG: I'm for anything that increases accountability of government.
RR: Much of what you say about Davis--lying and deficits--is also true of Bush. Shouldn't he be recalled? (Sadly, no one took this bait.)
BG: The California recall is a classic example of failed socialism.
RR: How is it that a man who is supposed to be so courageous on screen, is so cowardly on the campaign trail--refusing to debate Davis?
Ed Klein (EK): You know Maria Shriver told him not to engage in debates with Davis. Remember that Saturday Night Live skit, Hans and Franz, (with Dana Carvey and Kevin Nealon playing East European body-builders). Well, if Arnold is Franz, Maria is Hans.
TH: When it comes to the implications of the recall, I don't think we'll see more attention paid to politics. This is celebrity politics with a big bang. And big money. The next Republican strategy is to go to celebrity candidates. Dennis Miller will be next--versus Barbara Boxer--for a Senate seat.
For the Democratic party, the national implication is what Jim Hightower always warns about: There's nothing in the middle of the road except yellow lines and armadillos. The party is engaged in the same debates about Dean's electability. It should be instead healing the breach with Nader and the Greens. The phenomenon of Nader arose because Dems created space for opposition with their pro-corporate policies on NAFTA, WTO. The party has a responsibility to build a bridge to Nader if it wants to be a majority party.
RR: I don't think California will stop being a Democratic Party state but Dems will need to spend more money in California in 2004.
Harold Evans then introduced one of California's candidates for Governor--the porn star Mary Carey, dressed more demurely than usual in a red halter dress. Carey laid out a surprisingly radical platform for the assembled crowd. Its highlights: Tax breast implants ("From Beverly Hills alone, we should bring in millions in tax revenue;" earlier that day, on TV, she had said she would exempt strippers and hookers); Make lap dances a tax-deductible expense; Wire the Governor's Mansion with live web cams in every room ("reality shows are very popular these days, and think if the White House under Clinton had been wired.")
At that point, over the speakerphone, Bill Simon erupted: "Is it too late for me to switch my endorsement from Arnold?," as Hayden declared ruefully, "Well, New Yorkers, you're all Californians now."
And then, in a delayed reaction to Goldwater's statement that the recall was about "socialism failed," Hayden shouted into his mic: "Where's the socialism in California!?"
BG: Well there's been an explosion in growth of government.
TH: So, explosion in growth of government means socialism to you? Then, was Franklin Roosevelt's expansion of government socialism?
Simon: Yes!(By this time, Ron Reagan is looking grimly at Goldwater.)
RR: I was down in Orange County last week, doing some reporting, and there is a fear and loathing of immigrants, immigration.
TH: The majority of the US will be Latino in forty years. It already is majority Latino in California. In my view the most important issue to be decided next week, after the recall, is Prop 54, which seeks to amend the California Constitution to prohibit the state and other public bodies--including local governments, colleges and universities--from classifying individuals and collecting information on them by race, ethnicity, color or national origin. I hope it will be defeated. Dems must build a coalition of middle class whites and blacks and Latinos--but if Dems raise tuitions at state colleges, and rates for homeowners, they're going to lose that possibility.
BG: New York is just as crazy as California. New York has faced these same issues, California is still young; New York is more mature.
Hayden: I don't think the recall is a plot. Davis won with only forty-three percent of the vote--so people saw an opening and seized it.
EK: I'd tell Arnold to get rid of his man tan and Grecian formula. I think he's likely to be a Kennedyesque Republican.
As I snuck out to head back to reality and work, Mary Carey was eyeing Tina Brown's red suit.
Has the Washington Post op-ed page gone into the "Op-Ad" business? In early September, the paper published an op-ed piece by Mark Penn, a paid political adviser to Democratic Presidential candidate Joseph Lieberman. The piece was a big wet kiss for Lieberman's candidacy, a lecture to wayward party activists and another warmed over Democratic Leadership Council sermon. You know the drill:
"...People are seeking a progressive moderate -- someone who is strong on defense and earns high marks on personal values..."
Penn's "Op-Ad" bashed Howard Dean for making the party look weak on defense, criticized Gephardt's healthcare plan for its price tag, and attacked Kerry for abandoning Clinton's trade policy. "Most Democrats," he insisted, "want to see a moderate candidate for President." What Penn doesn't say is that Lieberman continues to preach a Republican-lite line that is so out of touch with political realities on the ground that it sometimes inspires laughter at Democratic Party gatherings.
Unless the Washington Post is going to make this a series, and give space to each of the candidates's principal advisers so they too might expound on the virtues of their employer/candidates, Penn's piece should have been marked "Op-Ad," not Op-Ed.
One good measure of this Administration's extremism is the steady drumbeat of criticism being leveled against it by leading establishment figures--many not known for being politically outspoken.
Just the other day, Pulitzer-prize winner James McPherson, one of America's preeminent Civil War historians and the current President of the prestigious American Historical Association (AHA) published a blistering critique of President Bush and his national security adviser Condoleezza Rice in the September AHA newsletter.
Among other charges, he accuses them of mis-using the term "revisionist historians" to derisively deflect criticism and denigrate a legitimate and essential activity of his profession.
"Neither Bush nor Rice offered a definition of this phrase," McPherson notes, "but their body language and tone of voice appeared to suggest that they wanted listeners to understand 'revisionist history' to be a consciously falsified or distorted interpretation of the past to serve partisan or ideological purposes in the present...The 14,000 members of this Association, however, know that revision is the lifeblood of historical scholarship. History is a continuing dialogue between the present and the past...There is no single, eternal, and immutable 'truth' about past events and their meaning. The unending quest of historians for understanding the past--that is 'revisionism'--is what makes history vital and meaningful."
"Without revisionism," McPherson argues, "we might be stuck with the images of Reconstruction after the American Civil War that were conveyed by D.W. Griffith's 'Birth of a Nation' and Claude Bowers's 'The Tragic Era'."
Would President Bush and Condoleezza Rice wish to associate themselves with Southern political leaders of the 1950s who condemned Chief Justice Earl Warren and his colleagues as revisionist historians because their decision in Brown v Board of Education struck down the accepted version of history and law laid down by the Court in Plessy v Ferguson?..."
McPherson reserves his real contempt for the alleged scholar on the Bush team--former Stanford University Provost and political scientist Rice. "The judgmental tone of Rice's derogatory reference to 'revisionist historians,'" McPherson observes, "brings to mind a review of her book The Soviet Union and the Czechoslovak Army, 1948-1983, in the December 1985 issue of the American Historical Review...The reviewer claimed that Rice 'frequently does not sift facts from propaganda and valid information from disinformation or misinformation.' In addition, according to the reviewer, she 'passes judgments and expresses opinions without adequate knowledge of the facts" and her "writing abounds with meaningless phrases.'"
Sound familiar? It does to McPherson, who concludes: "I am tempted to wonder, in the immortal words of Yogi Berra, whether we are experiencing deja vu all over again."
Maybe it's a drug problem? Comedian D.L. Hughley may just be on to something. Take Hughley's recent exchange with neocon Bill Kristol, editor of Rupert Murdoch's Weekly Standard, on Bill Maher's "Real Time" on HBO.
Kristol: "We're not failing in Iraq. In fact, we've done an amazing job. If you had said six months ago that we would have a total of 300 American casualties, and rather few Iraqi casualties--I mean under 10,000 probably--no ethnic warfare, no religious warfare, huge parts of the country pretty peaceful, the American military doing really a fantastic job of running the country, parts of the country, that was all good news. Now the bad news is there's a nasty counter--there's a nasty insurgency that we need to crush, because there are Baathist remnants, and there are terrorists there."
Hughley: "You're high, aren't you? You're high! [laughter] [applause] I have a cousin in rehab and he says a lot of the same things, let me tell you. [laughter] [applause]
Kristol does seem to be exhibiting signs of erratic behavior. After cheerleading for Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz and other architects of the war, Kristol is now filling his weekly magazine with articles lambasting current Iraqi policy and attacking the Administration for its poor postwar planning. Maybe it's a form of political rehab?
"I want to do everything," Madonna said recently. I thought she was talking about positions. (I was a keen reader of her X-rated 1992 book of photography, Sex.) My twelve year old daughter thought she was talking about her MTV Video Music Awards' open-mouth pump and grind kissing routine with Britney Spears and Cristina Aguilera.
Turns out that we were clueless. Madonna has found another way to have it all. On September 15th, this kinder and gentler forty-four year old mother of two, America's premier mistress of reinvention (once married to bad boy Sean Penn and involved romantically with, among others, Warren Beatty and Dennis Rodman), tackled J.K. Rowling's empire.
Madonna's first children's book, English Roses, was simultaneously released in more than one hundred countries in forty two languages with all the hoopla and publicity that normally surrounds Rowling's Harry Potter. The plot is based on Madonna's spiritual lodestar Kabbalah--the mystical Jewish guide to the universe. ("Yikes, I for one never knew Madonna was Jewish," writes some strange columnist called Mr. Joel of Hollywood, an independent blogger.)
I think early Madonna was brilliant, I respect her ability to cause controversy and her mastery of reinvention and rejuvenation, and I would rather read Madonna's book for kids than William Bennett's moral sermons--or, for that matter, former French sexpot Brigitte Bardot's new work, Cry in the Silence. (Bardot, an ardent right-wing National Front supporter, uses her book to rail against immigration to France, to bash women in politics, gays who assert their rights, and unemployed people who are "handsomely kept by taxpayers.")
Madonna, on the other hand, recently made an antiwar music video for her new single "American Life." When accused that she was being un-American, Madonna responded: "I am not anti-Bush. I am not pro-Iraq. I am pro-peace." (So America has better aging sexpots than France. Maybe the Bush Administration could find a way to work this into its French-bashing routines?)
As a forty three year old mother of one, who believes in personal reinvention and redemption (and sin and sex), I think Madonna has a right to have it all. My daughter and I are going off to buy English Roses later this week. And I may dig out my 1984 copy of Like A Virgin. I bet it's held up well.
It was reported today that retired four-star General, ardent critic of Bush's national security policies, telegenic TV commentator, and recently declared Democrat Wesley Clark will enter the crowded presidential race.
Democrats believe that Clark, as a former military officer, could make the party more viable on foreign affairs than it's been since a general named George Marshall was containing Communism under the command of a president named Harry Truman. (That's the conventional wisdom, though the staggering cost of the badly bungled Iraqi occupation has diminished the Republican advantage on defense no matter who runs against Bush.)
While media commentary on Clark's prospective candidacy has been almost entirely favorable--even adulatory--it's worth looking back at a forgotten chapter in his military biography that occurred when Clark was Supreme Allied Commander of NATO and Commander In Chief for the US European Command. Call it Clark's "High Noon" showdown. It's an incident that deserves scrutiny because Clark's claim to be an experienced leader in national security matters is tied, in significant part, to his record in the Balkans.
On June 12, 1999, in the immediate aftermath of NATO's air war against Yugoslavia, a small contingent of Russian troops dashed to occupy the Pristina airfield in Kosovo. Clark was so anxious to stop the Russians that he ordered an airborne assault to confront these units--an order which could have unleashed the most frightening showdown with Moscow since the end of the Cold War. Hyperbole? You can decide. But British General Michael Jackson, the three-star general and commander of K-FOR, the international force organized and commanded by NATO to enforce an agreement in Kosovo, told Clark: "Sir, I'm not starting world war three for you," when refusing to accept his order to prevent Russian forces from taking over the airport. (Jackson was rightly worried that any precipitous NATO action could risk a confrontation with a nuclear-armed Russia and upset the NATO-led peacekeeping plan just getting underway with the withdrawal of Serbian forces from Kosovo.)
After being rebuffed by Jackson, Clark, according to various media reports at the time, then ordered Admiral James Ellis, the American in charge of NATO's southern command, to use Apache helicopters to occupy the airfield. Ellis didn't comply--replying that British General Jackson would oppose such a move. Had Clark's orders been followed, the subsequent NATO-negotiated compromise with the Russians--a positive element in the roller-coaster relationship between Moscow and Washington, which eventually incorporated Russian troops into peacekeeping operations--might well have been undermined.
In the end, Russian reinforcements were stopped when Washington persuaded Hungary, a new NATO member, to refuse to allow Russian aircraft to fly over its territory. Meanwhile, Jackson was appealing to senior British authorities, who persuaded Clinton Administration officials--some of whom had previously favored occupying the airport--to drop support for Clark's hotheaded plan. As a result, when Clark appealed to Washington, he was rebuffed at the highest levels. His virtually unprecedented showdown with a subordinate subsequently prompted hearings by the Armed Forces Services Committee, which raised sharp questions about NATO's chain of command.
As a Guardian article said at the time, "The episode triggers reminscences of the Korean War. Then, General Douglas MacArthur, commander of the UN force, wanted to invade, even nuke, China, until he was brought to heel by President Truman." Of course, the comparison is inexact. The stakes were not as high in the Balkans, but Clark's hip-shooting willingness to engage Russian troops in a risky military showdown at the end of the war is instructive nonetheless.
Indeed, it is believed in military circles that Clark's Pristina incident was the final straw that led the Pentagon to relieve him of his duties (actually retire him earlier). Clark had also angered the Pentagon brass--and Secretary of Defense William Cohen in particular--with his numerous media appearances and repeated public requests for more weapons and for more freedom to wage the Kosovo war the way he wanted (with ground troops). At one point, according to media reports, Defense Secretary Cohen, through Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Hugh Shelton, told Clark to "get your fucking face off of TV."
In recent years, it's only fair to note, Clark has insisted in interviews and in his memoir Waging Modern War that the incident was a surprising moment for him. Clark said that his order to confront the Russian troops was refused by an emotional General Jackson, who took the matter up the British chain of command, where General Charles Guthrie, British Chief of Defence, said that he agreed with Jackson. Guthrie, according to Clark, told him that Joint Chiefs Chairman Shelton also agreed with the British. This surprised Clark because he claims that the original suggestion to block the Russians came from Washington. Clark maintains that the matter was a policy problem between the US and British governments and insists that he was carrying out the suggestions of the Clinton Administration.
Despite concerns this incident raises, it remains a fact that the Clark candidacy is a tantalizing prospect. Clark says he is a liberal Democrat who favors abortion rights, affirmative action, gun control and progressive economic policies. He has also spoken eloquently about basing America's role in the world on the country's better principles: "generosity, humility, engagement..."
The other day, Clark told http://www.billmaher.tv/Bill Maher"> Bill Maher on HBO that this country was founded on "the idea that people could talk, reason, have dialogue, discuss the issues…We can't lose that in this country. We've got to get it back."
Perhaps Clark has learned that building alliances--and not risking showdowns--is more crucial than ever in these perilous times? It would be good to hear from the general himself now that he has decided to run for president.
So, Richard Perle--a man whose arrogance knows no limits, whose countless op-eds and television appearances about the imminent threat Iraq posed to the US deceived the American people---has now admitted that he and his neocon cabal underestimated the disastrous consequences of poor postwar planning.
In a recent interview with the French newspaper Le Figaro, the NeoCon Prince of Darkness acknowledges, "Our main mistake, in my opinion, is that we haven't succeeded in working closely with Iraqis before the war so that an Iraqi opposition could have been able to immediately take the matter in hand."
But wasn't it the Bush Administration's over-reliance on the claims of the self-interested exiled Iraqi opposition (and its handmaidens on the Pentagon's Defense Policy Board), that was one of the main reasons for the US failure to anticipate the postwar crisis? As the costs of occupation soar--in both lives and dollars--shouldn't chickenhawks like Perle be held accountable for their failures and fabrications?
After all, wasn't Perle--along with the other faith-based warrior intellectuals at the project for the New American Century and in corporate-funded think tanks like the American Enterprise Institute--an architect of these failed policies? Isn't it time that their colossal failure meet its just response? President Bush should ask Dick Cheney and his cabal of (failed) armchair wargamers to hit the road.
(Update on "Sally Baron RIP")
The AP reports explaining that Wisconsite Baron's family had asked that memorials in her honor be made to any organization working for the removal of President Bush from office caught the attention of American citizens far from the verdant scenery of Wisconsin.
The Madison Capital Times reports that already "dozens of people from around the United States have written to the [paper] saying they will make donations." (People have even printed shirts featuring a photo of Baron.) And Keith Olberman's national coverage of the Baron family's request on MSNBC recently is sure to increase this number.
Baron's story is also being hotly discussed on online bulletin boards, among both liberals and conservatives. Baron "has become a sort of poster girl for all of us who despise George Bush," wrote Nancy Tonies of Appleton, on the chat-site democraticunderground.com. "I did not know Sally at all, but I wish I had had the opportunity," wrote Linda Brown, a retired teacher in Thousand Oaks, Calif. "We would have had fun shouting back at the TV together. I suspect my language would have been worse than hers."
Memorials in Baron's honor can be made to any organization working for the removal of President Bush.