Questions for General Wesley K. Clark
By Deborah Solomon
New York Times Magazine
As a retired four-star general and former presidential candidate, you're about to publish a memoir whose title, “A Time to Lead,” might seem to suggest you're personally eager to lead this country. Is that an accurate reading? “A Time to Lead” is a time for America to lead. That is the intention of the title. Certainly we are having a leadership crisis. We have an administration that has lost all sense of strategic purpose in the Mideast. I am very concerned that we have lost the foundation of America's worldwide power and influence. It has been squandered.
Are you referring to our military strength? The most important element of power is not the military. After World War II and through the end of the 20th century, we had a legitimacy that magnified our military strength and economic strength. We weren't like other powers. We weren't after an empire. We didn't torture. What we've lost is our legitimacy. It's time for every American to be a leader.
Is that practical? If every American were a leader, there would be no one left for them to boss around. Leaders don't boss. Not if they're any good. They persuade. And I think America needs a whole lot more persuading and a lot less bossing.
It sounds as if you're running for president again as a Democrat. I haven't said I won't. I think about it every day.
The field is already overcrowded with aspiring presidents. Do you think we've become a country where everyone wants to be in charge and no one can tolerate being second? Every American should strive to be all they can be. And that striving will make them better even if they end up in second place.
What do you make of all the how-to books and seminars on leadership? What true leader would ever take a leadership seminar? I've never met an effective leader who wasn't aware of his talents and working to sharpen them.
As a decorated leader yourself who served as NATO's Supreme Allied Commander during the war in Kosovo, how would you assess the threat that Al Qaeda poses to this country? Al Qaeda is not an existential threat to the United States the way the Soviet Union was. You have to understand that the Soviet Union was a country of more than 200 million people. Al Qaeda is maybe 50,000 angry and destructive individuals.
You make Al Qaeda sound as unthreatening as a schoolyard gang. Al Qaeda is unpredictable and dangerous and has an unknown number of sympathizers. But the Soviets had thousands of nuclear warheads, nuclear bombs, biological and chemical warheads and specially trained assassination teams aimed at us, and all of it was on a hair-trigger status that could have been set off by accident or miscalculation.
Neoconservatives generally argue just the opposite, claiming that the fight against terrorism is no less daunting than the cold war and in fact constitutes “World War IV,” to borrow the title of Norman Podhoretz's forthcoming book. Thus far, we don't have an opposing superpower against us, no matter how much the neoconservatives long for this. Perhaps the neoconservatives believe that we can only be defined by having an enemy.
You just left your gig as a foreign-affairs analyst on Fox News. Whom will they replace you with? I'm sure they are going to find some good Democrat. I'm really looking forward to being with MSNBC. They have great people, like Keith Olbermann and Chris Matthews.
Do you have any plans for this Wednesday, Independence Day? I'm going to be in Little Rock,Ark., celebrating the birth of our nation with family and friends.
Why do Americans eat hot dogs on July 4? Because they're easier to cook than hamburgers.
Do you think the Founding Fathers ate hot dogs? They say an army travels on its stomach, but I think most of the armies in those days ate something far worse than hot dogs.
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