Thursday, October 23, 2003

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Wesley Clark, meet Nora Bensahel

Wesley Clark is making a lot of hay about the Rumsfeld memo. The Chicago Tribune quotes him as follows:

[R]etired Army Gen. Wesley Clark, a Democratic presidential candidate, said the memo marked the first glimpse the administration has allowed into problems many critics have been alleging for months.

"Secretary Rumsfeld is only now acknowledging what we've known for some time--that this administration has no plan for Iraq and no long-term strategy for fighting terrorism," Clark said Wednesday.

"Attacks on our troops in Iraq are spiking," he said. "If that doesn't impart a sense of urgency, I don't see how a memo is going to do it."

Clark's running for president, and one can't begrudge the fact that this is both a good and salient line of attack.

However, it's worth exploring Clark's own policy positions to see how they're holding up. Consider the role of NATO. One of Clark's mantras since 9/11 has been that the Bush administration has slighted NATO and other multilateral fora in fighting the global war on terror. Here's an excerpt from Clark's May 2002 Senate testimony:

Instead of just looking for additional manpower, ships and aircraft, we need to focus on the problems of eliminating al Qaeda through the exchange of information and sensitive intelligence, through the harmonization of legal and judicial standards and procedures, and the coordination of law enforcement activities. We need to make the international environment as seamless for our counterterrorist efforts as it is seamless to the terrorists themselves.

However, exchanges of information, harmonization and coordination of activities are extraordinarily difficult. There is no international organization to do this. In fact, even though this is mentioned in the NATO strategic concept, the United States position in the past has always been that we would prefer to do this bilaterally. The problem is that you can't have effective coordination when every different agency of the United States government is working bilaterally with 10, 15, 20 different governments....

The experience of over 40 years suggests that all of this work is best concerted in institutional rather than ad hoc relationships. As we heard in the previous panel, military liaison is not enough. It has to be embedded at every level of the government. It has to go from the top down. If we didn't have NATO, we'd be in the process of inventing it or reinventing it today. But I think NATO, if it were properly utilized, could provide the institutional framework that we need.

Here's a more recent essay by Clark on NATO that makes similar points. Again, sounds reasonable. Joe Lieberman has made similar noises on this question.

However, Patrick Belton links to a new RAND study -- The Counterterror Coalitions: Cooperation with Europe, NATO, and the European Union, by Nora Bensahel [FULL DISCLOSURE: I know Nora from graduate school -- we both attended Stanford]

The following is from the report summary:

The long-term success of the counterterror campaign will depend on concerted cooperation from European states, but a key question (addressed in Chapter Three) is the extent to which that cooperation should be pursued through European multilateral institutions. NATO has not yet proven capable of reorienting itself to challenge terrorism....

As the United States develops a policy of counterterror cooperation with Europe, it must strike the right balance between bilateral and multilateral approaches. The policy choice is not whether to pursue bilateral or multilateral approaches; many important policies are now being made at the European level and multilateral institutions cannot simply be ignored. Instead, the United States must determine which issues are best addressed through a multilateral approach and which ones are best addressed through a bilateral approach.

This report argues that the United States should pursue military and intelligence cooperation on a bilateral basis, and it should increasingly pursue financial and law enforcement cooperation on a multilateral basis. (See pp. 45–54.) Bilateral cooperation will remain necessary in the military and intelligence realms—states retain significant capacities in these areas, NATO currently lacks the political will to embrace counterterrorism as a new mission, and the EU does not intend to build the centralized structures and offensive capabilities that would be required.

Bensahel is a policy analyst, while Clark's actually run significant NATO operations. Clark may still be right. Still, this contradicts a key position of his, and -- once he's done with Rumsfeld -- I'd be curious to see how he would respond.

posted by Dan on 10.23.03 at 11:56 AM


I'm not familiar enough with the specifics of the Nato structure, etc., to give an informed opinion as to whether Clark is correct in his assessment. Yet, one has to wonder if it would be more efficient and less costly to modify an existing structure, Nato, rather than start from scratch.

However, what just jumped out at me while reading your blog is that I, along with most people I know down here in the Tucson desert, am just salivating over the potential of having a president who is capable of independently articulating thoughtful, informed ideas.
I just dread dread dread the idea of spending another 4 years listening with embarassment and chagrin to the leader of our country muttering "smoke 'em out" and "bring 'em on" as a response to extremely complex and sensitive issues.

posted by: Mary C. on 10.23.03 at 11:56 AM [permalink]

As I see it, Clarke thinks we should be working with the various European governments via NATO, i.e. a mlitilateral approach

Bensahel doubts that NATO has the wherewithal to adequately address the challenges of counter-terrorism, and advocates dealing with the European states on a one to one basis, i.e. a bilateral approach.

I don't know who's right. Ultimately it's a pragmatic choice - which one works. And we don't know which one will work until we try it.

What we do know is that the present course - screw the rest of the world, we're gonna do whatever we want and they can follow us or not, i.e. the unilateral approach - is not working.

posted by: uh_clem on 10.23.03 at 11:56 AM [permalink]

Clark's articulate Iraq commentary has been mostly off, way off, on anything above small-unit ground operations. His entire approach has amounted to "uh, we should do something about it, but uh, nothing too decisive, uh, you know, let's work with out allies, blah blah blah." The Rumsfeld memo's not a "complex and sensitive" issue, yet Clark can't begin to understand it -- or at least shows no signs that he has in his statements. Time will tell, but I don't think a plurality will be salivating for a return of more Best and Brightest like Clark, with their trademark surface smarts and underlying cluelessness about the real world.

posted by: IceCold on 10.23.03 at 11:56 AM [permalink]

"As I see it, Clarke thinks we should be working with the various European governments via NATO, i.e. a mlitilateral approach."

Oh well, that's a good guess. But since when did Wesley Clark ever have a clear position on anything? He has proven to be a mealy mouther who changes his opinions in order to suck up to a particular audience. This man seemingly makes all of his major decisions by putting his wet finger up in the air.

Wesley Clark’s campaign has inadvertently helped Howard Dean. The latter’s main challengers have been relegated to the the back pages to make room for Clark. But doesn't Clark have a legitimate chance to capture the Democrat nomination? Yeah, I also have an outside chance of defeating Shaq O’Neal on the basketball court. Get real.

posted by: David Thomson on 10.23.03 at 11:56 AM [permalink]

I suppose Clarks solution would be to go over to Iraq, find Hussein, swap berets with him and pal around for a while. Isnt that his usual MO?

posted by: Mark Buehner on 10.23.03 at 11:56 AM [permalink]

Yes Mark, and your usual MO? Drive by snarks? What a weenie.

posted by: anon on 10.23.03 at 11:56 AM [permalink]

I think Bensahel's analysis is of NATO as it is now. If the US actually engaged with NATO on a mission of fighting terrorism, it is likely that this engagement would result in changes in NATO, particularly if the US were serious in its engagement. From Clark's experience with and knowledge of NATO, I would imagine that he's thinking of the outcome of such engagement, not NATO as it is today.

posted by: BayMike on 10.23.03 at 11:56 AM [permalink]

I find it interesting that Bensahel (the author of the RAND report) can so confidently assert that NATO is not effective at countering terrorism when one of the major points of the Rumsfeld memo was that there don't exist any good measures to quantify how effective anyone is at fighting terrorism.

Also, it should be pointed out that Clark has called for multilateralism in the invasion and aftermath in Iraq, which is not the same thing as the global war on terror. Exactly how much they have to do with each other is, of course, still a matter of debate. But, without reading the report, I'd imagine what it is discussing is very different from invading and occopying another country.

Incidentally, another message of the Rumsfeld memo is that the US DoD is not any good at fighting terrorism, either. So it's no surprise that NATO isn't either, assumin he's right on that. (Although again, how he knows without good measures is a bit of a mystery.) But this is further evidence that what the RAND study is reporting on is likely very different from the operations ongoing in Iraq.

posted by: Doug Turnbull on 10.23.03 at 11:56 AM [permalink]

Drive by nothin. Clark, on his own initiative, went and met with Gen Ratko Mladic who had spent the previous three years committing genocide and ethnic clensing, and a year later was indicted for his war crimes. Clark's state dept attache advised him not to go for obvious reasons. Clark and Mladic apparantly had a right fine time, exchanging gifts and posing for pictures. Even swapping hats.

Here's a picture. nice hat. Nice big smile!

The guys a book smart lame brain who will do anything to get ahead by all accounts. Clinton without the savvy. Good luck.

posted by: Mark Buehner on 10.23.03 at 11:56 AM [permalink]

Oops--that's what I get for only skimming the original message. Clark is calling for NATO to help in the war on al Qaeda. Well, ignore that half of my last post, then.

posted by: Doug Turnbull on 10.23.03 at 11:56 AM [permalink]

There are profound differences between counter-terrorism and war-fighting. NATO operations are organized for the armed violence mission, with political coordination being a relatively unspoken but pretty much dominant current mission.

Counter-terrorism is by definition largely an intelligence and police matter, with significant economic warfare and diplomatic elements. Armed violence is supposed to be rare.

Retasking NATO for counter-terrorism as a major mission will not be easy. IMO Clark is right that it sure would help if this could be done. Belton doubts it can be done before the war is over.

They could both be right. I don't see any contradiction between them yet, because I haven't seen anything from Clark saying that we should stop doing what we are doing now in favor of doing something better later. He seems to only have said we should try the latter too, which could be a platitude but isn't necessarily one.

If anyone has better information about Clark here, please post it.

posted by: Tom Holsinger on 10.23.03 at 11:56 AM [permalink]

OK a bit off-topic, but please oh please oh please can't this country (USA) do any better than the current president or the pool of Democrat wannabes? It makes me want to scream. And less emotionally, it seems to point to a screwed-up system that these are the only (would-be)takers for the job. How to fix that, I of course have no clue. Dang.

posted by: TG on 10.23.03 at 11:56 AM [permalink]

They're both right.

Nora is correct when she says that NATO does not currently have the instituional personel or expertise in order to run what would essentially be a intel and spec. forces game coordinated by diplomacy.

Clark is correct in saying that NATO could be an acceptable foundation with the necessary diplomatic and political credibility for building such an institution. Let's face it, Clark is no spook or has ever run such an operation. However, right now Langley and Quantico are dysfunctional in the War on Terror. Rumsfeld has just admitted that the Pentagon hasn't got what it takes either.

NATO would merely provide the multilateral umbrella and political authority to carry out such missions, if such a organization could be created to serve it.

posted by: Oldman on 10.23.03 at 11:56 AM [permalink]

To see how Clark responds?!?!? Wow, now that is optimistic. It seems to me that politicians provide very, very little detail when staking out their own positions. They talk in platitudes and glittering generalities along with health doses of vagueness.

There will be no response.

posted by: Steve on 10.23.03 at 11:56 AM [permalink]

That's right. What Clark is trying to do is stake out a position that distinguishes him from Bush enough to make him appealing to Democratic Pary activists. Dwelling on the many well-justified doubts as to NATO's usefullness as a fulcrum in the war against terror would introduce an element of ambiguity into the discussion, and this serves no purpose from Clark's point of view. So he won't address Bensahel's argument at all.

posted by: Zathras on 10.23.03 at 11:56 AM [permalink]

Methinks many here miss the real contrast between Clark and Rumsfeld: the former is a prima donna, the latter a CEO. Big Dog’s job is to extract the best from the members of the enterprise he leads, to make it an effective, useful organization, the type that its stakeholders can be proud of. Clark’s goal is self-aggrandizement.

I work for a profitable, publicly held professional services corporation with sales of $1B. The chairman/CEO, at the helm for twelve years, writes stuff like Big Dog does: direct and challenging. He’s also got to lead - motivate, challenge, and cajole - a bunch of folks to achieve great things to keep the company growing. He has to be humble, hard-working, and a team-player who respects those who commit their energies and intellect to the betterment of the organization.

Clark was fired because he was more interested in his own image than in the organization he served. He’s not last long in any well-rum services organization simply because he’d be trying to take credit for any success anyone else achieved. He’s a lousy boss and a lousy subordinate.

The really great thing about Rumsfeld is that he’s independent - he does not need the job to puff up his resume or position himself for an exciting career in industry, a think tank, or lobbying firm. That’s why he can make tough decisions like taking on Congress over the Crusader or pushing out the Pentagon’s Perfumed Princes.

On the other hand, Clark needs a really good job that matches his ego. Watch out.

I should add that the traditional view of counter-terrorism is that it’s a police matter. Recasting it as a matter of homeland defense allows us to apply military force to destroy terrorist hard points rapidly rather than having to spend the months and years that the law enforcement approach demands.

As far as NATO goes, we are doing exactly what the pragmatic French do: using whatever tool seems most appropriate for the task. NATO, the UN, unilateral action, ad hoc alliances all have their place. For example, we have a number of multilateral networks for intelligence tasking, collection, analysis, and reporting depending on the platforms, sources, and sensitivity of the information. We can and do share according to what our objectives are.

The greatest obstacle to using NATO is the obstructionist attitude that the French, Belgians, and Germans are taking. Why Clark would allow these folks to have a veto over US action puzzles me and other Jacksonians.

BTW, have any of you seen who’s with us in Iraq?
Look here:

The above article missed the Mongols. This one doesn't -,2763,1051793,00.html

posted by: The Kid on 10.23.03 at 11:56 AM [permalink]

Kid & Zathras,

You make related points. Clark is trying to differentiate himself from the other Democrats without going outside their paradigm of defense only.

The price of NATO specific multilateral counter-terrorism, as opposed to coalitions of the willing counter-terrorism, is acceptance of the lowest common denominator, and that is to entirely forgo threat elimination.

The French and Democrats are utterly opposed to the latter. Bush's "national security strategy" includes threat elimination. Bush's weakness here is that he won't admit that the forcible regime change aspect of threat elimination doesn't stop with Iraq.

Lee Harris' analysis, and he's not the only one who says this, describes how that international order relies on a sovereign power which is not bound by the rules it imposes on others. That sovereign power is the U.S., and the U.S. government's actions are limited by the good sense of the American people, who are the ultimate sovereigns here.

What Harris and the others haven't gone into yet are the consequences of an imperfect sovereign power - one which has the power to enforce its will, but not the will. That seems to be where we are now. This may be due to a considered analysis by the Bush administation of current political limitations, but IMO it is due more to President Bush's own lack of vision and inability to educate the people even if he had the vision. Only Condi and Wolfowitz seem to have the vision.

posted by: Tom Holsinger on 10.23.03 at 11:56 AM [permalink]

drive-by snark warning. Re The Kid, describing Donald R. (aka, apparently, the "Big Dog"):

"He has to be humble, hard-working, and a team-player who respects those who commit their energies and intellect to the betterment of the organization."

Sorry, Kid, your fella's at best one for four on that scale. And you won't find a more assiduous cultivator of yes-men and cliques within cliques. Call that leadership if it suits, but don't expect everyone to carry the tune.

posted by: Mark S. on 10.23.03 at 11:56 AM [permalink]

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