General Wesley Clark Speaks at GWU Elliot School

Last week I had the privilege of listening to General Wesley K Clark speak at the Banville Forum, a speaker series presented by the Elliot School of International Affairs at George Washington University. General Clark is a former NATO Supreme Commander for the European theatre, a distinguish US commander, a former Democratic Presidential candidate, a former CNN analyst, an investment banker, and a current strategic consultant.

The essence of Mr. Clark’s speech revolved around finding a new sense of national strategy, the same type of sense which propelled the United States to the forefront of world power and wealth from the late 1800s and into today. The starting question of the speech was “how do we fit this [the current American security dilemmas] into American history?”

Mr. Clark sketched a brief picture of American military history, beginning with the end of WWII and touching on every conflict to the end of the Cold War, including Korea and the Chinese counter-attack, to sputnik, Vietnam, and the American policy of containment of the Soviet Union. He did note that

“Our national security strategy of total engagement was validated”

when he referred to the collapse of the Soviet Union.

His point rested on the idea that Americans all shared the single sense of necessity in defeating the Soviet Union, or if it was not universal, the overwhelming majority of American shared the sentiment. It gave our sense of strategy validation, direction, and most importantly, will, to see it through the finish. The collective strategy was rewarded by a victory – the United States surviving as the sole legitimate super power in the world.

Mr. Clark continued on, saying

“We were the leaders in the research and development sectors, we had to have it for our military-industrial complex.”

He was indeed referring to the military-industrial complex President Truman warned of, but he was also referring to the complex as the driving force for American greatness in the post-WWII era. If it was an important invention, the Americans had done it, in essence. An important note was the existence of DARPA – the defense advanced research projects administration, which invested in the technology giants of today, such as Bell Labs, and eventually created the technology we use everyday – cell phone, laptops, cable televisions – they spawned from DARPA investment projects.

While his overview of American military history made for interesting listening, he true purpose in explaining the American sense of strategy lay in more current events.

“Without a national strategy that we could adhere to as a people, we politicked our way into a war we shouldn’t have.”

He presents to us now, the year 2010: a dangerous global security situation, 6.5% of GDP (not the national budget, but total American GDP) is devoted to defense spending, and that spending is constrained by a 3.2 trillion dollar deficit. Middle class incomes haven’t grown in terms of real wages in 30 years, but the top .5% are increasingly wealthy and influential. How did we [as asked by Mr. Clark] succeed so immensely beyond our wildest expectations, but become a debtor nation fighting two wars?

Mr. Clark’s answer – we have no national security strategy; or at least not like we used to.

His suggested solutions are to carefully start working our way out of Afghanistan. He suggested increasing the number or surgical strikes; harkening back to the Phoenix program during Vietnam, which targeted Viet Cong infrastructure; except this iteration of Phoenix program is the targeted elimination (execution, assassination etc…) of Taliban and Al-Queda leaders. Mr. Clark emphasized the need to do more, more quickly and quietly, in order to accomplish our military objectives overseas.

Mr. Clark also spoke about Pakistan, and American concerns there. He articulated the belief that Pakistan is using American friendship strategically to force continued American friendship for the Pakistani government; suggesting the Pakistanis were not cooperating to their fullest extent in the hunt for Osama Bin-Laden, because, in Mr. Clark’s terms, the continued existence of Bin-laden ensures the continuation of American military investment in and around Pakistan and prevents the American government from giving preferential treatment to India, Pakistan’s long time regional enemy.

To wrap up his speech, Mr. Clark summarized his thoughts on history and the present security situations, and explained the young people are in search of a nation security strategy, we are still trying to export petrodollars like we were in the cold war, but we no longer have the overreaching security strategy which we used to have. Gen. Clark likens the NSS to a subconscious mission of expanding American values. If we have an NSS, American cannot fail because we have a mission.

 

Mr. Clark ended the speech at that point and took several questions. Below are two of the questions asked. I have tried to faithfully replicate Mr. Clark’s answers. They are note exact quotes, but re-iterations of his thoughts using my own words.

Q/A

Q– How Can we increase security but reduce spending?

A– We can extricate ourselves from Iraq and Afghanistan as quickly and cleanly as possible. We cannot support the military spending growth rate which as occurred in the last five years without matching economic growth at home, which has not occurred. We use small steps to push our expansions and projects, essentially deferring them to the future to stop immediate spending. Projects can be returned to when the economic situation is more appropriate. Our problem is in the long-term budget deficit, rather than what people pay attention to, which is short term budget deficits. We also need to engage the mission of the government – which is gaining full employment, we are sacrificing several trillion dollars per year of potential money by maintain a 10% unemployment rate.

Q – What about the North Korean threat, and is there possible reconciliation?

A – The North Korean threat is real, they are arming and proliferating. We have had nothing but North Korean threats for 60 years though. In 1994, [Mr. Clark] had a discussion at the Pentagon about possibly going to war with North Korea – they had a nuclear reactor and had not shared information which they needed to. The DOD had a war plan drafted for presentation to the president. The most constant and most severe threat from North Korea is the proliferation of nuclear arms.

Here are two excellent quotes to part company on:

“We have a real problem in America … we’ve lost our national vision for where the country is headed. We’ve lost it for a variety of reasons … there was always a sense in the country from George Washington’s time forward, and we acted on it, that we would dominate this continent.”

“We had a 20th century vision too, we were the arsenal of democracy”

 

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