Clark retreats to Wall Street

Julian Borger

Friday June 9, 2000

A year after the Kosovo war ended, the general who won the conflict for Nato without a single combat casualty is quietly emptying his desk and looking for work in the unfamiliar world of investment banks and management consultancies.

This is not the way the US normally treats its victorious warriors. The commanders of Desert Storm were hailed as conquering heroes - and even urged to run for the presidency - when they returned from the Gulf. But Washington has given General Wesley Clark the cold shoulder.

He was pushed into retiring early from his position as Nato's supreme allied commander for Europe last month, and in less than two weeks he will leave the army, which has been his home since 1968, the year he completed his Rhodes Scholarship in Oxford.

In all those years, Gen Clark, 55, says he only had two bad days: when he was wounded in Vietnam, and then when he was called away from a formal dinner in Lithuania last year and told he would be leaving his command early to make room for his successor. The press had already been informed, in case he tried to get the decision overturned.

Gen Clark still winces when the subject is raised. In an interview on one of his last days at the Pentagon he clenched his jaw and fell silent for a moment as he pondered the motives behind his ousting.

"I'm sure there were many reasons," he said tersely. "I'm very satisfied with what I did. I did the right thing."

What Gen Clark did was to try to drag a reluctant Pentagon into the post-cold war era as he saw it. It is a world in which nation states are crumbling and conflicts erupting like fierce brush fires along the cracks, sometimes killing hundreds of thousands of people.

The general's message is that the west must be ready to intervene militarily in this new era even when its strategic interests are not directly threatened - to stop genocide for example. He believes such "humanitarian wars" are an inevitable consequence of democracy, television and the world wide web.

"The modern technology has made those of us in the west increasingly intolerant of the kinds of inhumanity that may have occurred in many cases in an earlier age. It's become simply intolerable," he said.

Part two of the Clark doctrine is that the west's interventions must be decisive.

It is the manifesto of the "hu manitarian hawks", of whom Gen Clark is the undisputed patron saint.

"During the cold war, where you had two adversaries both capable of destroying the other locked in an ideological struggle, any breach threatened a tit-for-tat escalation which could have resulted in nuclear catastrophe. Therefore the presence of strategic nuclear arsenals served as a dampening impact," he said.

As a result, his argument runs, western leaders dealt with crises and confrontations with a policy of incremental escalation, gradually sending forces to the battlefield. The policy minimised the risk of panicking the other side into going nuclear, and it gave time for cooler heads to prevail.

"In the post-cold war era the dampening effect of strategic nuclear arsenals isn't operative. In these kinds of regional operations, the use of force has to stand on its own. If it can't be decisive in and of itself then local authorities will be tempted to endure it and put up with the pain," he said.

In other words, the Yugoslav president, Slobodan Milosevic, knew that Nato was not going to drop a nuclear bomb on him during the Bosnian and Kosovo conflicts, and was also aware that the west was highly reluctant to send in ground troops. He therefore thought he could win.

Mr Milosevic agreed to Nato terms only after Nato leaders had reconciled themselves to a ground invasion, Gen Clark argues. He saw "the hammer shaping up" in Macedonia and Albania. "It was inevitable and he knew it," he said.

But the general believes it took far too long for the Nato hammer to take shape, and his impatience earned him too many enemies in Washington for the good of his own career. He fumed to journalists over the slow deployment of hi-tech Apache helicopter gunships which might have been able to track down the Serb paramilitaries who were committing most of the atrocities against Kosovan civilians.

Despite his early departure the Clark doctrine of decisive force is at least gaining lip service in the corridors of the Pentagon, but the fear of casualties is likely to remain a paralysing influence when the bullets begin to fly.

The principle of humanitarian intervention is also in limbo. A victory for George W Bush in November is likely to send it back into retreat. If the Rwanda genocide were to happen tomorrow, Gen Clark was unsure whether the outside world would react any differently.

He is wearing a business suit as he does the rounds of Wall Street investment houses and hi-tech venture capital firms. Meanwhile he is putting the Clark doctrine in a book. The lessons of Kosovo are still being learned.

"It's a profound change," Gen Clark said. "It's akin to throwing a pebble in a pond and the ripples from that stone will go on for some time."

Original article