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Campaign Snapshot

January 15, 2004 at 12:00 AM EDT
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GWEN IFILL: There’s one Democratic candidate missing from the fray in Iowa and that’s retired General Wesley Clark.

As his profile has risen, so have the attacks. Today in New Hampshire, for instance, reporters asked him to respond to Republican Chairman Ed Gillespie’s charge that he has flip-flopped on the Iraq war.

GEN. WESLEY CLARK: Well, first of all, what it is is old-style politics. This is material that’s been dug up by the Republican National Committee.

Ed Gillespie should have read the whole testimony because it totally refutes the Bush position. I guess, instead that Karl Rove must have read the Richard Cohen column in the Post today because it looks like they finally figured out I’m George Bush’s greatest threat.

What I was saying then is what I’m saying today: That Saddam Hussein was not an imminent threat, that actions contemplated against Saddam Hussein did not constitute preemptive war, contrary to what the Bush administration was saying, because there was no imminent threat.

Was he troublesome? Sure. Was he a threat eventually? Sure. Was the clock ticking in the two-year, five-year, ten-year time period? Sure. Did we have to do this? No. Was it a potential distraction to the war on terror? Yes. Even then it was clear.

Now it’s a huge distraction to the war on terror as it’s unfolded. I don’t know if you heard my story, because I’m not sure everybody’s heard it. I’ll repeat it so everybody has heard this. I went through the Pentagon about two weeks after 9/11, and one of the officers called me in and he said, “Sir, have you heard the latest Pentagon joke?” I said, “No, I haven’t.”

He said, “Saddam Hussein, if he didn’t do 9/11, too bad, he should have because we’re going to get him anyway.” Of course, it’s no joke, and it wasn’t a joke then. It was the way the generals looked at it and said this was an unnecessary and wrongheaded operation.

It was the wrong way to respond to 9/11. That’s what they were telling me, and they were passing judgment on it. The doctrine of preemption says that if you are threatened and you have an imminent threat and there’s no other way to prevent the threat and all other means are exhausted, as a last resort, providing that you could prevent the threat by striking first, then under the doctrine of self- defense in the U.N. Charter, you would be by international law permitted to act preemptively. I’m saying the whole doctrine that was written is phony.

They called it preemption because they knew if they could label it “preemption,” they could call it legal. It wasn’t preemption, therefore, it wasn’t legal. So I don’t know, you know, how we’re going to make this clear to the American people, but I welcome these questions continuing to be asked by the Republican National Committee because I think they keep the dialogue alive.

And we are going to hold this president accountable for misleading the American people and taking us to a war we did not have to fight. It was wrong. It wasn’t patriotic. It was the misuse of American resources and the waste of American lives.