Wesley and Me

by NORMAN SOLOMON

Here’s the real-life plot: A famous documentary filmmaker puts out a letter to a retired four-star general urging him to run for president. The essay quickly zooms through cyberspace and causes a big stir.

For Michael Moore, the reaction is gratifying. Three days later, he thanks readers "for the astounding response to the Wesley Clark letter" and "for your kind comments to me." But some of the reactions are more apoplectic than kind.

Quite a few progressive activists are stunned, even infuriated, perhaps most of all by four words in Moore’s open letter to Gen. Clark: "And you oppose war."

The next sentence tries to back up the assertion: "You have said that war should always be the ‘last resort’ and that it is military men such as yourself who are the most for peace because it is YOU and your soldiers who have to do the dying."

But for some people who’ve greatly appreciated the insightful director of "Bowling for Columbine," the claim is a real jaw-dropper. It could easily be refuted by mentioning a long list of names such as Colin Powell, Alexander Haig and William Westmoreland; we might also think of John McCain and other militarists who won high elective office after ballyhooed service in the armed forces.

Other flashbacks make Moore’s statement seem not only simplistic but also gullible: After all, many presidents have touted war as a "last resort" — even while the Pentagon killed people in Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, Panama, Afghanistan, Iraq … and, oh yes, Yugoslavia.

Moore’s Sept. 12 open letter doesn’t mention the 1999 war on Yugoslavia — which included more than two months of relentless bombing under the supervision of Wesley Clark, the Supreme Allied Commander in Europe at the time.

A second letter, dated Sept. 23, does refer to that bloodshed. Moore recalls his own opposition to the war while summarizing news reports that Clark wanted to utilize ground troops, a move that might have reduced the number of civilian deaths. But the followup letter doesn’t mention the huge quantities of depleted uranium used in Yugoslavia under Clark’s authority. Or the large number of cluster bombs that were dropped under his command.

When each 1,000-pound "combined effects munition" exploded, a couple of hundred "bomblets" shot out in all directions. Little parachutes aided in dispersal of the bomblets to hit what the manufacturer called "soft targets." Beforehand, though, each bomblet broke into about 300 pieces of jagged steel shrapnel.

Midway through the war, five springs ago, BBC correspondent John Simpson reported from Belgrade in the Sunday Telegraph: "In Novi Sad and Nis, and several other places across Serbia and Kosovo where there are no foreign journalists, heavier bombing has brought more accidents." He noted that cluster bombs "explode in the air and hurl shards of shrapnel over a wide radius." And he added: "Used against human beings, cluster bombs are some of the most savage weapons of modern warfare."

I agree with much of what Moore wrote in his Sept. 23 essay. Certainly, "we need to unite with each other to keep our eyes on the prize: Bush Removal in ’04." But with our eyes on the prize, we should not stumble into the classic trap of candidate flackery while applying political cosmetics.

Clark has yet to repudiate his own actions in 1999. And this year, his espoused positions about the war on Iraq have blended criticism with ambivalence, equivocation and even triumphalism.

Many news outlets don’t seem very interested in contradictory details. So, the Sept. 29 edition of Time magazine says in big type: "Wes Clark has launched a presidential bid that has a four-star luster. But is the antiwar general prepared for this kind of battle?"

But if Wesley Clark is "antiwar," then antiwar is a pliable term that doesn’t mean much as it morphs into a codeword for tactical objections rather than principled opposition.

"Nothing is more American, nothing is more patriotic than speaking out, questioning authority and holding your leaders accountable," Gen. Clark said in a Sept. 24 speech. That’s a key point — and it must always apply to how we deal with all politicians, including Wesley Clark.

Overall, a strong case can be made that Clark would amount to a major improvement over the current president. But those who recognize the importance of ousting the Bush team from the White House should resist the temptation to pretty up any Democratic challenger.

NORMAN SOLOMON is executive director of the Institute for Public Accuracy. He is co-author, with Reese Erlich, of "Target Iraq: What the News Media Didn’t Tell You."

Like What You’ve Read? Support CounterPunch
September 02, 2015
Paul Street
Strange Words From St. Bernard and the Sandernistas
Jose Martinez
Houston, We Have a Problem: False Equivalencies on Police Violence
Henry Giroux
Global Capitalism and the Culture of Mad Violence
Ajamu Baraka
Making Black Lives Matter in Riohacha, Colombia
William Edstrom
Wall Street and the Military are Draining Americans High and Dry
David Altheide
The Media Syndrome Between a Glock and a GoPro
Yves Engler
Canada vs. Africa
Ron Jacobs
The League of Empire
Andrew Smolski
Democracy and Privatization in Neoliberal Mexico
Stephen Lendman
Gaza: a Socioeconomic Dead Zone
Norman Pollack
Obama, Flim-Flam Artist: Alaska Offshore Drilling
Binoy Kampmark
Australian Border Force Gore
Ruth Fowler
Ask Not: Lost in the Crowd with Amanda Palmer
Kim Nicolini
Remembering Wes Craven’s The Hills Have Eyes
September 01, 2015
Mike Whitney
Return to Crisis: Things Keep Getting Worse
Michael Schwalbe
The Moral Hazards of Capitalism
Eric Mann
Inside the Civil Rights Movement: a Conversation With Julian Bond
Pam Martens
How Wall Street Parasites Have Devoured Their Hosts, Your Retirement Plan and the U.S. Economy
Jonathan Latham
Growing Doubt: a Scientist’s Experience of GMOs
Fran Shor
Occupy Wall Street and the Sanders Campaign: a Case of Historical Amnesia?
Joe Paff
The Big Trees: Cockburn, Marx and Shostakovich
Randy Blazak
University Administrators Allow Fraternities to Turn Colleges Into Rape Factories
Robert Hunziker
The IPCC Caught in a Pressure Cooker
George Wuerthner
Myths of the Anthropocene Boosters: Truthout’s Misguided Attack on Wilderness and National Park Ideals
Robert Koehler
Sending Your Children Off to Safe Spaces in College
Jesse Jackson
Season of the Insurgents: From Trump to Sanders
August 31, 2015
Michael Hudson
Whitewashing the IMF’s Destructive Role in Greece
Conn Hallinan
Europe’s New Barbarians
Lawrence Ware
George Bush (Still) Doesn’t Care About Black People
Joseph Natoli
Plutocracy, Gentrification and Racial Violence
Franklin Spinney
One Presidential Debate You Won’t Hear: Why It is Time to Adopt a Sensible Grand Strategy
Dave Lindorff
What’s Wrong with Police in America
Louis Proyect
Jacobin and “The War on Syria”
Lawrence Wittner
Militarism Run Amok: How Russians and Americans are Preparing Their Children for War
Binoy Kampmark
Tales of Darkness: Europe’s Refugee Woes
Ralph Nader
Lo, the Poor Enlightened Billionaire!
Peter Koenig
Greece: a New Beginning? A New Hope?
Dean Baker
America Needs an “Idiot-Proof” Retirement System
Vijay Prashad
Why the Iran Deal is Essential
Tom Clifford
The Marco Polo Bridge Incident: a History That Continues to Resonate
Peter Belmont
The Salaita Affair: a Scandal That Never Should Have Happened
Weekend Edition
August 28-30, 2015
Randy Blazak
Donald Trump is the New Face of White Supremacy
Jeffrey St. Clair
Long Time Coming, Long Time Gone
Mike Whitney
Looting Made Easy: the $2 Trillion Buyback Binge
Alan Nasser
The Myth of the Middle Class: Have Most Americans Always Been Poor?