General Wesley Clark must have been relaxed Wednesday when he delivered the Docking Lecture at Southwestern College. He took plenty of time to meander into his childhood in Arkansas.
But he finally made his point: the new generation of Americans face five enduring problems and the question is whether our democracy is up to solving them. The problems are terrorism, cyber attacks, record levels of national debt, China’s threat and climate change.
Except possibly for the first one, our democracy hasn’t done well solving any of these problems, he pointed out. But he made it clear he has great expectations. If these problems can be solved the 21st Century can be “the American Century,” he said.
The general didn’t venture to explain why we hadn’t done well thus far. He did suggest President Donald Trump might have something to do with it. “Trump is the best communicator in American politics since Franklin Roosevelt,” Clark said. “He’s in charge.”
In foreign affairs Clark said to follow the money and gave examples of where fiscal concerns trumped national interest. Even though he opposed the War in Iraq he said at one point that from the military’s viewpoint it was “payback for Vietnam.” We lost that war but in Iraq we rid the world of a tyrant. “We won” in Iraq, he said.
I hadn’t heard it put that way.
At a luncheon after his speech Clark was asked why he thought more military leaders didn’t run for president, like he did in 2004. “The military hates politics,” was his short answer. But his longer answer suggested military leaders haven’t been pushed hard enough, as he was. People from all over urged him to run, Clark said, and he finally did, as a Democrat. He lost the primary to John Kerry, who lost the general election to George W. Bush.
In spite of his lack of success in politics, General Clark has the image of a real problem solver. As Supreme Allied Commander in Europe he led the NATO bombing of Serbia that drove Serbian troops and paramilitary forces out of Kosovo in 1999 and saved the lives of many Albanians. Most of the fliers were American. None was lost. The success of the operation signaled the West would intervene to stop ethnic cleansing in the Balkans and effectively put an end to that kind of atrocity, at least for now.
General Clark was hailed as a hero, but he had no political experience. Unlike Ike, whom some contemporaries considered just a military bureaucrat, according to Clark, he himself had not fought the battles of Washington, D. C. Is there is a message here for young military leaders it is to go ahead and get your hands dirty in politics because the experience might come in handy some day.
General Clark delivered the seventh Docking Lecture, a series sponsored by the Docking family and Union State Bank. Previous speakers include Sen. Pat Roberts, Chuck Todd of NBC, political analyst Larry Sabato, Congress watcher Norman Ornstein, and authors Sebastian Younger and Jeffrey Tobin. Southwestern College President Brad Andrews introduced Clark in Richardson Performing Arts Center.