September 25, 2003
POLITICS: "[I]ntegrity and character issues"
Yesterday's big news was retired Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman Hugh Shelton's statement at a college forum hinting at why he wouldn't support his former colleague Wesley Clark for president:
"I've known Wes for a long time. I will tell you the reason he came out of Europe early had to do with integrity and character issues, things that are very near and dear to my heart. I'm not going to say whether I'm a Republican or a Democrat. I'll just say Wes won't get my vote."
(Emphasis added). Now, this is a little too tantalizing, and while General Shelton may not have expected the Drudge Report to circulate his comments nationally, he should have known this could be newsworthy. He can't stop at this statement, because he's left us with two possibilities:
1. Something in Clark's record of service as Supreme Commander of NATO - beyond what we already know - reflects poorly on his "integrity and character" and resulted in his unceremonious termination from that post. If this is the case, given that Clark now seeks the most powerful job on earth on the basis of a resume that is painfully thin on conduct that has been subjected to public scrutiny and at a time of great danger for the nation, Shelton's got an absolute responsibility to the public to tell us the whole story. (I should add that, if there's something unsavory or just unflattering here, some people who have been falling over themselves to line up behind Clark are going to have some mighty big egg on their faces, especially people from the Clinton Administration who'd be in a position to know such a thing).
2. Shelton's vague reference is just a value judgment on what we already know about Clark's sometimes bristly relationship (typical of many civilian-military relationships) with the political branches or with other generals, in which case Shelton's statement has the effect of unfairly smearing Clark's reputation by implying something darker. I've made this point before about publicly floated rumors about Tom Cruise, Barry Bonds and Mike Piazza: don't imply something if you're not willing to come right out and say it, and don't do either if you don't have some evidence to back it up.
(UPDATE: Instapundit quotes Spoons quoting Ramesh Ponuru making basically the same point. So does Kevin Drum. So I'm in good company here.)
On another note, Shelton also related a story that reflects very, very badly on an unnamed (probably Republican, I'm guessing) member of Congress:
Three days after Shelton took office as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, his commitment to the integrity of the military was tested. When U.S. planes in the Iraq no-fly zone were attacked, a member of Congress suggested that perhaps "we" could fly a U-2 spy plane so low over Iraq that it could easily get hit. Then we'd have a reason "to kick Saddam out of Iraq." After Shelton responded that he would order that "just as soon as you are qualified to fly (it)," he was not asked again to compromise his office.
"Sometimes people in a position of power lose perspective on right and wrong," Shelton said.
You could say that.
this is fascinating stuff. but i don't think the shelton/wes reveals Tom Cruise-ish issues so much as dogface/Rhodes Scholar conflict.
evan thomas has a lengthy bit on him, which has some highly revealing vignettes.
my favorite excerpts:
In conversation with friends, Colin Powell would privately put down General Clark as “Lieutenant Colonel Clark,” i.e., a perpetual eager-beaver wanna-be. Some officers questioned his judgment. Talking to a high-ranking Clinton administration official, Gen. Hugh Shelton, the former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff who engineered Clark’s firing, bluntly referred to Clark as a “nut.”
Diplomats and senior soldiers alike cringed in 1994 when Clark, meeting Serbian Gen. Ratko Mladic, cheerfully agreed to swap caps and pose for photographers. Mladic, who was visibly hung over at the time [HAH! I feel Mladic's pain. --Flem], had been burning mosques and vigorously engaging in ethnic cleansing and would soon be indicted as a war criminal. (Chagrined, Clark would later apologize.)
...during the 1999 Balkan war, he pushed to send ground troops into Kosovo. Neither President Bill Clinton nor the top brass at the Pentagon had any stomach to see body bags come home. The Army chief of staff, Gen. Dennis Reimer, resisted Clark’s urging to use Apache helicopters against the Serbs. The large, low-flying craft were too vulnerable to shoulder-held anti-aircraft missiles, Reimer insisted. When Clark persisted by talking to reporters and trying to run a back channel to the White House and State Department, Defense Secretary William Cohen was furious. General Shelton, chairman of the JCS, delivered Cohen’s message to Clark: “Get your f—king face off of TV.”
man. my boy wes has made some very powerful enemies. highly highly interesting that clinton is lining up behind him. A Rhodie helping a Rhodie i guess.
That does sound like what General Shelton's probably talking about - to a military man, working around the chain of command to get on television can be viewed as a serious integrity/character issue. I still think Gen. Shelton has a responsibility to clarify his remarks.
eventually, shelton will have to explain his comment, it's too important to just sort of leave ambiguous like this. shelton's going to have to be careful about it or HE'S going to look bad.
i'm sure there is a big hunk of lefties that will like clark's attitude towards the military. a warrior but not of the warrior class. a guy who can be counted on to stand up to em. he may fit the lefties' bill exactly in this regard. we need a war on terror but we need one of OURS running it, hey how about a Rhodes Scholar? or something to this effect.
the Eisenhower comparisons are going to start really booming in short order
While I'm inclined to agree with you that Shelton should tell more, I'm still struggling with whether I'm of that view because I'm curious or because he has an obligation to do so.
If you think of it in the context of checking the reference of a prospective employee and heard back from a prior employer, "I don't want to/can't give you details but I don't recommend him" that is usually sufficient information. Also, Shelton is in a tough position here: either say nothing at all, which if there IS something, may be unacceptable, or go into details, whereby he risks being viewed as mean-spirited and perhaps disclosing private matters.
Don't forget, Shelton didn't come out on a podium in The Mall in D.C. and say "Don't vote for Clark!!"; rather, he was directly asked his views.
dang, bro. what's with all the jitters? this isn't some little guy applying to be a convenience store cashier -- the brother is running for president of the united states and is touting his military experience as prit much his prime qualification. yet every military officer that i have seen comment has commented in the supreme negative. why? if we can't figure this out shortly we stand to have a commander in chief with a bitterly antagonistic military brass under him. where i come from, that'd be a very bad thing.
let's get with the politickin, i say. clark opened the door to this...he can't really expect his rift with shelton and others to remain some dark secret. if it's some jive adultery/personal life thing that would be worthy of ignoring. but i don't think it is