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Clark urges diplomacy, stresses China’s future strength

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

The United States should practice “golden rules of behavior” when mitigating world conflicts because its international preeminence is dwindling, retired Army Gen. Wesley Clark told a crowded Salomon 101 Monday evening.

In a speech sponsored by the Brown Lecture Board, the former NATO commander, who unsuccessfully sought the Democratic nomination for president in 2004, said the United States should set a precedent for conflict resolution by using military force “only as a last resort” and set an example of diplomacy by facilitating dialogue among Iran, Syria and Iraq to help resolve conflict in that region. He warned that China may soon trump America’s superpower status.

Clark called China “the one country that has the scale and energy to challenge America’s freedom of action in the world” and encouraged the United States to bolster its ties with allies by strengthening relations with Europe and supporting the United Nations.

“Imagine how you’re going to feel in 2020 when there’s still scuttling along the border of Mexico, and China says to the United States … ‘Would it help you if we deploy a couple of Chinese aircraft carriers off the coast of, say, San Diego and Tijuana?'” Clark said. “What are the rules that we as a preeminent power ought to establish now so that 20 years from now we’re not on the receiving end of Chinese exceptionalism?”

The retired general said U.S. foreign policy lost its sense of direction after the Cold War, when the United States could no longer focus its international strategy on curbing the Soviet Union’s power.

Lamenting the Bush administration’s decision to invade Iraq with a plan that “passed for a strategy of prevention when it was no strategy at all,” Clark encouraged the United States to include Iran and Syria in the Iraq rebuilding process, as Iraq “spirals deeper into civil war and failure.”

“We don’t have a success strategy or an exit strategy,” he said.

Similarly, he said, military efforts in Afghanistan have been coupled with too little diplomacy. He said Afghan President “Hamid Karzai is sinking because the economy is … living off opium production” and the Taliban has re-emerged in the country.

“You can lose Afghanistan militarily. You cannot win it militarily,” he said.

Nonetheless, Clark said he does not support setting a timetable for American troop withdrawal from the region.

Clark told The Herald he doubted the Bush administration would make serious diplomatic gestures toward Iran and Syria because “powerful forces in the White House want forceful regime change” in those countries. In his speech, he suggested that Vice President Dick Cheney is such a force.

Clark opened his lecture by recalling a 1974 visit to Brown during which he heard then-Congressman Les Aspin of Wisconsin speak about the recently ended Vietnam War. Aspin addressed Clark and four cadets, who were the only audience members in military uniform, telling them, “We’ve learned our lesson from Vietnam and we won’t do it again.”

“He was wrong,” Clark said Monday night. “Sometimes you can learn from history. Sometimes we don’t.”

The 2004 Democratic presidential candidate said he has not yet decided whether he will seek the Democratic Party’s nomination for president in 2008. He said Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y., and Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., were Democratic frontrunners, and Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., and former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani topped the Republican presidential shortlist.

In response to a question from an audience member who identified himself as an openly gay former soldier, Clark said he believes homosexuals should be allowed to serve in the U.S. military.

“I think every American who has a desire to serve should have an opportunity to do so,” he said.

After his talk, Clark briefly addressed Brown’s curriculum, telling the throng of students who were waiting to shake the former United States Military Academy professor’s hand: “It’s twice as hard to learn liberal arts … as it is to sit down with a calculus book.”

Students told The Herald after Clark’s speech that they enjoyed his lecture.

“I think he had a lot of really solid points,” said Charlie Kenney ’10. “It’s interesting that an ex-military man is such a strong advocate of diplomacy.”

Brett McCrae ’09 was surprised by Clark’s comments about China. “What he said about what the U.S. is doing now setting a precedent for China ought to be given thought by the government,” he said.

Monica Rosenberg ’10 said she found Clark likable but questioned the feasibility of some of his proposals.

“He talked a lot about theory, and there are a lot of complications that make things less clear-cut,” she said. “He seemed a little idealistic.”

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