Wesley Clark (born December 23, 1944) is a retired four-star general in the U.S. Army. As the Supreme Allied Commander Europe of NATO from 1997 to 2000, Clark commanded Operation Allied Force in the Kosovo War. He had a distinguished career in the Army and the Department of Defense, receiving many military decorations over the course of his career along with several honorary knighthoods and a Presidential Medal of Freedom. Clark is a graduate of West Point, and was awarded a Rhodes scholarship to Oxford University where he earned a Masters Degree in Economics.
Clark joined the 2004 race for the Democratic Party presidential nomination as a drafted candidate on September 17, 2003 but withdrew from the primary race on February 11, 2004 and continued to actively campaign for eventual Democratic nominee John Kerry. Clark currently leads a political action committee "Securing America", which was formed after the primaries, and used it to support numerous candidates in the 2006 midterm elections. Due a variety of factors including military experience, his "netroots" support , and potential cross-party appeal for the general election, Clark is considered as a potential candidate for the Democratic nomination for president in 2008.
Early life and education
Clark's paternal great-grandfather immigrated to the United States from Belarus in response the Pale of Settlement and antisemitic violence from pogroms. Clark's father, Benjamin J. Kanne, had graduated from the Chicago-Kent College of Law and served in the US Naval Reserve as an ensign during World War I though was never assigned to a combat mission. Kanne, living in Chicago, Illinois, became involved with politics in the 1920s as a prosecutor and serving in a variety of local offices. He would go on to serve as a delegate to the 1932 Democratic National Convention held in Chicago Stadium that nominated Franklin D. Roosevelt for president. Kanne came from the Kohen family line, and Clark's son has characterized his grandparent's marriage, between Jewish Benjamin and Methodist Veneta Kanne as "about as multicultural as you could've gotten in 1944."
Clark was born in Chicago, Illinois, on December 23, 1944. His father Benjamin died in 1948 when Clark was 4. His mother, Veneta, moved the family to Little Rock, Arkansas for a variety of reasons including the greater cost of living in a larger city such as Chicago, Veneta's family that provided support in Little Rock, and a potential lack of closeness with the Kanne family as an outsider to their religion. Once in Little Rock Veneta married Viktor Clark and both Wesley and herself took his name, with Wesley taking Kanne as his new middle name. He was raised assuming Viktor had always been his father and Viktor's adoption of Wesley became official when Wesley was 16, which led Viktor Clark's name to actually replace Wesley's biological father on his birth certificate. Wesley would later comment that "they shouldn't have done that." Veneta raised Clark without telling him of his Jewish ancestry to protect him from the antisemitic activities of the Ku Klux Klan in the South at the time, especially from members such as Sam Bower. Though his mother was Methodist, Clark chose a Baptist church after moving to Little Rock and continued attending it throughout his childhood. He graduated from Hall High School with a National Merit Scholarship, and led their swim team to the state championship by filling in for a sick teammate by swimming two legs of a relay. Clark has often repeated the anecdote that he decided to go to West Point after meeting a cadet with glasses who told Clark (who wore glasses as well) that one did not need perfect vision to attend West Point as Clark had thought.
In July 1962, at age 17, Clark entered the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, New York, beginning his 38 years in the U.S. military. There, Wesley Clark met Gertrude Kingston of Brooklyn, his future wife.
Clark graduated from West Point as valedictorian in June 1966, at the age of 21. As the first in his class, he earned the right to choose his preferred branch of service first. Washington Post military-affairs reporter Rick Atkinson wrote:
Clark's class of 1966 went on to hold the record for most combat casualties at the frontlines of Vietnam.
Clark married "Gert" Kingston, an Irish-American Catholic, and became a Roman Catholic. In August 1968, Clark completed his Rhodes Scholarship studies in Philosophy, Politics and Economics (PPE), earning his Masters Degree at Magdalen College at the University of Oxford.
Clark attended the Armor Officer Basic Course in the Army Armor School at Fort Knox until October 1968, and Ranger School at the U.S. Army Infantry School at Fort Benning until December. The following year, Clark commanded A Company of the 4th Battalion, 68th Armor, 82d Airborne Division at Fort Riley, Kansas.
In February 1970, then age 25, Clark was shot four times by a Viet Cong sniper. He had injuries to his right shoulder, right hand, right hip and right leg. He managed to shout commands to troops, who launched a counterattack and defeated the enemy force. He was awarded the Bronze Star and Silver Star. The citation for his Silver Star said of the event:
As the friendly force maneuvered through the treacherous region, it was suddenly subjected to an intense small arms fire from a well-concealed insurgent element. Although painfully wounded in the initial volley, Captain Clark immediately directed his men on a counter-assault of the enemy positions. With complete disregard for his personal safety, Captain Clark remained with his unit until the reactionary force arrived and the situation was well in hand. His courageous initiative and exemplary professionalism significantly contributed to the successful outcome of the engagement. Captain Clark's unquestionable valor in close combat against a hostile force is in keeping with the finest traditions of the military service and reflects great credit upon himself, the 1st Infantry Division, and the United States Army.
Flown back for rehabilitation, Clark was told by doctors that his injuries would leave him with a permanent limp due to the large amount of muscle loss to his right calf. The young officer taught himself to walk again and to play the piano. Clark went on to receive perfect scores on his physical fitness tests.
From May to September 1970, Clark commanded C Company, 6th Battalion, 32d Armor, 194th Armored Brigade at Fort Knox; from October of that year to May 1971 he commanded the 1st Battalion, 77th Armor, 4th Infantry Division at Fort Carson. He spent that June and July in Washington, DC as a Staff Officer in the Modern Volunteer Army program, working as a Special Assistant to the Chief of Staff.
Clark was promoted up the line from Captain, to Major, to Lieutenant Colonel, to Colonel. He graduated from the National War College and Command and General Staff College, as well as completing Armor Officer Courses, Army Ranger and Airborne schools.
Clark commanded the 1st Battalion, 77th Armor, 4th Infantry Division at Fort Carson, Colorado, undergoing further command training there and in Germany. He subsequently became director of the Battle Command Training Program, and personally created the very first BCTP exercises.
Selected as a flag officer with the rank of Brigadier General, he earned successive promotions to 2-star, 3-star, and finally 4-star General.
During the Persian Gulf War, Clark served as Commander of the Army National Training Center, in charge of arranging the 1st Cavalry Division's three emergency deployments to Kuwait during Operation Desert Storm. In 1994, he began work with the Joint Chiefs of Staff as Director for Strategic Plans and Policy, charged with ensuring cooperation between the United Nations and United States Department of Defense during the invasion of Haiti.
From 1996 to 1997, General Clark served as the Commander-in-Chief of the U.S. Southern Command, responsible for all U.S. troops and their families, as well as domestic infrastructure such as healthcare, education, social services, family counselling and commissaries, in Latin America and the Caribbean.
From 1997 to 2000, he served as Commander-in-Chief of the U.S. European Command (CINCEUR). As stipulated by international treaty, he simultaneously held the position of Supreme Allied Commander (SACEUR), which is a NATO position that is independent of the U.S. chain of command, but always held by an American. As SACEUR, Clark also held Head of State status requiring meeting with other heads of state, and control over international NATO forces. (Supreme Allied Commander of NATO was the same position held by Eisenhower immediately prior to his becoming President of the United States.)
Clark headed the U.S. European Command, responsible for over 100,000 U.S. troops, their families, health care, education, social services, and all related infrastructure, and all American military activities in 89 countries and territories of Europe, Africa, and the Middle East from 1997 to 2000. He simultaneously held the separate NATO position of Supreme Allied Commander (SACEUR), which granted him Head of State status and overall command of NATO military forces in Europe and leadership of approximately 60,000 troops from 37 NATO and other nations in Bosnia-Herzegovina. As SACEUR, he confronted Yugoslavia over Kosovo. NATO's 78-day bombing campaign ended with the Kumanovo Truce, a withdrawal of Yugoslav military and police force from Kosovo and the entry of NATO and other Kosovo Force soldiers. In December 2003, Clark testified at Milosevic's trial in the International Criminal Tribunal. His appearance was not public and transcripts of his testimony were subject to U.S. review before being released, a precaution the Bush Administration didn't take when Madeleine Albright testified. The timing of this precaution during the height of Clark's primary campaign led many to speculate that George W. Bush ordered this precaution to prevent a potential opponent from receiving publicity and airtime. Clark's testimony was sought because he had spoken with Milosevic for a total of more than 100 hours, in his role as the head of the U.S. military team during the Dayton Agreement negotiations and as NATO's Supreme Allied Commander in Europe.
2004 presidential campaign
After retiring from the army, Clark worked as a military and international affairs analyst, including a stint as a commentator for CNN. He began preparations for a Democratic 2004 presidential candidacy in 2002, including visits to the all-important first primary state of New Hampshire.
In March of 2003, DraftWesleyClark.com began a nationwide campaign to "draft Clark" for the Democratic Party's nomination for the 2004 presidential election. By August 2003, the movement had grown to include several draft groups working on this behalf. Also by this time, DraftWesleyClark.com had raised nearly $2,000,000 in "pledges" for a potential Clark candidacy.
August 13, 2003, CNN showed a commercial by DraftWesleyClark.com and interviewed Clark. He disavowed any connection with the "draft Clark" groups, but said he had been considering his position and that within a few weeks he would likely make public his decision on whether or not to run. He also fueled speculation with a television interview in which he first declared himself a Democrat.
On September 17, 2003, in Little Rock, Clark announced his intention to run in the presidential primary election for the Democratic Party nomination, becoming the tenth and last Democrat to do so (coming many months after the others): "My name is Wes Clark. I am from Little Rock, Arkansas, and I am here to announce that I intend to seek the presidency of the United States of America." He said, "We're going to run a campaign that will move this country forward, not back."
His campaign focused on themes of leadership and patriotism; early campaign ads relied heavily on biography. His late start left him with relatively few detailed policy proposals. This weakness was apparent in his first few debates, although he soon presented a range of position papers, including a major tax-relief plan. Many Democrats flocked to his campaign. They were drawn by his impressive military background, and saw such foreign policy credentials as a valuable asset in challenging George W. Bush after 9/11. Advisors and supporters portrayed him as more electable than Howard Dean, who was the frontrunner for the party's nomination up until the Iowa caucus.
Criticism of Clark began almost the moment he entered the race. Originally heralded as an anti-war general, he stumbled in the first few days of his candidacy. He was perceived as changing his answer on how he would have voted on the Iraq war resolution. His supporters argued that his perceived indecision was due to lack of experience with the media and their insistence on short "sound bite" answers.
As an Independent throughout his military career, Wesley Clark affiliated himself with the Democratic Party in 2003. Clark stated that he voted for Republican candidates in the past, including Presidents Nixon and Reagan, as well as Democratic candidates, Clinton and Gore. He previously made supportive comments about the Bush administration and its foreign policy team, including one at a GOP fundraiser in 2001. However, Clark had been a strong critic of President Bush's war with Iraq, which he argued was not part of the war on terror. In September 2002, Clark gave testimony before the House Armed Services Committee (HASC) at Capitol Hill, where he warned that the Bush Administration's Iraq war policy would be flawed without a comprehensive strategic foreign policy to stabilize Iraq after the ouster of the Saddam regime. In April 2005, Clark again appeared before the HASC, where he again outlined suggestions for Congress towards how to deal with the Iraq occupation. He was praised by members of both parties for his keen foresight and predictions regarding costs and consequences of the Iraq war and in U.S. foreign policy.
In answer, Clark supporters emphasized the progressive character of his policy positions. A frequent refrain, echoed in the campaign's official "Talking Points for Supporters," is that he is "pro-choice, pro-affirmative action, pro-environment, pro-health care, and pro-labor."
Clark was supported by documentary filmmaker Michael Moore, as well as pop singer Madonna, who held a fundraiser for his campaign at her Los Angeles home, former U.S. Secretary of the Treasury Robert Rubin, and many other widely known Americans. He had also received an Audubon Award for helping to save an endangered species at one of the bases he commanded, and was endorsed by the founder of Earthday, 55 diplomats, human rights activists like Samantha Powers, civil rights activists, and the whistleblower who helped expose Enron's corruption.
In a 30-second campaign commercial aimed at young people released October 30, 2003, his presidential campaign made reference to the hip hop duo OutKast. In the ad, Clark is sitting in a coffee shop with a dozen middle-class young adults of various American ethnicities. The young adults do not speak, but sit and listen as Clark appears to be answering their questions. "Well, to answer your questions, no, I would not have voted for the Iraq war...I am pro-choice and I am a strong believer in Affirmative Action...And I don't care what the other candidates say, I don't think OutKast is really breaking up. Andre 3000 and Big Boi just cut solo records, that's all." The last comment prompts a blond-bearded young man to say approvingly "all right" and to tap fists with Clark.
Clark's campaign also made an aggressive effort to develop a strong base of Meetup users, starting in November, 2003, and "Clark in 2004" was soon the second most popular Meetup topic, immediately following "Dean in 2004".
His campaign developed a very strong Internet following which was brought together with an ambitious Web initiative: the Clark Community Network, an integrated system of blogs and Web tools. Its E-Blocks, and campaign train allowed Clark to raise $10 million (of a total of $29.5 million) in the fourth quarter of 2003, raising more money than any other candidate during that quarter. This innovative technology was cutting edge, but largely overlooked by media excitement over the Dean Internet strategy.
In January of 2004, he decided to bypass campaigning in the Iowa caucus, instead focusing his campaign to win or place second in New Hampshire, and announced a plan that would raise taxes on upper-income individuals in order to cut income taxes for "all families of four earning below $50,000." His son later mused that the former was a fatal mistake. Clark focused on winning New Hampshire, or placing second to Dean, to position himself to defeat presumed frontrunner Dean, but when John Kerry and John Edwards each placed ahead of Dean in the Iowa caucuses, they drew the media focus in the days immediately before the New Hampshire primary. Clark took third place in New Hampshire, behind New Englanders Kerry and Dean, and ahead of Edwards despite the Kerry/Edwards momentum from Iowa. The younger Clark suggested that had Clark remained a candidate in Iowa he, instead of Kerry and Edwards, might have benefited from Dean's drop in support.
Despite this setback, Clark decided to remain in the race, at least until February 3, when 8 primaries . many in the South, Clark's regional base . would be held. During the February 3 contests, he won the Oklahoma primary, making him the only candidate other than John Kerry to win a non-"home" state. He also placed second in Arizona, North Dakota, and New Mexico, giving him more second place finishes in the 3 February primaries than John Edwards, who would become the eventual vice-presidential nominee. Following 3 February, he moved on to campaign in Tennessee and Virginia, states he hoped would provide him the necessary momentum to remain in the race. After placing third in the primaries in both Tennessee and Virginia, he withdrew from the race on February 11, 2004. Clark announced his endorsement of John Kerry at a rally in Madison, Wisconsin on February 13.
Following Clark's endorsement of John Kerry, he engaged in fundraising and spoke out against the Bush administration and their handling of Iraq. He wrote extensive editorial articles, made frequent appearances on televised political talk shows, and founded a new political action committee called WesPAC. In addition, he has maintained a very strong following of dedicated supporters who discuss and spread his ideals presented during the primaries. They have called themselves "Clarkies," "Clarkistas," Clark Democrats, Wes Clark Democrats, or Wes Wingers. Many continue their active support for him, as "Clark Bloggers," through the Clark Community Network (CCN), Clark Volunteers, A Wes Clark Democrat, various Yahoo Groups, DailyKos, MyDD, DemocraticUnderground, and numerous other progressive online venues and blogs.
In June 2005 Fox News Channel announced that they had signed General Clark as a military and foreign affairs analyst. Clark believes that it is essential to the health of America's democracy to reestablish a multiparty system where one party does not control all three branches of government. Towards this end, he has devoted the bulk of his time to fundraising and campaigning for Democratic candidates and local grassroots establishments across the country, especially in traditionally Republican areas, in the hopes of winning at least one of the two chambers of Congress. As of September 2006, General Clark has joined the Burkle Center for International Relations at UCLA as a senior fellow. He will teach seminars, publish, and host an annual conference on national security.
In 2006, Clark and WesPAC participated in 42 victorious campaigns, flipping 25 seats from deeply Republican to Democratic, and lifted at least 6 veterans into congress. State and local Democratic Party organizations that invited Clark reported sold out audiences beyond their capacity to serve.
Potential 2008 presidential campaign
General Wesley Clark is mentioned as a potential 2008 presidental candidate on the Democratic ticket. He has not yet committed to the race, though on Colorado Radio, when asked about 2008, Clark replied "I never said I won't run." When asked directly General Clark often replied that he would wait until after the 2006 mid-term elections to decide, as he considered the immediate issue of the mid-terms more important. As of November 19, 2006 he has still not said publically whether or not he would run. General Clark is near or in the lead of potential Democratic candidates according to some Internet polls. However, in national polling, Clark usually garners between 1 and 4 percent of the vote and is sometimes not even included in the list of possible nominees. Clark actively campaigned for individual Democrats in 2006 as well as for the Democratic party to retake control of the Congress, which also raised his visibility among rank-and-file Democrats.
George Soros held a fundraiser for Clark at his Manhattan home in April 2006, and has donated more personal funds to Clark's candidacy than he has to any other potential Democratic nominee for '08.
Awards and Honors
Wesley Clark has been awarded numerous honors, awards, and knighthoods over the course of his military and civilian career. Notable military awards include the Defense Distinguished Service Medal with 4 oak leaf clusters, the Legion of Merit with 3 oak leaf clusters, the Silver Star, and the Bronze Star Medal with an oak leaf cluster. Internationally Clark has received numerous military honors such as the Grand Cross of the Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany and the Grand Cross of the Medal of Military Merit from Portugal and knighthoods (some of which are honorary due to a section of the United States Constitution). Clark has also been awarded some honors as a civilian, such as the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2000.
The people of Djakovica, Kosovo, named their main street after him for his role in helping to end ethnic cleansing in their city and saving the lives of their people. The people of the U.S. state of Alabama named a boulevard after him in the city of Madison, in recognition of his military service and southern heritage. There is also a street named for Clark at the Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe in Belgium, following a tradition of naming a street after every Supreme Allied Commander.
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