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Jewish World Review Sept. 22, 2003 / 25 Elul, 5763

Roger Simon

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The anti-war general | LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — Retired Gen. Wesley Clark is a Democratic dream: an antiwar general.

He provides the macho that Democrats believe they must have to beat George Bush and the liberalism that Democrats demand.

And even though most people know very little about him, he is an instant buzz candidate: Everybody is talking about him.

I was in Little Rock, his hometown, to watch him officially announce for president Wednesday. And while much commentary has been done about the uphill fight he faces for the nomination — the nine other Democratic candidates have been raising money for months and months while Clark is just starting out, for instance — there has been little examination of the basic premise behind Clark's candidacy: that Americans really want a general as president.

Being a warrior is not what it used to be in America.

In 1992, Bill Clinton, a draft-avoider, beat war hero President George H.W. Bush for the presidency, and in 1996 Clinton beat war hero Bob Dole.

Americans knew full well Clinton's relentless string-pulling to avoid the Vietnam draft. And they knew full well the heroics of Bush and Dole.

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And they didn't care. They elected Clinton anyway.

And while those supporting Wesley Clark like to talk about Dwight David Eisenhower, the last general who was elected to the presidency, a closer parallel to Clark is Alexander Haig.

Like Clark, Haig was a decorated veteran, a general and a NATO commander, but unlike Clark Haig had actual White House experience: He had been a secretary of state under Ronald Reagan and a White House chief of staff under Richard Nixon.

Haig was reasonably personable and a reasonably good speaker, and he ran for president in 1988 and went nowhere.

Ah, yes, you say, but all of this was before Sept. 11. Sept. 11 changed everything.

But what did it change? Sept. 11 was not a U.S. military failure, it was a U.S. intelligence failure. So does putting a general in the White House really make us more secure?

Further, it is important to remember that Clark is not really "antiwar." He supported military intervention in Iraq, but felt President George W. Bush acted too quickly and without proper international support.

And as the war in Iraq grinds on, as we continue to pay a higher and higher price both in American blood and American dollars, will some voters question whether having a military man in the White House might not lead to more, not fewer, military adventures?

In other words, will some Americans — especially liberal Democrats who dominate the early caucus and primary contests — shy away from a president whose first instinct might be to use the military?

Wesley Clark is going to have a hard time getting the Democratic nomination, and he doesn't need any more troubles. But all these are among the troubles he is going to face.

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