New York Times
CHARLESTON, S.C., Sept. 22 Gen. Wesley K. Clark called today for "a new American patriotism" that would encourage broader public service, respect domestic dissent even in wartime and embrace international organizations like the United Nations.
General Clark, a former NATO commander and Army officer who last week announced his candidacy for the Democratic presidential nomination, accused the Bush administration of neglecting economic problems and of pursuing a dangerous go-it-alone foreign policy.
But he also used the setting of the Citadel, the military college here, to appeal to about 150 cadets and civilians on the parade grounds to help restore something loftier, a sense of national spirit that he suggested that the administration's campaign against terror had corroded.
"We've got to have a new kind of patriotism that recognizes that in times of war or peace democracy requires dialogue, disagreement and the courage to speak out," General Clark said. "And those who do it should not be condemned, but be praised."
General Clark made it clear he believed that the administration had unfairly focused on whole classes of immigrants, for fear of a minority within them.
"Three million Muslims have come to this country from Asia and the Middle East," he said. "They didn't come because they were afraid of our values. They came because they wanted to live under them."
Today was Day 6 of the campaign, and General Clark's 20-minute stump speech at the hastily arranged event here had a few rough patches.
"Patriotism doesn't consist of following the orders, not, not not when you're not in the chain of command," the general said, stumbling over his words and catching himself before he inadvertently encouraged insubordination in the ranks.
Despite the stumbles, General Clark heard good news in a CNN-USA Today-Gallup poll that showed he had jumped ahead of the other Democrats. The poll, conducted over the weekend, showed him tying President Bush head to head.
General Clark was invited to speak here by Philip Lader, a visiting professor of political science who is a close friend of former President Bill Clinton. Many former top Clinton aides have roles in his campaign.
General Clark directed his attacks against the administration, never mentioning the other nine Democratic hopefuls. He criticized the Bush team as doing little to stem the job losses and mounting deficits that have weighed on the economy since he retired from the Army in 2000.
"I'm running for president because I could not stand by and watch everything that we fought for, everything our nation had accomplished and become, unravel before our eyes," General Clark said.
He said the administration had failed to shore up health care and education, but he offered no detailed plans.
"One of the principles we learned in the United States armed forces was the principle of accountability," he said. "Americans today are asking, `Why did we lose three million jobs over the last three years?' "
He fired the other barrel of his attack at the handling of Iraq and at overall foreign policy, especially given that Mr. Bush is requesting $87 billion from Congress to finance reconstruction and military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.
"What was the strategy?" he asked about Iraq. "What was the purpose? What is the success strategy? How are we going to finish the mission there?"
General Clark did not discuss what are apparently his reversals on the the war. Last October, he said that he would support the Congressional resolution that authorized the use of military force in Iraq and then spent months criticizing the execution of the war. On Thursday, the day after he announced his candidacy, he said, "I probably would have voted for" the resolution. On Friday, he backtracked, saying, "I never would have voted for war."
By coincidence, his aides said, General Clark spoke here nearly four years to the day after George W. Bush, then the governor of Texas, visited the Citadel to lay out his most explicit thinking on military policy.
General Clark did not delve into such detail, but said he would map out a foreign policy, drawing on his experience leading tens of thousands of troops and working at the highest levels of the government, first as a senior general in the Pentagon and later as NATO supreme commander in the 1999 war in Kosovo.
He said his approach was based on three basic pillars. First, his strategy would reach out more aggressively to allies. He said he would also work to improve relations with international organizations like the United Nations, which he said were created decades ago to "to distribute the burdens of leadership, to share the responsibilities and to share the benefits of security."
Finally, he said, he will always support a well-financed military, strong enough to deter or, if necessary, defeat any threat.
After his remarks, General Clark bounded into the audience, shaking hands, signing copies of his memoirs and getting a feel for what life is going to be like in the campaign.
Terry Tranen, 61, a retired aerospace engineer, said General Clark was the Democrat with the best chance of beating Mr. Bush.
"I think I might send him some money," Mr. Tranen said. "That's the real test, isn't it?"