Clark: Let's find bin Laden

by Alison Schmauch | 11/13/03 6:00am

Democratic presidential candidate General Wesley Clark proposed to form a joint U.S.-Saudi commando force to search for Osama bin Laden along the Afghanistan/Pakistan border during a speech focusing on foreign policy before an overflow crowd in Brace Commons yesterday.

While Clark said he strongly supported the invasion of Afghanistan following the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, he said that he thought that the war in Iraq has distracted the United States from its more important goal of routing al-Qaeda.

He called the Iraqi war a "world-class bait and switch" and added, "It's been months since President Bush has said anything about Osama bin Laden."

Clark called for the formation of the American/ Saudi joint force because Saudi soldiers are more familiar with the terrain along the border and more generally because of Saudi soldiers' greater familiarity with Islamic culture. He noted that U.S. and Saudi forces successfully co-operated before in Kuwait in 1992.

"If Newsweek can find bin Laden, so can we," he said.

Clark also spoke about his program to re-focus American intelligence on defeating al-Qaeda, rather than on continuing to search for weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.

He also said that he planned to focus on repairing relations with European nations by issuing a "new Atlantic charter" and re-invigorating the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.

Most of the questions Clark fielded following his speech involved his stances on foreign policy questions and his military record.

In response to one question about his qualifications for office, Clark emphasized the value of his military experience. "Nobody knows better what the military can and can't do than someone who's served in it," he said. "The difference between me and those chicken hawks is that I've been there."

James Baehr '05, chair of Students for Bush, asked about Clark's August 26, 1994 meeting with Serbian war criminal Ratko Mladic, during which the two exchanged hats. "Is that the correct way we should approach genocidal leaders?" he asked.

Clark replied that he went to Bosnia in 1994 to find out more about the conflict in case the U.S. later decided to intervene. He had been given introductions to meet with both sides, he said.

Soldiers on the Bosnian side had earlier presented Clark with small gifts. Clark glanced around the room quickly to look for cameras, noticed none and thus opted to take the hat, figuring that he "didn't want to be offensive." A few seconds later, though, he noticed a flash going off across the room.

"Honestly, I shouldn't have done that," Clark concluded, "but I did learn plenty of useful information from that meeting that helped when we fought the Serbs in 1999."

He also said that at the time of their meeting, Mladic had not been convicted of any war crimes.

Another audience member asked Clark what he thought of the war in Vietnam.

Clark replied that he was proud of his record of service in Vietnam because the United States had "fought for democracy" -- but he added that he was equally proud of those who had openly criticized the government's policies and thought that they were as patriotic as those who had fought there.

Clark was also questioned by a man who had attempted to pay his way through college as a member of the Reserve Officer Training Corps who asked Clark about his position on the "Don't ask, don't tell policy."

"It's not right that people should hide their sexualities," Clark said. "'Don't ask, don't tell' violates the principles of honesty, candor and full development of the human potential that have been secrets of the military's success."

Clark also responded to a question about his plan for the national economy. He said that he would emphasize job creation and move back toward responsible fiscal policy.

He also noted that his qualifications to preside over the national economy include his study of economics while a Rhodes Scholar at Oxford, teaching economics at West Point and heading a small consulting company.

Clark also said that he is concerned about the current high costs of college tuition and that, if elected, he plans to increase opportunities for students to earn credits toward college tuition through public service.

Clark concluded his appearance by asking the crowd, "I need your help to create just one more unemployment statistic in America."