Sunday, May 30, 2004

# Posted 10:39 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

WES CLARK, SUPERPUNDIT: Suddenly, he's everywhere. A cover story in the Washington Monthly. A share of the cover from TNR's special issue on Iraq. What is it that Wes Clark wants to say?

With regard to Iraq, Clark has two big ideas -- one new and one old. The old idea is that if we're nice to Europe, it will send its soldiers over to Iraq to die for our cause. Given that the French have already said that their soldiers will never, ever serve in Iraq, that approach probably won't work. Clark's new idea is that the United States must
involve regional governments in Iraq's reconstruction, giving them a seat at the table in that country's development so they understand that they are not the next targets of regime change.
By regional governments, Clark actually does mean Syria, Iran, Saudi Arabia, etc. Of course, has to wonder how we can help Iraq become more democratic by involving some of the world's most repressive dictatorships in its reconstruction. The closest Clark comes to answering this question is when he writes that
Of course, the United States will likely differ sharply with the positions some of these states take, but it is better to hash out such issues at the negotiating table than in vitriolic exchanges via the media.
Actually, I prefer vitriolic exchanges via the media. Compromising with Syria, Iran and Saudi Arabia about the future of Iraq means selling out the Iraqis we supposedly liberated.

Now what about Clark's cover essay in the Washington Monthly? It's supposed to be the big think-piece in which he demonstrates that he can apply the lessons of history to solve those problems that ignorant neo-cons just don't understand. (Translation: "Please, please Mr. Kerry, make me your Secretary of State!") Of course, to apply the lessons of history, you actually have to know some history first. Let's start with the last two sentences of Clark's essay:
If the events of the last year tell us anything, it is that democracy in the Middle East is unlikely to come at the point of our gun. And Ronald Reagan would have known better than to try.
Actually, promoting democracy at gunpoint was exactly what Reagan was all about. Remember Nicaragua? You know, the country where the United States sent guns to brutal right-wing guerrillas in the hope that they would promote democracy?

Bizarrely enough, that strategy worked despite its appalling cost in terms of Nicaraguan blood. A similar strategy, perhaps even bloodier, did the trick in El Salvador. Unfortunately, things in Afghanistan didn't turn out as well. Now, Clark has gone on the record saying that he voted for Reagan. As far as I can tell, he must've confused Reagan with Mondale.

Getting back to the point, the big lesson that Clark draws from our experience in the Cold War is that cultural engagement is the secret to victory. He writes that
During the 1950s and 1960s, containment...[entailed] holding the line against Soviet expansion with U.S. military buildups while quietly advancing a simultaneous program of cultural engagement with citizens and dissidents in countries under the Soviet thumb...

[In the 1980s], Western organizations provided training for a generation of human-rights workers. Western broadcast media pumped in culture and political thought, raising popular expectations and undercutting Communist state propaganda. And Western businesses and financial institutions entered the scene, too, ensnaring command economies in Western market pricing and credit practices.
Unless Clark is talking about China, I really can't think of any Communist state whose command economy even came close to being "ensnared" by Western corporations. As for Western media, the West Germans were pretty much the only ones who reached a Communist audience, but not in the Soviet Union. And as for the 1950s and 1960s, there were really no "cultural engagement" programs of any significance. In short, Clark's history of the Cold War is basically imaginary.

So there. I've now spent far too much time criticizing someone whom Democratic voters (except in Oklahoma) decided wasn't good enough to be their candidate for President. But when you're a graduate student, you feel compelled to expose the ignorance of anyone who tramples on your area of expertise. How demented.
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