WESLEY CLARK AND THE WAR ON TERROR….Here’s an excerpt from Wesley Clark’s new book, as printed in Newsweek:

I went back through the Pentagon in November 2001, and one of the senior military staff officers had time for a chat. Yes, we were still on track for going against Iraq, he said. But there was more. This was being discussed as part of a five-year campaign plan, he said, and there were a total of seven countries, beginning with Iraq, then Syria, Lebanon, Libya, Iran, Somalia, and Sudan.

Seven countries? There were people who seriously thought ? and perhaps still do ? that we could occupy seven separate countries in a single five-year period, necessarily implying that at least some of these occupations would be simultaneous? And that we should?

What’s more, as Juan Cole points out, not a single one of these countries has anything to do with al-Qaeda. Clark agrees, and offers his own ideas:

What a mistake! I reflected?as though the terrorism were simply coming from these states. Well, that might be true for Iran, which still supported Hezbollah, and Syria, complicit in aiding Hamas and Hezbollah. But neither Hezbollah nor Hamas were targeting Americans. Why not build international power against Al Qaeda? But if we prioritized the threat against us from any state, surely Iran was at the top of the list, with ongoing chemical and biological warfare programs, clear nuclear aspirations, and an organized, global terrorist arm.

And what about the real sources of terrorists?U.S. allies in the region like Egypt, Pakistan, and Saudi Arabia? Wasn’t it the repressive policies of the first, and the corruption and poverty of the second, that were generating many of the angry young men who became terrorists? And what of the radical ideology and direct funding spewing from Saudi Arabia? Wasn?t that what was holding the radical Islamic movement together? What about our NATO allies, whose cities were being used as staging bases and planning headquarters? Why weren’t we putting greater effort into broader preventive measures?

The way to beat terrorists was to take away their popular support. Target their leaders individually, demonstrate their powerlessness, roll up the organizations from the bottom. I thought it would be better to drive them back into one or two states that had given them support, and then focus our efforts there.

For a variety of reasons, I still haven’t made up my mind about Clark. But I will say one thing: this is the kind of debate we need. A real debate that takes terrorism seriously on all sides and offers up competing visions of how best to fight it. Fair or not, Clark is ideally positioned to do this, and I think his entrance into the race will be good for the country regardless of whether he wins.

We need to have this conversation, and we need to take it seriously, not just as a series of soundbites and jingoistic speeches. Right now is a good time to start.

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