Right Hook

New York Post's Ralph Peters tags Wesley Clark a softy on terror, while Coulter sees a devious Hillary plot.

By Mark Follman

Published September 24, 2003 10:57PM (EDT)

During this Thursday's debate, all eyes will be on the front-runner, former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean, and the newest candidate, former U.S. Army Gen. Wesley Clark. Washington Times editor in chief Wesley Pruden isn't buying the line that Clark rode a Dean-style cyberwave into the race. Like the New York Times' William Safire, Pruden sees the Borgia-like hand of the Clintons at work: Clark will be Hillary's patsy, and from there it's a two-family epic for at least the next decade.

"Mr. Clark is a novice in politics and hasn't yet learned the difference between the machinations of professionals and the flattery of amateurs. He was impressed by the number of 'hits' on several Draft-Clark Internet sites, not understanding that these were mostly from computer geeks and nerds with more time on their hands than smarts in the belfry. This flattery made him susceptible to the cunning of the Clintons, who need cover for Hillary to overcome the public's remembrance of the Clinton loathing of the military. With Clark covering her ample flanks, Hillary could concentrate on massaging the pent-up Democratic anger in the blue states...

"The polls suggest that Hillary, who has the highest negatives in the history of American politics, would lap the Democratic field twice but couldn't beat George W. even with Mr. Clark as her running mate. But there are a lot of angry Democrats in the blue states nursing the bitter remembrance of Florida.

"And what if a Clinton beats a Bush again? There's Jeb, the eager younger brother who would be waiting in Florida to redeem the family honor in the rubber match in '08. The good news is that Chelsea won't be eligible until 2016."

New York Post columnist Ralph Peters, a retired Army intelligence officer who once worked under Wesley Clark, says he "likes and respects" the former military commander. Then he essentially calls Clark a paper general next to the staunch President Bush.

"A president must be able to make a decision in a crisis, and it had better be a good one. President Bush has many faults, but he's decisive and has a great intuitive sense of the world's dangers. In contrast, Clark appears imprisoned by obsolete theories of international relations he learned in the 1960s. His taste for multilateralism is elitist, outdated and Euro-centric, ill-matched to the global ferocity of our times...

"Clark's judgment was at its worst during the buildup to and execution of Operation Iraqi Freedom. Unaccountably, he just didn't seem to understand the stakes -- and he still doesn't. Indeed, when he speaks on military and strategic matters, Clark sounds uncomfortably close to Howard Dean, who believes we can deal with terrorism by cooing lullabies into the ears of fanatics bent on butchering us. The general was surprisingly wrong about the course of military operations in Iraq. Many of his wartime CNN segments are apt to embarrass him, should opponents re-play them. Clark underestimated the abilities of the soldiers he once commanded...

"For the moment, Gen. Clark is the media's preferred flavor. His candidacy has the vaporous advantage of novelty to networks weary of Howard Dean's laxity, inconstancy and silliness. But soon the general will have to stand on the issues confronting our nation. Democrats may be startled to find him weak on dealing with violent threats to our country and on America's role in a dangerous, profoundly different age."

Regular Fox News guest Ann Coulter thinks Hillary has set in motion a duplicitous master plan to remove potential rivals:

"I think there's definitely something afoot ... Hillary wants to run in 2008. The Democrats see that they are not going to beat Bush in 2004. And Clinton is just trying to encourage as many Democrats as possible to jump into this race to knock them out ... Wesley Clark will be a trivia question in 10 years. In two years."

With the field of Democratic candidates yet to articulate any resounding policy ideas about the Middle East, some unlikely voices are joining the conservative onslaught. Popular Brit blogger Oliver Kamm, a self-proclaimed leftist, says Howard Dean's weak words on the demise of Saddam exemplify the Dems' disadvantage going into '04 -- and mark Dean as a soulless loser:

"The populism that has afflicted the Democrats' recent campaigns is the speediest way to ensure this party of minorities remains a minority party, and deservedly so. Howard Dean demonstrated his unfitness to be president several months ago with his judgment [according to Time magazine] on the overthrow of Saddam Hussein: 'We've gotten rid of him. I suppose that's a good thing.'

"But I understate. A man who so grudgingly weighs the question of Saddam's departure is devoid of imagination, public-spiritedness and internationalist principle. He is not a reliable compass for humane sentiment let alone the highest office of state. Being a leftist myself, I am painfully aware that candidates of the left do not get elected to executive office if they're perceived as untrustworthy on issues of security: McGovern, Foot, Lafontaine, Rau and the serial election-loser Shimon Peres are all testament to the rule. Never mind what else he believes; if Dean is unmoved by the ousting of a tyrant who modeled his rule on Stalin and Hitler, he is untrustworthy to exercise authority in the public interest."

Dozens of recent casualties notwithstanding, U.S. troops operating in Iraq won't have to worry over the long term about guerrilla attacks, says Danielle Pletka, a scholar at the American Enterprise Institute. In a recent AEI posting oddly titled "Jihad Central," Pletka sees order fast rising from the postwar disarray, and no real reason for terrorists to stick around.

"Terrorism is about opportunity, and Iraq presents a convenient opportunity, but it's not a terribly conducive environment for anything other than hit-and-run operations. It's not an operational base and not a strategic asset. Terrorists may be coming in, but it's very temporary. Operational leaders of terrorist groups confine themselves to places where there is a congenial government or sufficient lawlessness, like the hinterlands of Afghanistan, the Northwest Frontier province in Pakistan and, increasingly, in places like Iran, a mecca for terrorists. That's not the case in Iraq because of the American presence but also because Iraq has an increasingly robust system of local governance. It has a central government that is growing in power, it has any number of foreign troops, and it also has 55,000 Iraqis trained and under arms now. It's not a place where bad guys feel comfortable. There's a reason why Saddam Hussein is not sitting in a palace and eating bonbons. He is running and hiding every day."

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Regarding the current global economic struggle, economist and Weekly Standard contributing editor Irwin Stelzer says the Bush administration is wearing a happy frown about the recent meltdown of the WTO talks in Cancún. It may be due to a looming fear in Bush's reelection camp: the loss of millions of American jobs during the president's first watch.

"The dirty little secret is that the collapse of the Cancun meeting is rather good news for the White House. Of course, the U.S. delegation could hardly join the developing countries in popping the champagne corks when the conference collapsed. Those countries made no secret of their pleasure at the fact that they had finally united to make it clear that there would be no more worldwide agreements until their legitimate demands for freer trade in agricultural products are met.

"But the White House is hardly mourning the death at Cancun. With a presidential election now looming, free trade is hardly the rallying cry that Bush's advisers will select as his campaign theme. America has lost millions of manufacturing jobs since the Bushes moved into the White House, most of them in states the president must win if he is to avoid his father's fate. Voters tend to forget the cheap sneakers, cars, T-shirts, and other products that are made for them in Asia, and remember the factories, call centers and other job-giving enterprises that have pulled stakes and moved to China, India, Mexico, and other low-wage countries. The last thing the administration needs is some agreement that can be made to seem to increase pressure on the U.S. manufacturing sector.

"And farmers, who voted for Bush in overwhelming numbers in 2000, would hardly have rewarded the president with their votes again had he opened them to competition from African, Caribbean, South American and other growers, even if the concession had been made in return for an agreement by the poorer countries to open their markets to American manufacturers and providers of financial and other services.

"So any tears shed by the White House at the Cancun funeral are of the crocodile variety...

"Perhaps most encouraging of all was the failure of the developed countries' proposal to expand the reach of the WTO by handing it authority over the competition and government procurement policies of its member states. Any conference that prevents a multinational bureaucracy from expanding can't be called a complete failure."

Economist Donald Luskin clearly doesn't believe that macroeconomic trends always explain fiscal performance. A recent post on Luskin's site, "The Conspiracy to Keep You Poor and Stupid," questions the conventional rationale behind the New York Times' lowered earnings forecast released last week:

"The New York Times Company is guiding down earnings expectations for Q3 ... based on a weak ad environment. Weak ad environment? Could it be that the Times' ordinary readers want real news they can trust? Could it be that upscale readers want something other than eat-the-rich liberal screeds tucked in between the ads for Tiffany and Versace?"

No doubt Luskin has his arch-rival in mind: Times columnist Paul Krugman, who Luskin regularly flays in his National Review Online column, "Krugman Truth Squad." Luskin finds Krugman's reporting skills as dubious as his number crunching, and he wants to make sure not to give Krugman too much credit for leading America's liberal charge:

"Why can't Paul Krugman or anyone who publishes Paul Krugman quote people accurately? Believe it or not, on the press release that comes folded inside promotional copies of Krugman's new book, "The Great Unraveling," I -- that's right, I of all people -- am misquoted. Yep, right there after drooling praise from James Carville and Nicholas Confessore, there I am:

"'The most dangerous liberal in the country.' -- Donald Luskin, National Review Online

"Hey, I don't mind being quoted. It's fun and ironic. But the idiots got the quote wrong! In every single Krugman Truth Squad column I call Krugman 'America's most dangerous liberal pundit,' not the far broader estimate of his influence that would rank him 'the most dangerous liberal in the country' in any category. Is this supposed to add to the irony or something? Or is it just another example of Krugman's sloppy disdain for accuracy, in quotations and economics?"

[Read more of "Right Hook" here.]

Mark Follman

Mark Follman is Salon's deputy news editor. Read his other articles here.

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2004 Elections Ann Coulter Hillary Rodham Clinton Howard Dean Paul Krugman