General Wesley Clark on America’s Road Ahead

The world is getting more dangerous by the day, and yet the US has no strategy for dealing with the increase of risk around the world, according to General Wesley Clark, the former head of NATO and Democratic Presidential candidate in 2004. “I travel around the world for business a lot, I’ve watched where the US is going, and I am really concerned,” Gen. Clark told a roundtable of Board and International Circle members on Tuesday. “We in the US always wait for the next war before formulating a foreign strategy,” he said, citing the U-turns on US involvement after WW1 and WW2 had started, and the Axis of Evil strategy after 9/11. “When the Iraq war appeared to be a failure, suddenly we had no more strategy.”

Clark, who has just written a book Don’t Wait for the Next War, says the US urgently needs to have a strategy to deal with five major international threats: terrorism, cyber security, financial instability, the ascent of China and climate change. “We have to work against these threats together, there is no easy fix, and we can’t just turn it over to the private sector: it requires a long term strategy from the government, and it needs resources.” And this in an era of high budget deficits and national debt.

The answer, says Clark, is to increase energy extraction in the US so we no longer have to rely on Saudi Arabia. “We spend $300 bn a year on importing energy – that is a $1,000 tax on every American’s head.” The US should also stay close to our allies in Europe - who are the people most closely aligned with our values in the world - primarily by keeping NATO together. “With that you can stand up to China.” Otherwise, said Clark, the world will see the US and its open, democratic system as losing ground to China with its closed, autocratic system.

On politics Clark predicted the four main players in the 2016 Presidential race on the Republican side would be Mike Huckabee (“quickest with a quip, most Reaganesque, has spent four years traveling to build up his foreign expertise, don’t underestimate him,”) Chris Christie (“tough talking, but has lost some of his bipartisan support and don’t know if he can carry the South,”) Jeb Bush (“sensible, experienced, tremendous money-raising machine, formidable challenge,”) and Mitt Romney (“experienced, has run a national campaign, has grown tremendously – he knows you can’t lead anything unless you have a strategy,”). On the Democratic side “there really is only one person – Hilary Clinton – she and former President Clinton dominate the Democratic Party in organization and fund-raising – she is hard minded, smart, a strategist who can play it at multiple levels – as a woman, as a lawyer, as a former Senator and Secretary of State…”

Whoever wins the 2016 election, and notwithstanding the five major threats he had outlined, Clark said he continued to remain an optimist. “We are the United States of America – we have great people, great ideas, great technology and we are in control of our own destiny.” Just as the 20th century was the American century, the 21st century can be an American century too: “we just need a good dose of leadership to give us a strategy.”