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Gen. Wesley Clark: Iraq war based on 'misjudgment'

Retired Gen. Wesley Clark
Retired Gen. Wesley Clark

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Gen. Wesley Clark, former NATO supreme commander, tells CNN's Aaron Brown that the U.S. went into Iraq on scanty evidence. (August 14)
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Editor's Note: CNN Access is a regular feature on CNN.com providing interviews with newsmakers from around the world.

(CNN) -- Retired Gen. Wesley Clark, the former NATO supreme commander, said in June that he would decide whether to declare his candidacy for president within a couple of months. He told CNN's Aaron Brown on Wednesday that he has not yet made a decision. He also told Brown that the United States launched the war in Iraq based on "very, very scanty evidence."

BROWN: General, what say we make news here? Going to run?

CLARK: I haven't made a decision. It's not time to make a decision yet.

BROWN: There are those, general, who, in fact, would say that it is too late to make a decision. ... Are you concerned that if you decide you want to do this, it is too late to put organization and money together?

CLARK: No, I'm not concerned about that.

BROWN: Why?

CLARK: There's a tremendous groundswell of support out there in America for candidates who can offer the promise of leadership. And I see it every day in the mail and phone calls that are coming to me. And it's reflected, really, in the groundswell of support for Howard Dean, it's reflected in the concern of mainstream Democratic Party politicians for John Kerry. It's even reflected in California.

BROWN:... There is a group of people that very much are pushing the idea that you ought to run. They're going to put an ad up soon in a couple of key primary states. ..

General, did you have anything to do with that ad?

CLARK: No, I didn't, Aaron.

BROWN: Are you in contact with the draft-Clark people?

CLARK: No, I'm not. ... Recently opened a headquarters in Little Rock, I guess to make it come closer to home and put more pressure.

BROWN: Did you or anybody that you like a lot say to them, "Hang in there, I'll make a decision by Labor Day"?

CLARK: I certainly didn't say it, and nobody that I know of did. I've said all along that it would be some time -- a couple of months or so from the middle of June. And so people have pegged Labor Day as a logical time. But I haven't made a specific hard date.

BROWN: OK. ... Let's talk about a couple of issues here. Do you believe that a Democratic candidate, yourself or someone else, can use the situation in Iraq, both before, during, and after the war, to his or her political advantage?

CLARK: Well, I'm not thinking in those terms, Aaron. I'm thinking in terms of what's right for the United States. And one of the principles that we operate on in this country is that leaders are held accountable. The simple truth is that we went into Iraq on the basis of some intuition, some fear, and some exaggerated rhetoric and some very, very scanty evidence.

We found a situation that wasn't at all what was predicted. We're in there now, we're committed, we need to do our best. But that's a classic presidential-level misjudgment. And I think the voters have to be aware of that. And they have to appreciate it.

And if democracy means something, then that will be reflected in the ballot box.

BROWN: What was the misjudgment? If there was an exaggeration of the threat, what was the misjudgment?

CLARK: First of all, the idea that this was going to solve the war on terror. The president said this is the centerpiece of the war on terror. Seems to me that the only terrorists we're finding there are the ones who have come back in to attack us since we arrived.

There was a misjudgment about what would happen afterward. The idea that we would go in, be welcomed as liberators. They'd quickly move to the ballot boxes, we'd bring our troops home, out before the heat wave hit.

That didn't happen either. There have been a whole series of issues associated with this campaign, starting from why we went into Iraq, to how we dealt with our allies, to how we prepared for the aftermath, that are very, very troublesome.

BROWN: But just briefly, if you were a candidate, you would not walk away from those issues?

CLARK: I think those issues are at the very center of what America stands for, and what America's future will be.

BROWN: Back to the politics of this. As you debate it in your mind, as you talk to your family, what are your concerns? What is it about making this race that gives you pause?

CLARK: Well, I haven't speculated publicly on this, Aaron. But just to put it in perspective, I've been a career military officer. I've worn U.S. on my collars throughout my entire professional life, from the time I went to West Point at the age of 17, until I retired three years ago.

For me, it's not about partisan politics. ... This is a huge transition. And it's a transition that I'll be making if I should go into this, right after I've just been through another transition ... to go from military to civilian life. So it's a huge change of direction.

BROWN: Is your family supportive of the idea?

CLARK: Well, we've talked about it. And in general, my family's been very supportive of all the things I've done in public service throughout my career.

BROWN: Labor Day seem like a pretty good guess for a decision right around there?

CLARK: We haven't nailed this down. And it depends on a number of factors and discussions and phone calls with people. And just some more heart-to-heart talk and really sitting down and putting pencil to paper and looking at what the future could hold, and what the best way is to make a further contribution to the country.


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