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Clark enters presidential race

Former NATO commander join Democratic field

Retired Gen. Wesley Clark says he will demand answers to
Retired Gen. Wesley Clark says he will demand answers to "hard questions" in his campaign.

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Retired Gen. Wesley Clark, who once headed NATO, announces his presidential candidacy.
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Ret. Gen. Wesley Clark says it may be ambitious for him to run for president, but these are 'extraordinary times.'
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CNN's Jeanne Moos gets general reactions of New Yorkers about one of the newest Democratic candidates for president
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• The Candidates: Bush | Kerry
Wesley Clark
Presidential Election

LITTLE ROCK, Arkansas (CNN) -- Moving to a new battlefield, Wesley Clark, the former NATO supreme commander, entered the race for the White House Wednesday.

The political novice told volunteers for his late-starting Democratic campaign, "Get ready -- we're moving out."

Clark, 58, becomes the 10th Democrat seeking the party's presidential nomination. He is a West Point graduate and Rhodes scholar who, as NATO commander, led U.S. and allied forces in NATO's 1999 air war in Kosovo.

Clark, who built a reputation as a brilliant but difficult commander, has never before sought elective office. He is an outspoken critic of the war in Iraq, calling it unnecessary and saying the Bush administration led the country into war under false pretenses.

And Clark -- a former military analyst for CNN -- blamed Bush's handling of the economy for what he called the first net loss of jobs under any president since Herbert Hoover.

He said his campaign would ask "hard questions" about Bush's policies -- "and in a time of war, we're going to ask those questions and propose those alternatives in the highest sense of patriotism."

He has assembled a team of campaign operatives that includes veterans of the campaigns of former President Clinton and Vice President Al Gore, and said he would outline more specific positions in speeches "in the coming weeks."

On domestic issues, he has said he wants to see every American covered by health insurance, but said he would not support a Canadian-style single-payer program. He said he favors abortion rights and opposes gay and lesbian marriages, but would support civil unions for homosexuals.

"He actually combines a number of attributes that I think are attractive in some of our candidates, and he has the potential to cause heartburn across the field," said Doug Hattaway, a Democratic consultant and former spokesman for Gore's presidential campaign.

In an earlier interview with CNN's American Morning, Clark dismissed concerns that he is entering the Democratic race too late to compete with the nine other Democrats in fund raising and organization. He said he and his wife, Gert, are "as comfortable as anybody could be in the circumstances." The couple has an adult son, also named Wesley.

"This is what my expertise, my leadership experience, my whole career has pointed and prepared me for," said Clark.

"I've had a lot of diplomatic experience. I've done a lot of work with security policy. I think I'm the best person to look at the future of this country and keep us safe."

start quoteThis is what my expertise, my leadership experience, my whole career has pointed and prepared me for.end quote
-- Wesley Clark

Clark is the third former NATO chief to seek the presidency: Dwight Eisenhower was elected president in 1952 and 1956, while Alexander Haig ran unsuccessfully in 1988.

Both were Republicans, and some observers question how much support Clark will find among Democrats.

"I don't think the Democratic Party, the activist base, is hungering for a military candidacy," political observer and former Boston Globe columnist David Nyhan said.

But Hattaway said Clark's military background "really does bring stature as a commander, which is one of the few assets Bush has going into this race.''

Clark retired from the Army in 2000 after a 34-year career that included combat in Vietnam and leading the military negotiations in the peace talks that ended the war in Bosnia in 1995. He became NATO's supreme commander in 1997.

But some fellow officers have described him as abrasive and unpopular. He reportedly clashed with Pentagon officials during the Kosovo campaign and was relieved of command after the war.

Rep. J.D. Hayworth, R-Arizona, called Clark's dismissal "a blot on the resume you have to deal with." He added, "If people are looking for strong foreign policy and a decisive commander-in-chief, we already have one in George W. Bush."

U.S.-led forces won the campaign in Kosovo without a single combat death. But critics accused him of underestimating then-Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic's will to resist allied bombing, and some fellow officers have described him as arrogant and manipulative.

But Rep. Marion Berry, D-Arkansas, a Clark supporter, said Clark "will happily compare records with George W. Bush, and when you do, there is absolutely no comparison to be made."

Clark told CNN that some criticism was to be expected in the "competitive bureaucracy" of the military.

"There's a lot of gossip. There are some sharp elbows in there," he said. "But I think my record stands on its own merits."

-- CNN Senior Political Analyst Bill Schneider and Senior Pentagon Correspondent Jamie McIntyre contributed to this report.

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