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2004 Presidential Candidates' Views on the Middle East: Wesley Clark


  • Clark's Jewish father, Benjamin Kanne, died in 1948, when Clark was 4. Within months, his non-Jewish mother, Veneta, moved back to her hometown of Little Rock, Ark, from Chicago. Clark's mother never told Clark that his father was Jewish.
  • Contrary to some news reports, Wesley Clark's father was not a rabbi and he admitted that he "may be wrong" about claiming to come from a line of rabbis.
  • Clark converted to Catholicism upon marrying his wife. While he still identifies as a Catholic, because of a sermon saying that all war is bad and the U.S. should not have fought in the Revolutionary War, he now attends a Presbyterian (Protestant) church in Little Rock.
  • Clark is a retired four-star General whose service included the position of Supreme Allied Commander of NATO.
  • Two of Clark's top campaign advisers, Eli Segal and Ron Klain, are Jews who served in the Clinton administration.
  • Clark's Jewish outreach coordinator is Greg Caplan, who worked in Germany for the American Jewish Committee.
  • Clark recently announced that best-selling author Rabbi Harold Kushner will head his newly-formed "Jewish advisory council." Rabbi Kushner also formally endorsed Clark.

Policy Statements

Clark in Rolling Stone on the peace process and Ariel Sharon

How do you grade the Bush administration's attempt to forge peace between Israel and the Palestinians?

Right now we've got the worst possible regional dynamic, and we've got to change it. You cannot make peace between the Israelis and Palestinians. I don't care if the president of the United States sits there in Gaza and forces the two sides to talk -- they can't. The question of conflict is coming from outside. You've got to get people in the Middle East to say they don't want war. But unfortunately, we seem to want it.

How about the question of Israel. Do you think Ariel Sharon needs to be hemmed in?

Israel has a unique problem. It is beset by nations that want to destroy it. Any nation that is under attack has the right to self-defense. And the right to self-defense is the right to strike pre-emptively to disrupt the threat. Therefore I totally support Israel's effort to go after these terrorists before they can strike Israel. Israel must be willing to participate in negotiations. But if it's going to ever have its chance at the negotiating table, Israel also has to show [its survival doesn't depend on making a deal]. So, the process of building the fence [separating the occupied territories from the rest of the country] is very important. It says to the Arab world, the clock is ticking, we're not prepared to make unlimited concessions, we have our principles and we will fight for them.

But that doesn't mean the U.S. should behave and strike the way Israel does. Two entirely different things. We can make Israel safer by not doing that. We need to bring a council together like we did for the Balkans: Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Syria and Iran. And instead of telling them we're going to nuke them, we've got to give them an incentive to want to participate in preventing conflict in the Middle East. The process has to be driven by optimism and hope, not fear. We will be there for Israel, and they will survive and be a great nation.

What about the Palestinians?

The Palestinians have always been used by the Arabs as a weapon against Israel. The Palestinians are the most educated, most Westernized, most enterprising, least tribal of all the Middle Eastern groups. They were a force for the modernization and economic development in Middle Eastern countries. They were a source of instability and insecurity for the ruling elite. So they were pushed back and not given the rights of citizenship, not given the opportunity to be assimilated. All that's gotta be unwound. They're human beings like everyone else, and they've gotta be given a chance. (Rolling Stone, Interview conducted September 11, 2003)

General Clark on the peace process, Israel and Palestinian rights, and terror:

"We also need something that has been missing the last two years: a sustained and energetic American engagement to resolve the conflict in the Middle East. The Middle East is in crisis and the violence is getting worse every day. I was heartbroken this week to hear about yet another bombing which took the lives of three American citizens. And it’s clear that at this point, a lot of people, including many who live in the region, have just simply given up hope. But as you may know, I specialize in what others might think are hopeless situations. I’ve spent a lot of time of my career working in the Balkans, and if you had to ask someone 10 years ago whether Muslims, Serbs, and Croats could live together in Bosnia in peace and relative stability, they would have said it’s impossible. But when I was helping negotiate the Dayton Peace Accords, I learned that when the U.S. government really throws its weight behind a peace process, impossible things become possible. I was there when we hammered out peace in Bosnia. I was there when we poured over the maps, created a new Bosnian army, and laid the foundations for a new democratic government. That took a lot of commitment, and the Arab-Israeli conflict won’t be different. I’m strongly committed to playing a sustained, proactive role towards reaching peace in the Middle East. On the Palestinian side, that means ending the violence and becoming a partner committed to a peaceful, secure Jewish state. On the Israeli side, it means a willingness to negotiate seriously and help create conditions on the ground that demonstrate a real commitment to a viable Palestinian state. But let me be clear: Israel is the key U.S. ally in the region and it does have the right to defend itself, including going after terrorists who threaten citizens, because violence will not work and it must end. What we need now is a shift in momentum away from violence and towards a safe and secure future. This momentum won’t just spring up. It takes painstaking time and effort. And it can’t be done without U.S. leadership. When President Bush took office, one of the first things he did was pull our special envoy out. America basically gave up and walked out. That’s why I’m proposing a fulltime, high-level negotiating chief in the region who can help change the dynamics on the ground and push for results."

“And the situation didn’t get much better after September 11th when we abdicated our leadership role in the peace process while we waged war on terror. The problem with that approach is that it failed to acknowledge that fighting terrorism and bringing peace to the Middle East go hand in hand. We need to seize the initiative and bring our allies and Israel’s neighbors along with us. But we also know that building bridges with the Arab and Muslim world is about more than just individual policies. It’s about diplomacy, about how we communicate. Quite simply, we need to talk with people, not at them. Let’s face it: this administration has done a lousy job on this too. They claim to have a communication strategy for winning the hearts and minds, but they have done just the opposite. The Bush administration’s own panel just released a report on America’s public relations with Arab countries. It stated, and I quote, ‘Hostility toward America has reached shocking levels.’ In our commitment to public diplomacy, it noted, again a quote, ‘To say that the financial resources are inadequate to the task is a gross understatement.’ This is in the Bush administration’s own report. This is nothing short of alarming. (Arab American Institute, October 17, 2003)

“We need to work the Middle East. The senseless fighting between Israel and the Palestinians has gone on too long. We need to stay engaged in that but we need to bring on some other actors as well. We should bring the Jordanians and the Egyptians fully in. We had a contact group arrangement in Europe where we brought people together. We need to do that here. We need to think about how the Syrians and the Iranians can be engaged in this also.” –speech to the New Democrat Network, June 17, 2003.

“I think [Israel] can show some restraint. But the problem is when you have hard intelligence that you're about to be struck, it's the responsibility of a government to take action against that intelligence and prevent the loss of lives. It's what any society would expect of its leadership. So there's a limit to how much restraint can be shown.

“[I] think what we've got to do is bring more of the neighboring countries' leadership in more strongly. [W]hat we need in the Middle East, I believe, is something stronger than the current informal bilateral relationships that work on the periphery of the struggle. I think you need a Middle East contact group, because I think peace in the region is in the interests of all the countries in the region.

“[I] think, certainly…Jordan [should be involved]. I think it's Egypt. I think it's clearly Saudi Arabia. Now, when you come to Syria and Iran, that's where you have difficulties, and it's a question of how you're going to engage those countries. Can they be engaged or must they be confronted, or is there some combination that's involved? And I think we've got to work our way through that. I think there's got to be a process put in place to work our way through that.

“[A]t some point, yes [I would consider recommending putting NATO troops in the occupied territories to help bring about security and peace]. At some point, there may be a time to do that, but I think one of the things we've seen most clearly in 10 years of experience with this is you have to have a mandate first. You have to have legitimacy first. You have to have a mission first. You have to deal with the political situation first before you put the troops in. The NATO troops are going to be no more effective at stopping terrorist attacks than the Israeli troops are. In fact, they're going to be less effective. They're not from the area. They don't have the experience, they don't have the intelligence connections. And so simply putting another presence in there by itself doesn't solve it. You've got to get at the political problems first. So you've got to have something that's more concrete than the road map, something that you can use outside pressure, more details and move this process forward, but at some point, NATO certainly.” – "Meet the Press" June 15, 2003 (Rescue Mideast Policy)

Clark on a NATO/international role in Israel and the Palestinian Authority areas:

“Well, at some point, yes. At some point, there may be a time to do that, but…you have to have a mandate first. You have to have legitimacy first. You have to have a mission first. You have to deal with the political situation first before you put the troops in…And so simply putting another presence in there by itself doesn’t solve it…you’ve got to have something that’s more concrete than the Road Map, something that you can use outside pressure, more details and move this process forward, but at some point, NATO certainly.” (Arab American Institute)

Article from The Forward: Op Ed - Throw Full Weight of Washington Behind Middle East Peace Process (By Wesley Clark)

As a cadet at West Point, I learned that a state cannot survive for long unless it alone controls the use of force. The story that most vividly illustrates this point started back in 1948. It is the story of the State of Israel.

In June of that year, a ship named the Altalena dropped anchor off the coast of Tel Aviv. The vessel was loaded with weapons, ammunition and volunteers for a paramilitary movement. David Ben-Gurion, the head of Israel's new government, knew that the just-declared cease-fire in the War for Independence would be wrecked if the Altalena was allowed to off-load. They had no choice but to order their defense forces to sink the ship. It fell to a young colonel to carry out those orders.

That officer was Yitzhak Rabin.

By scuttling the Altalena, Rabin took a giant step forward toward statehood for the Jewish people. In 1993, he took another step forward by signing the Oslo accords. Ever since Rabin shook hands with Yasser Arafat, the world has been waiting for the Palestinian authorities to take a similar step by disarming their own militants. That moment has yet to come. It will take bold leadership from the Palestinians and Israelis, and a staunch commitment from the United States. Unfortunately, the Palestinians have yet to find their Rabin. But I still believe that Israel will one day thrive side by side with a Palestinian state.

Until that day, the Israeli government has a duty to defend its people from the constant onslaught of bombers who attack innocent civilians on buses, in restaurants and on their way from prayer. As a retired general, I firmly believe that this is the least that any society expects of its leadership. We should never question Israel's right to self-defense. Indeed, we must continue to provide Israel with the resources — both financial and diplomatic — to aid its search for peace.

Currently, Israel is building a security fence — not because it wants to, but because terrorism has forced its hand. The fence is not a barrier to the peace process. No country can negotiate if the other side believes it has no alternatives. The fence will help contain the terrorist onslaught. It will warn other parties in the Middle East that they need to start negotiating — now. But it is not a sustainable substitute for peace.

A strong, democratic State of Israel is the key to the future of the Middle East. For 50 years, Israelis stood side by side with Americans in fighting against communism and terrorism. We forged a unique relationship based on common interests and a common dedication to the principles of democracy. In the aftermath of September 11, and with Israelis facing a fresh campaign of suicide bombings, this relationship is more firmly founded then ever before.

Every president since Harry Truman has kept America's commitment to the security of Israel. At Camp David, President Clinton helped the parties come close to peace, but Arafat balked and chose violence. Upon assuming office, the Bush administration decided to disengage. That strategy didn't work. So, under pressure from British Prime Minister Tony Blair and other allies, the administration reversed course and sent powerful emissaries to the region. Sadly, this positive step was too little too late.

Leading a real peace process is a responsibility that the United States cannot walk away from — and it is a responsibility that starts in the White House. Negotiations must proceed along a multifaceted track. The Israeli government should not be forced to make further territorial concessions until the Palestinian Authority acts decisively and verifiably to dismantle terrorism. But to get negotiations back on track, the next administration must make peace for Israel one of its top priorities.

Other states must do their part, too. Currently, Palestinian militants are aided and Palestinian civilians are used by regional powers who stoke the violence to vent their own domestic tensions. That has to stop, and we have to stop it. Road maps to peace cannot be successful when others impose roadblocks.

We must use every available tool to ensure that the governments of Syria, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Lebanon and others are facilitating rather than obstructing the peace process. We cannot wage an effective war against terrorism while permitting Iran to subsidize suicide bombers. The world cannot unite against Al-Qaeda while condoning Hamas and Hezbollah.

If peace has a future, we must stop the teaching of hatred to future generations. We must use economic, diplomatic and other tools to ensure that curricula, textbooks and state media do not incite bigotry and violence. The terrorist infrastructure must be dismantled. States that sponsor and fund terrorism must be isolated and condemned.

Ending conflict in the Middle East also entails fostering a real peace between Israel and its 22 Arab neighbors. That means full diplomatic relations, cultural exchanges, trade, tourism and above all, recognition of Israel's right to exist as an independent Jewish state. This is the kind of permanent peace that must be the end product of the negotiating process.

If you had asked someone 10 years ago whether Muslims and Serbs and Croats could live in peace and relative stability in Bosnia, they would have said, "That's impossible." But when I was helping negotiate the Dayton Peace Accords, I learned that when the American government really throws its weight behind a peace process, impossible things become possible.

One day, with real leadership from the United States, I believe this will happen. Like Rabin, I am a soldier who yearns for — and believes in — peace.

(Forward -- Reprinted with Permission of the Forward & Gen. Clark's campaign -- "This article originally appeared in the Forward, whose web site is")

Clark at the Council on Foreign Relations

We've got to recognize that the ongoing violence in Israel and the Palestinian territories has not only made Israelis insecure and increased the suffering of Palestinians, but it's also been a source of anti-Americanism and danger in that region and beyond.

In recent weeks, past leaders of Israel's security services and the current chief of staff of the Israeli Defense Forces have spoken out. They've concluded that military measures alone will not provide security for Israel. I agree.

But America must not stand by any longer. I would commit America to real Middle East diplomacy again, starting in the White House, but including at all levels of our government efforts to breathe life into the road map for peace that has veered so tragically off course. We must play a leadership role again to encourage both sides to meet their commitments. The Palestinians must start. They must start by taking decisive steps to combat terrorists and the infrastructure of terrorism. But the Israelis have responsibilities also.

Council on Foreign Relations

Clark on James Baker

(Kerry suggested James Baker III's name as a possible Middle East envoy in a major foreign policy speech at the Council on Foreign Relations. Bush appointed Baker as the Administration's special envoy dealing with Iraqi debt)

"Today President Bush took John Kerry's bad idea and made it worse." (Forward)

Clark on the Fence and US Leadership in the Middle East

BLITZER: Should the Israeli government continue building its security barrier that protrudes into the West Bank?

CLARK: Well, I think the process of constructing a fence was essentially a constructive process from the diplomatic sense.

Now, when you get into the details of where it is and the hardship it's liable to impose on the Palestinian people, then you can begin to discuss and argue about the specific route.

But I think it's very clear that you can't have peace in the Middle East until Israel has a sense of security. Israel was driven to put up that fence, or to start working on that fence, by continuous suicide bombings coming from the West Bank. So I think you have to respect the Israeli motivations in doing that.

I think what we need is American leadership...

BLITZER: Well...

CLARK: ... to work to resolve...

BLITZER: Well, on the issue of the fence...

CLARK: ... those issues now.

BLITZER: ... would you withhold loan guarantees for Israel for the construction of the fence, as well as settlements on the West Bank, as this administration is doing?

CLARK: Well, as you say, the administration is already doing this. I think before I would do that...

BLITZER: What would you do? What would you do if you were president?

CLARK: ... I'd put a top leader into the Middle East with instructions to get out there and work with both sides and restart the negotiations.

You know, President Bush said when he went over there he met the leaders in the region. He said he was going to ride herd on them. But instead, he has basically ridden home to the ranch in Texas. He hasn't been engaged in the Middle East.

And he needs to put a top-level negotiator...

BLITZER: Who would you put in? Who would you name?

CLARK: Oh, I'd put someone very, very senior in there. And, you know, you're talking about...

BLITZER: Give us a name.

CLARK: ... someone of the level of Colin Powell to go in there and really make this his issue and work it and stay with it continuously until it's done.

BLITZER: But you don't believe...

CLARK: Richard Holbrooke and I and our team did that.

BLITZER: ... Colin Powell has tried to do that?

CLARK: I don't think he's doing it. You can't do it by being in Washington. You have to be in the region, dealing with people. And you cannot do it from a distance.

(Source: CNN, 11/30/03)

Clark on Security Fence

The action of building a fence can actually promote negotiations by creating” a “sense of urgency and a recognition among the Arab states that Israel will survive. I would do it through a negotiated settlement, but if that’s not possible, Israel’s going to survive one way or another.” (JTA, 12/16/03)

Clark on Peace and the Security Fence

Wesley Clark promised to bring peace between Israelis and Palestinians if elected president. Speaking January 9, 2004, at a pancake breakfast in Hanover, N.H., Clark accused President Bush of showing a lack of leadership in mediating between Israelis and Palestinians. “I’ll be there, I’ll have my representatives there and we will bring peace between Israelis and Palestinians — and that’s a promise,” Clark said. Clark said he was an early advocate of a security fence for Israel, but said he didn’t want the fence to derail peace talks and didn’t want a fence to be routed in such a way that it makes Palestinian suffer. “Israel was driven to construct that fence by terrorism,” Clark said. (The Israel Project, January 10, 2004)

Clark on Leadership in the Middle East

"Nowhere is American leadership more crucial than in the Middle East.

It’s been more than three years since Yasser Arafat rejected a negotiated settlement to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. In those three years, almost 1,000 innocent Israelis have been killed by Palestinian suicide bombers. And, as a result of the actions Israel has taken to defend itself, the suffering of the Palestinian people has increased.

Now, without a credible negotiating partner, the Israeli government has decided that it has no option but to build a security fence. This barrier is a logical extension of Israel’s right to self-defense, but it is neither a long-term solution nor a sustainable substitute for peace.

As president, I will send a high-level negotiating team to the region and task them with helping the parties renew and complete the peace process.

When Ambassador Richard Holbrooke and I began our effort in 1995 to settle the conflict between Serbs, Bosnians and Croats, the task seemed impossible. But that year, I learned firsthand what concerted American diplomatic efforts — backed by strong presidential support — can achieve.

As with the Bosnian peace effort, I will invest my energy and attention in working toward Middle East peace. America will be an honest broker and show the necessary leadership.

In working toward peace, I will never lose sight of Israel’s security interests because I believe that honoring America’s commitments is part of what it means to be patriotic." (JTA, January 12, 2004)

Clark on Anti-Semitism

Patriotism also demands the ardent support of American values around the world wherever they are challenged. The pervasiveness of anti-Semitism in the Arab and Muslim world must be condemned in the strongest possible terms. So, too, must anti-Semitic crimes against Jewish institutions in Europe.

When synagogues are bombed in Istanbul and set aflame in France, the United States must ask tough questions about the extent of anti-Semitism in Europe and work together with our allies to combat it. As president, I pledge to do so. (JTA, January 12, 2004)

Answers on the 2004 Presidential National Political Awareness Test

1) Indicate which principles you support (if any) regarding the Middle East.

a) Should the United States continue to provide leadership in the Israeli-Palestinian peace process? Yes

b) Should the United States support the creation of a Palestinian state? Yes

(Project Vote Smart)

Clark on the Security Fence and His Middle East Policy

Q: I'd like to know if you support Israel's right to defend itself by erecting the anti-terrorist security fence?

A: In the spring of 2002 when Israel on the weekend Israel first moved into the 8 cities on the west Bank I got a frantic call from CNN. They said, "Do you know anything about the Middle East?" It was one of the Saturday afternoon things. I was their military commentator. I said, "yes", because I was the supreme allied commander ___ Europe. I was also the commander and Chief US European Command, I was responsible for security assistance to Israel. I've been there, I've got a lot of friends in the IDF. And I recommended on television that Israel needed to do three things. First, to defend itself against terrorism it needed to strike back and if necessary to occupy and clear out those areas that were being used as terrorist base camps. Secondly, that Israel needed to be ready to negotiate and be willing to move back into dialogue, diplomatic dialogue, with the leadership of the United States when there was an appropriate negotiating party. Third, in the interim Israel needed to prove its ability to survive and withstand despite terrorist threats. And I recommended the, as I recall it, I've got to go back and find the transcript as I'm sure, one of these, all of these people will at some point, but, what I remember saying something about building a security zone or something to protect Israel. I think the construction of the fence, the process of constructing it, is a constructive process for the advancement of peace in the region. And I'll tell you why because you can not negotiate with people who believe if they don't negotiate, you'll eventually give up, quit, and leave. But you don't want the fence and the location of it to be a factor in the eventual settlement. And I hope that we will not use the fence to increase the human ____, no I hope that Israel will not use the fence to increase the humanitarian suffering of the Palestinian people, there's been enough suffering in this process. But, Israel, I think, was driven to construct that fence by the terrorism that came after it. What's missing in the Middle East is American leadership. As President of the United States, let me back up in 1995 I went with Richard Holbrook, we had a strategic road map, 7 point__. Richard Holbrook, I was the military man in the delegation, went into the region we went all around the region___ we talked to all the leaders in the region, we talked to all the governments and through a process of interrogation, wheeling, cajoling, pressuring, joking, threatening and building relationships we pulled people together, we found ways to make a 7 point whole peace plan written on a piece of paper become an argument that looked a little bit different but that people could actually agree to. It was a function of President Clinton's willingness to commit himself, his prestige and his administration to an effort to bring an end to the fighting in the Balkans. There was no guarantee of success and had the mission failed he would have taken a lot of political heat for it. The President of the United States today does not want to risk that heat. There is no American leadership, there's nobody on the ground and there is no way you're going to bring movement towards Middle East peace unless you do take the risk to put leadership on the ground. When President Bush was over there a few months ago, I can't exactly remember the date, it may have been 6 months ago or 18 months ago he was there and in his best cowboy patois he said, he said "I'm gonna stay here and we're gonna ride herd on these people and keep em together." Well to reply the same way, he did not stay and ride herd, he rode back to the ranch and he got off his horse and put the saddle away. Without American leadership we will not bring peace in that region. As President of the United States, I'll be there I'll have my representatives there and we will bring peace between Israel and Palestinians. And that's a promise. (Dartmouth College in Hanover, NH on Jan. 9, 2004)

Clark on Palestinian and Saudi Educational System:

"Years ago, I saw that the Palestinians are teaching hate in classrooms, and I am also worried about the Saudis preaching hate. When I am president, I will take action against that." (Haaretz, Jan. 23, 2004)

Clark on Syria

US policy should aim in "breaking the grip of the extremists surrounding Bashar Assad. We want to see there an evolution that will end the threat on Israel and will enable them to reach a peace agreement with Israel, without Israel having to give assets needed for its security." (Haaretz, Jan. 23, 2004)

Clark on Saudi Arabia

The secularization of Saudi Arabia is key to stability in the Middle East, according to Gen. Wesley Clark. The former NATO commander and current Democratic candidate for president said that if he wins, he would focus on “importing Western ideas” of freedom to stabilize the region. “The Saudis must secularize, they must take some of the hatred out of the school systems, some of the religious ideas out of the school systems,” Clark told Jewish supporters in a telephone conference call Wednesday. Clark said similar religious hatred helped poison the Palestinians against Israel and is frustrating peace efforts. He said President Bush must assume part of the blame for the current impasse between Israel and the Palestinians. “The Bush administration prefers no policy at all to taking a chance on working for peace in the Middle East,” Clark said. (JTA, 1/23/04)

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