Book review: ‘Don’t Wait for the Next War,’ by Gen. (Ret.) Wesley Clark
Special to the Daily
Voices of reason are few and far between in these days of 24/7 shock news headlines, polarizing talking heads and a fractured and ineffective Congress. With his most recent book, “Don’t Wait for the Next War: A Strategy for American Growth and Global Leadership,” Gen. (Ret.) Wesley Clark speaks truth to power, backed by strong credentials and the weight of a diverse and illustrious career behind him.
He has seen, firsthand, parts of the world where the balance between the strong versus the weak has determined the future of a nation. In conflicts where a solution has seemed unattainable — in Haiti, for example, and most notably in Kosovo, where he served as NATO supreme commander, Clark has had his boots on the ground and in the thick of things, and he knows that knee-jerk responses are never constructive. Reasoned responses with a consistent stance are important for the United States as it moves forward in this hyper-connected world.
World economies are more intertwined than ever, and Clark argues that America needs to go beyond the outdated notion that strategy is only a military concept. War can no longer be the fuel that drives the nation into the future. He asks, “At this crucial pivot point, how can the United States find its role in the world without the galvanizing focus of the next war?” That question is what he endeavors to answer in his highly engaging and fascinating book.
America, in essence, needs to go beyond hubris in its approach to its status as a superpower and become a truly functioning leader in the world. The world is connected as never before, with businesses linked across international lines and with international social awareness at an all-time high. But, both the good and the bad of a closer global world penetrate all borders.
Transitioning to a foreign policy that acknowledges the heightened connectivity of nations of all political and religious persuasions means creating a national strategy that feeds into a strong position when dealing with our neighbors, near and far. Clark insists that being seen as strong on the global stage, the United States has to show competence and leadership domestically.
Left versus right rhetoric and hijacked and tainted terminologies have become our own worst obstacles to progress; “When does planning for a stronger, more secure America become socialist?” America’s history is messy and filled with plenty of egregious sins and errors in its effort to move forward, and a lot of our foreign policy has been an effort to remedy previous mistakes. As we emerge from our expansionist past, Clark insists, we are paying the price of our own excesses, and we need to readjust our course accordingly.
A great deal of the front end of Clark’s book is an analysis of United States history, vital, of course, in understanding and structuring a global strategy going forward. Clark says, “Modern American strategy really begins with Eisenhower,” whose presidency led to the U.S military industrial complex and its entrenchment into the fabric of American society, even in times of peace. Eisenhower, aware of the beast that had been released on his watch, warned against letting it run untamed.
Clark gives examples of how the long-established strategy planning for the next potential war has become a huge moneymaker; an entirely new market has emerged and has proved to be very lucrative, and the overlaps between military and commercial industry became entrenched. With the neocon focus that personified 9/11 era politics, Clark watched with dismay from the sidelines as a shift occurred in how America put itself out into the world.
With this fundamental shift, “American forces would no longer be used just as a deterrent, but offensively to reshape the Middle East.” Pandora’s Box was about to be opened, with the prevailing idea shaping up to be an upending of the chess board before the perceived opponent could make the next move. Clark spoke out against the Iraq invasion, not seeing any viable reason to make it necessary.
In the aftermath of that bungled approach, our methods meant that our cultural illiteracies and our tendency to bluster in like dictators made us no friends abroad. Clark maintains that in addition to making an effort to understand the nuances of the world, keeping a governmental hand on the rudder of the economy ensures that the United States will sail smoothly into dealing with the changing nations of the future.
The approach now needs to be less myopic, and we need to back up and look at the big picture — the whole forest, not just the trees. Clark suggests that we need a new approach, a “qualitative” shift. He proceeds to put forth several areas where the anchor of a comprehensive strategy can be best secured. Being decisive and aggressive on cyber security, shoring up the U.S financial system, rethinking our approach to combatting the most sophisticated terrorist networks, building a functioning relationship with China and, finally, seriously tackling the overarching issue of climate change.
Clark says that we have reached an “inflection point,” a pivotal moment when something major — either good or bad — is poised to occur. This is the opportunity for the United States to decide how we are going to move into this new, more globally connected world, away from superpower isolationism and conceit. Being a true global leader means creating a “grand strategy,” understanding that the planet is facing unprecedented challenges. Clark is clearly a firm believer in Martin Luther King’s powerful plea to the world and the nation to heed the “fierce urgency of now.”
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