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Encyclopedia > Wes Clark

Wesley Kanne Clark (born December 23, 1944) is a retired four-star general in the U.S. Army. As the Supreme Allied Commander of NATO from 1997 to 2000, Clark commanded Operation Allied Force in the Kosovo conflict. Before this, he had a distinguished career in the Army and the Department of Defense. Clark received many military decorations over the course of his career. He was a candidate for the Democratic Party presidential nomination in 2004, but withdrew from the race on February 11 and actively campaigned for eventual Democratic nominee John Kerry. Clark is considered a potential candidate for the Democratic nomination for president in 2008.


Early life, education, and military career

Clark was born in Chicago, Illinois, on December 23, 1944. His father, Benjamin Kanne, was a Democratic politician, World War I veteran, and lawyer who died in 1948 when Wes was five years old (some sources say four years old). His father also was a Reform Jew (Clark's middle name, Kanne, refers to his father's lineage as a Kohen, a descendant of the ancient Jewish priests).1

After the death, Veneta Updegraff Bogard Kanne, Clark's mother, returned to her home in Little Rock, Arkansas. In 1954, she married former banker Victor Clark. Wesley grew up as a Baptist and attended public schools. He graduated from Hall High School as valedictorian, having led the swim team to the state championship.

Clark's acceptance letter to West Point.

In July 1962, at the age of 17, Clark entered the U.S. Military Academy in West Point, New York, beginning his 38 years in the U.S. military. Here Clark met Gertrude "Gert" Kingston of Brooklyn at a dance for the Navy. Clark graduated as the valedictorian in June 1966. As the first in his class, he earned the right to choose his branch of service first. Washington Post military-affairs reporter Rick Atkinson wrote:

"Now, an officer stood at the podium in South auditorium and began calling out names by class rank.
"Clark, Wesley K.
"Wes Clark stood up, the first to choose his branch. Brilliant and intense, he had ranked at the top of his class for three of the four years and would spend his first years after graduation at Oxford as a Rhodes scholar.
"Armor! Clark declared.
"His classmates responded with a series of cheers and catcalls, which continued through each section."

Clark married Gert, and became a Roman Catholic (Clark now attends Presbyterian services). Two months later, in August, Clark was on the road again, this time to complete his studies as a Rhodes Scholar at Magdalen College at the University of Oxford. There he studied Philosophy, Politics and Economics (PPE), earning his second B.A. in August 1968. Once home, he attended the Armor Officer Basic Course in the Army Armor School at Fort Knox until October and the Army Ranger Course in the Army Infantry School at Fort Benning until December.

The following year, Clark commanded A Company of the 4th Battalion, 68th Armor, 82d Airborne Division at Fort Riley, Kansas. In May, he was called to duty in Vietnam during the Vietnam War. For the rest of the year, Clark served in Vietnam as the Assistant Staff Officer (Assistant G-3) of the Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 1st Infantry Division. In January, Clark was promoted to Captain, and was given command of a mechanized infantry unit — the A Company, 1st Battalion, 16th Infantry, 1st Infantry Division.

Clark's Silver Star citation.

The next month, February 1970, then 25, Clark was wounded by a sniper in the jungle. Ambushed by the Viet Cong, Clark was shot four times (in the right shoulder, right hand, right hip and right leg) before he could find cover. He managed to shout commands to troops, who launched a counterattack and defeated the enemy force. Clark's wounds were treated, and he was flown back to the United States to recuperate at Valley Forge Hospital. There he saw his new four-month-old son, Wesley Jr., who had been born in his absence. He also was awarded the Bronze Star and Silver Star:

"As the friendly force maneuvered through the treacherous region, it was suddenly subjected to an intense small arms fire from a well-concealed insurgent element. Although painfully wounded in the initial volley, Captain Clark immediately directed his men on a counter-assault of the enemy positions. With complete disregard for his personal safety, Captain Clark remained with his unit until the reactionary force arrived and the situation was well in hand. His courageous initiative and exemplary professionalism significantly contributed to the successful outcome of the engagement. Captain Clark's unquestionable valor in close combat against a hostile force is in keeping with the finest traditions of the military service and reflects great credit upon himself, the 1st Infantry Division, and the United States Army."

After recovering, Clark continued his military career. From May to September 1970, Clark commanded the C Company, 6th Battalion, 32d Armor, 194th Armored Brigade at Fort Knox; from October of that year to May 1971 he commanded the 1st Battalion, 77th Armor, 4th Infantry Division at Fort Carson. After this, Clark spent the June and July in Washington, DC as a Staff Officer in the Modern Volunteer Army program, working as a Special Assistant for the Chief of Staff. Clark later returned to West Point for three years as an instructor and Assistant Professor of Social Science.

After this, he graduated from the National War College and Command and General Staff College, as well as completing Armor Officer Advanced and Basic Courses and Army Ranger and Airborne schools.

From 1975 to 1976, Clark was a White House Fellow and served as a Special Assistant to the Director of the Office of Management and Budget. Later, he was an instructor and Assistant Professor of Social Science at West Point.

Clark commanded the 1st Battalion, 77th Armor, 4th Infantry Division at Fort Carson, Colorado and later trained there and in Germany. He was later promoted to general. During the Persian Gulf War, Clark became Commander of the Army National Training Center, in charge of arranging the 1st Cavalry Division's three emergency deployments to Kuwait during Operation Desert Storm. In 1994, Clark was again promoted, and started working with the Joint Chiefs of Staff as Director for Strategic Plans and Policy. During this time, Clark ensured that the United Nations and Department of Defense worked together during the invasion of Haiti.

In the Balkans

Clark in uniform in front of NATO flag.

Under the overall leadership of Richard Holbrooke, Clark headed the U.S. military team during negotiations that led to the Bosnian Peace Accords, in Dayton, Ohio.

From 1997, he was head of the U.S. European Command (CINCEUR), responsible for about 109,000 U.S. troops and all U.S. military activities in 89 countries and territories of Europe, Africa, and the Middle East. As Supreme Allied Commander (SACEUR) he also had overall command of NATO military forces in Europe and led approximately 60,000 troops from 37 NATO and other nations in Bosnia-Herzegovina.

As SACEUR, he confronted Yugoslavia over Kosovo. NATO's 78-day bombing campaign ended with the Kumanovo truce, a withdrawal of Yugoslav military and police force from Kosovo, and the entry of NATO and other Kosovo Force soldiers. In December 2003, Clark testified at Milosevic's trial in the International Criminal Tribunal. His appearance was not public and transcripts of his testimony were subject to U.S. review before being released, a precaution the U.S. didn't take when Madeleine Albright testified. Clark's testimony was sought because he had spoken with Milosevic for a total of more than 100 hours, in his role as the head of the U.S. military team during the Dayton Agreement negotiations and as NATO's Supreme Allied Commander in Europe.

The most controversial part of Clark's command in Kosovo came after the end of the military campaign and involved the use of a Kosovo airfield by the Russian military. After a small Russian force left their peacekeeping station in Bosnia unannounced and took control of the Slatina airfield, near Pristina, on June 10, 1999, there was (according to a BBC report) a "battle of wills" between Clark and the British NATO commander, Lt. Gen. Michael Jackson. Clark ordered British forces to block the runways to the airfield, to prevent the Russian troops from being resupplied from their homeland. This maneuver would have been one step short of hostile, and Jackson did not comply, reportedly later saying: "I'm not going to start the Third World War for you."

Clark, in an NPR interview, said that the incident was a surprising moment for him. Clark stated that his order to block the runways was refused by an emotional Jackson and that he took the matter up the British chain of command. In his book Waging Modern War, Clark says Jackson protested, "Sir, I'm a three-star general; you can't give me orders like this," and that he responded, "Mike, I'm a four-star general, and I can tell you these things."

Clark stated that General Sir Charles Guthrie, British Chief of the Defence Staff, agreed with Jackson. Guthrie, according to Clark, also told him that Hugh Shelton, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, also agreed with him. Clark said he found this very surprising, contending that the original suggestion to block the Russians came from Washington. Clark stated that he called the Pentagon, looking for support, and was told by Shelton: "We don't want a confrontation, but I do support you." Clark said that he told Shelton: "Then you've got a policy problem". Clark maintained in the NPR interview that the matter was a difference in the perception of the policy between the US administration and the British government. Clark said he believed he was carrying out the suggestions of the administration in Washington.

The Clinton administration later persuaded Hungary and Romania to deny Russia flight over their airspace, preventing the Russians from landing transport planes carrying reinforcements to their troops at Pristina. In July 1999, the Russians agreed to integrate their forces into NATO's operations.

Conflict over leadership

According to an article by Lois Romano in the Washington Post (October 19, 2003) Clark "became the first allied commander to run and win a war [yet] lose his command."

Clark was selected for the post by Secretary of Defense William Cohen "over the objections of the Army," says Romano, yet became locked in a conflict with him over the direction of the war. "It was planned as a strategic air campaign" while Clark pushed a ground invasion—a plan Cohen "adamantly resisted."

The article continued: "Even though Clark held the 19-nation coalition together through 78 days of bombing, some Pentagon officials and subordinates came to view him as a headstrong leader, unable to work collegially." Cohen relieved Clark of his duties in July 1999, several months early, "a public humiliation for a man whose service was his life."

Clark responded to claims his military peers have negative views of him by saying "How do you think I could have succeeded in the military if everybody didn't like me? It's impossible,".2

Presidential candidacy

After retiring from the army, Clark worked as a military and international affairs analyst, including a stint as a commentator for CNN. He began preparations for a Democratic 2004 presidential candidacy in 2002, including visits to the all-important first primary state of New Hampshire.

By August 2003, several organized groups began a nationwide campaign to "draft Clark" for the Democratic Party's nomination for the 2004 presidential election. CNN on August 13 showed a commercial by one of these groups, and interviewed Clark. He disavowed any connection with the "draft Clark" groups, but said he had been considering his position and that within a few weeks he would likely make public his decision on whether or not to run. He also fueled speculation with a television interview in which he first declared himself a Democrat.

On September 17, 2003 in Little Rock, Arkansas, Clark announced his intention to run in the presidential primary election for the Democratic Party nomination, becoming the tenth and last Democrat to do so (coming many months after the others): "My name is Wes Clark. I am from Little Rock, Arkansas, and I am here to announce that I intend to seek the presidency of the United States of America." He said, "We're going to run a campaign that will move this country forward, not back."

His campaign focused on themes of leadership and patriotism; early campaign ads relied heavily on biography. His late start left him with relatively few detailed policy proposals. This weakness was apparent in his first few debates, although he soon presented a range of position papers, including a major tax-relief plan. Many Democrats flocked to his campaign. They were drawn by his impressive military background, and saw such foreign policy credentials as a valuable asset in challenging George W. Bush post-September 11. Advisors and supporters portrayed him as more electable than Howard Dean, who was the frontrunner for the party's nomination up until the Iowa caucus.

Criticism of Clark began almost the moment he entered the race. Originally heralded as an anti-war general, he stumbled in the first few days of his candidacy. He was perceived as changing his answer on how he would have voted on the Iraq war resolution. His supporters argued that his perceived indecision was due to lack of experience with the media and their insistence on short "sound bite" answers.

A relatively recent convert to the Democratic Party, Clark stated that he voted for Republican candidates in the past, including Presidents Nixon and Reagan. He previously made positive comments about the Bush administration and its foreign policy team, including one at a GOP fundraiser in 2001. Questions were also raised about his involvement in lobbying the Pentagon.

In answer, Clark supporters emphasized the progressive character of his policy positions. A frequent refrain, echoed in the campaign's official "Talking Points for Supporters," is that he is "pro-choice, pro-affirmative action, pro-environment, pro-health care, and pro-labor."

Clark was supported by documentary filmmaker Michael Moore, as well as pop singer Madonna, who held a fundraiser for his campaign at her Los Angeles home.

In a thirty-second campaign commercial aimed at young people released October 30, 2003, his presidential campaign made reference to the hip hop duo OutKast. In the ad, Clark is sitting in a coffee shop with a dozen middle-class young adults of various American ethnicities. The young adults do not speak, but sit and listen as Clark appears to be answering their questions. "Well, to answer your questions, no, I would not have voted for the Iraq war...I am pro-choice and I am a strong believer in Affirmative Action...And I don't care what the other candidates say, I don't think OutKast is really breaking up. Andre 3000 and Big Boi just cut solo records, that's all." The last comment prompts a blond-bearded young man to say approvingly "all right" and to tap fists with Clark.

Clark's campaign also made an aggressive effort to develop a strong base of Meetup users, starting in November, 2003, and "Clark in 2004" was soon the second most popular Meetup topic, immediately following "Dean in 2004".

His campaign developed a very strong Internet following which was brought together with an ambitious Web initiative: the Clark Community Network (http://blog.forclark.com/), an integrated system of blogs and Web tools. Its E-Blocks, and campaign train allowed Clark to raise more money during January 2004 than any other candidate. This innovative technology was cutting edge, but largely overlooked by media excitement over the Dean Internet strategy.

In January of 2004, he decided to bypass campaigning in the Iowa caucus, instead focussing his campaign to win or place second in New Hampshire, and announced a plan that would raise taxes on upper-income individuals in order to cut income taxes for "all families of four earning below $50,000". His son later mused that the former was a fatal mistake. Clark focussed on winning New Hampshire, or placing second to Dean, to position himself to defeat presumed frontrunner Dean, but when John Kerry and John Edwards each placed ahead of Dean in the Iowa caucuses, they drew the media focus in the days immediately before the New Hampshire primary. Clark took third place in New Hampshire, behind New Englanders Kerry and Dean. The younger Clark suggested that had Clark remained a candidate in Iowa he, instead of Kerry and Edwards, might have benefitted from Dean's drop in support.

Despite this setback, Clark decided to remain in the race, at least until February 3, when 8 primaries — many in the South, Clark's regional base — would be held. He won only the Oklahoma primary. Following February 3, he moved on to campaign in Tennessee and Virginia, states he hoped would provide him the necessary momentum to remain in the race. After placing third in the primaries in both Tennessee and Virginia, he withdrew from the race on February 11, 2004. A day after his withdrawal, Clark announced he would endorse John Kerry, at a rally in Madison, Wisconsin.

After the primaries

Following Clark's endorsement of John Kerry, he worked to fundraise and speak out against the Bush administration and their handling of Iraq. He wrote extensive editorial articles, made frequent appearances on televised political talk shows, and founded a new political action committee called WesPac (http://www.wespac2004.com).

In addition, he has maintained a very strong following of dedicated supporters who discuss and spread his ideals presented during the primaries. They have called themselves "Clarkies", "Clarkistas," Wes Clark Democrats or Wes Wingers.

Following John Kerry's defeat in the 2004 election, Wesley Clark is viewed as a possible Democratic Party candidate for President or Vice President in the 2008 presidential election, one who can unite the various factions of the Democratic party, as well as bringing in independents and moderate Republican voters.

Life events

  • 1966 June, Marries Gertrude Kingston.
  • 1969-1970 Commander of a mechanized infantry company in combat in Vietnam wounded four times receiving Purple Heart and Silver Star
  • 1975-6 White House Fellow, Special Assistant to the Director of the Office of Management and Budget.
  • 1994-6 Director of the Pentagon's Strategic Plans and Policy operation, responsible to the Joint Chiefs of Staff for world-wide politico-military affairs and U.S. military strategic planning. Led the military negotiations for the Bosnian Peace Accords at Dayton.
  • 1996-7 Commander in chief of the U.S. Southern Command, Panama, controlling all U.S. forces & most U.S. military activities in Latin America and the Caribbean.
  • 1997-2000 Supreme Allied Commander of NATO (SACEUR), and Commander-in-Chief for the United States European Command (CINCEUR).
  • June 2000 Retires from military service
  • July 2000 Senior adviser at CSIS
  • 2000-2, Corporate consultant for Little Rock-based Stephens Group Inc. helps develop emerging-technology companies.
  • 2003 September 17, Announces candidacy to become the Democratic Party nominee for President
  • 2004 February 11, Withdraws from race for Democratic Party Presidential nominee

Current offices

This list is not complete

  • Chairman and CEO of Wesley K. Clark & Associates, a business services and development firm based in Little Rock
  • Founder & Chairman of "Leadership for America", an independent non-partisan, non-profit organization "fostering the national dialogue about America's future"
  • Senior adviser at the Center for Strategic and International Studies
  • Director of the Atlantic Council
  • Board member of the International Crisis Group
  • Senior military analyst for CNN, commenting on the US anti-terrorism activities, the 2003 invasion of Iraq and foreign policy

Military decorations

Other honors

Clark received more than 20 other major military awards from non-US governments.


1 For more information on Clark's Jewish heritage and his religious views in general, see the following:

Kampeas, Ron. "Latest contender for president comes from long line of rabbis (http://www.jta.org/page_view_story.asp?intarticleid=13221&intcategoryid=3)." JTA News: 17 Sep. 2003.
Kampeas, Ron. "What´s in a name? For Clark, clues to his Jewish heritage (http://www.jta.org/page_view_story.asp?strwebhead=Clark%B4s+name+shows+lineage&intcategoryid=3)." JTA News: 14 Oct. 2003.
Kampeas, Ron. "Rabbinical past revised: Wesley Clark corrects Jewish heritage remarks (http://www.jewishsf.com/content/2-0-/module/displaystory/story_id/1008/format/print/edition_id/8/displaystory.print)." JTA News: 17 Oct. 2003.
Clark, Wesley. Interview with Steven Waldman (http://www.belief.net/story/136/story_13636.html). Beliefnet.

šThe following references report the confrontation. Clark devotes an entire chapter to the incident in his book Waging Modern War (Chap. 15).

  • International Herald Tribune (http://www.iht.com/IHT/DIPLO/99/jf061999.html)
  • CNN, 12 June 1999 (http://www.cnn.com/WORLD/europe/9906/12/kosovo.07/#3)
  • Sunday Times, 2 August 1999 (http://www.nettime.org/Lists-Archives/nettime-l-9908/msg00007.html)
  • The Guardian, 11 May 2000 (http://www.guardian.co.uk/Kosovo/Story/0,2763,219520,00.html)


  • Atkinson, Rick. The Long Gray Line: The American Journey of West Point's Class of 1966. 1999. ISBN 0805062912.
  • Clark For President. [1] (http://www.clark04.com)
  • Clark, Wesley K. Waging Modern War: Bosnia, Kosovo, and the Future of Combat. 2002. ISBN 1586481398.
  • Clark, Wesley K. Winning Modern Wars: Iraq, Terrorism, and the American Empire. 2003. ISBN 1586482181.
  • Felix, Antonia. Wesley K. Clark: A Biography. 2004. ISBN 1557046255.
  • Junod, Tom. "The General." Esquire. August 2003: Volume 140, Issue 2.[2] (http://www.esquire.com/cgi-bin/printtool/print.cgi?pages=9&filename=%2Ffeatures%2Farticles%2F2003%2F030801_mfe_clark.html&x=62&y=15)
  • Romano, Lois. "A Hero To Some; To Others, Headstrong." Washington Post. October 19, 2003.[3] (http://www.washingtonpost.com/ac2/wp-dyn/A45166-2003Oct18?language=printer)
Wikiquote has a collection of quotations related to:
Wesley Clark

  Results from FactBites:
General Wesley Clark for President - Official Campaign Web Site (1314 words)
In 1962, Wes Clark was admitted to the United States Military Academy and began a 38-year career of public service in the United States Army, where he became a four-star general, a trainer of soldiers, a leader of troops, equally accomplished in war and in peace.
Wes Clark was born in Chicago in December 1944, the only child of Veneta and Benjamin Kanne.
Shortly after arriving, General Clark was traveling in a convoy on a treacherous mountain road, when an armored personnel carrier went over the edge with three US negotiators inside.
  More results at FactBites »



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