Leading Article: It is politicians, not generals, who wage war

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The Independent Culture
THE EARLY departure of General Wesley Clark, the Nato commander who led the bombing campaign in Yugoslavia, serves as a reminder of how great the divisions between politicians and soldiers remain. General Clark was a soldier who spoke his mind. As such, he was not the politicians' favourite. In many respects, Nato is built on a contradiction. Theoretically, we have a defence alliance whose headquarters is in Brussels. In reality, it is the White House, Downing Street and the Elysee Palace who call the shots that count; unanimity must be found between all the members of the alliance, from Germany and Poland to Greece and Portugal.

In Bosnia , General Clark pressed for the arrest of war criminals, against the wishes of US officials who were keen on a softly-softly approach. On Kosovo, he complained publicly of "political considerations" that restricted where Nato forces could fly and what targets they were allowed to hit. He pressed for a ground offensive in order to make victory against the Serb forces easier to achieve. The White House, worried about the possibility of American casualties, was unenthusiastic about such a prospect. And yet most observers now believe that it was only the growing inevitability of a ground offensive that forced Slobodan Milosevic to capitulate when he did.

Generals have criticised their political superiors before. In the Fifties, Douglas MacArthur publicly pressed for the bombing of China in order to achieve victory against the Communists in Korea. President Truman eventually dismissed him for stepping out of line. Americans initially rallied to General MacArthur's bullish cause, but then pulled back. When push came to shove, voters understood that key decisions with momentous implications should be taken by an elected president, not by an unelected general.

Despite this example, we should be grateful for generals like Wesley Clark who do not allow themselves to be mere nodding dogs. Officers who do not mutely follow the dictates of political compromise are to be welcomed - by the voters, if not by the politicians. Rumour has it that General Clark is to become an ambassador, a traditional form of luxurious exile. Clark's own judgement yesterday was succinct: "When a soldier's journey is over, it's over."