Kosovo Offensive: Vietnam veteran who became Nato's military `boss'

The Commander
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The Independent Online
IN THE late 1960s two ultra-bright boys from Little Rock went to Oxford as Rhodes scholars. One worked hard, took his degree and left early to serve in Vietnam. The other did not inhale, did not get a degree, did not get drafted and is now President of the United States.

That first Arkansan is called Wesley Clark. At 54 he is two years older than Bill Clinton, his commander-in-chief. More to the point, he is a four-star general in the US Army and, as Nato's top uniformed officer, the man giving the orders for the bombing of Yugoslavia.

Clark, "The Boss" to his aides, is that quintessentially American creature, the political soldier. A British general will have as little as possible to do with "political wallahs." But since that stint in Vietnam, where he was wounded and awarded the Silver Star, Clark's rise owes as much to his skills at dealing with politics of defence as his ability as a soldier.

After Vietnam he worked in the White House under Alexander Haig, Nixon's chief of staff, and future Nato supreme commander and secretary of state.

Clark and Clinton have white-grey hair in common, but little else. Where Clinton tends to sloppiness and verbosity, he is disciplined and weighs every word. And his private life truly is private. Until the Balkans brought them together, the Arkansans' paths had barely crossed. But, as Bosnia became an increasing US diplomatic priority, Clark emerged as a key presidential adviser. Later he was Richard Holbrooke's closest aide during the 1995 Dayton conference. Thanks to those talks and several recent missions to Belgrade, he knows his foe, Slobodan Milosevic, uncommonly well. But he has failed to sway the Yugoslav President with words. He must now do it by war, and remember enough of the Vietnam tragedy to keep Nato out of a similarly disastrous entanglement in the Balkans.

If he does, the ladder may stretch higher still for Wes Clark. The logical military promotion, to chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, is probably out, since the army has filled the job twice in succession. But there are political possibilities too: as national security adviser or, who knows, even secretary of state in a future administration, be it Republican or Democrat.

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