As world leaders struggle to halt the mass killing in Darfur, former general and 2004 presidential candidate Wesley Clark is calling for NATO to intervene in the conflict and for the United States to commit a small detachment of ground troops.
Clark served as the supreme allied commander of the NATO forces that drove Serbian leader Slobodan Milosevic from power in 1999. The former American general’s call for heightened intervention in Darfur came on the eve of his first trip back to Kosovo, the Serbian province where ethnic Albanians were targeted by Milosevic for ethnic cleansing.
“[Kosovo is] the perfect model for how the U.S. should be operating in world affairs,” Clark said in an interview with the Forward shortly before his departure for the Balkans on Tuesday night. “We provided leadership during the air campaign. In the aftermath, it was actually the Europeans who provided 80% of the forces, and the military leadership on the ground.”
“This was really U.S. moral support and U.S. guidance,” he added, “but not U.S. domination.”
The general’s three-day visit to Kosovo — which has been under United Nations civil administration and NATO protection since 1999 — was scheduled to include speeches before parliament and the public, as well as private visits with state leaders. It coincided with a new round of talks between Kosovo and Serbia over the province’s desire for formal independence, and came less than one week after citizens of the Serbian republic of Montenegro voted for their own independence.
Montenegro’s secession would entail the final breaking up of the six republics that once formed Yugoslavia, since Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Macedonia gained independence in 1998. Observers, including Clark, believe that Montenegro’s departure nearly ensures that Kosovo, which has a population of 1.8 million and is 90% ethnic Albanian, eventually will achieve its own independence despite the continued resistance of Serbian leaders.
“This will add more fuel to Serbia’s concern that their leadership of Yugoslavia has been dismembered, which of course it has been,” Clark said. “Unfortunately, under the leadership of Slobodan Milosevic, their leadership proved toxic.”
Clark said that he supported Kosovo’s independence.
The former general, 61, was born in Chicago as Wesley Kanne. His father was a Jewish lawyer and Democratic politico whose own father, Jacob Nemerovsky, had been a refugee from Minsk. Clark’s father died when Clark was 4; his Southern-born mother returned with her child to her native Arkansas, where she remarried and raised him as a Baptist. Clark, who converted to Catholicism as an adult, did not learn of his Jewish roots until he was in his 20s.
In an interview with the Forward in September 2003, Clark credited his Jewish background with raising his consciousness about the civil rights movement, but refuted the suggestion that his family’s refugee background influenced his fight for the Kosovars.
“I don’t know if it had any direct impact,” he said. “I was trying to do my duty at the time.”
On Tuesday night, Clark said he believes that whenever the United States encounters a true genocide, it has a duty to act. He applied that rule to Darfur, a region in which, he said, “the United States could make a difference” and “should be attempting to make that difference.”
Clark, a vocal critic of the Iraq war during the 2004 presidential campaign, argued that even though the conflict was draining American resources, the country still has a “very strong” military that is “still capable of doing what needs to be done, let’s say, for example, in Darfur.”
In a speech before the U.N. Security Council on May 19, the chief U.N. aid coordinator Jan Egeland warned of a possible collapse of relief efforts in Darfur, a Texas-sized region of western Sudan that, since 2003, has been ravaged by a government-sponsored campaign to wipe out ethnically black Muslim farmers and defeat several rebel groups.
The international community has accused the Sudanese government of dispatching militias known as Janjaweed, composed of fighters of Arab descent, which have attacked the civilian population. More than 400,000 people have been killed or have succumbed to disease and malnutrition, and some 2.5 million people have been displaced — with more than 200,000 fleeing across the border into Chad.
The Bush administration has pressed diplomatically for NATO and U.N. intervention in the conflict, but has not committed to sending any ground troops.
On Tuesday, the U.N. Security Council ordered the acceleration of plans to establish a new U.N. force, which is expected to help shore up a shaky peace accord adopted May 5 between the Sudanese government and one of several rebel groups.
The existing 7,000-member African Union peacekeeping contingent could be replaced with up to 20,000 troops by October, but the Sudanese government has yet to signal that it would accept the deployment of forces.
But Clark is worried that even more will have to be done.
“When the United States is strong, the international community will be strong,” he said. “But in Darfur, the United States has been very tentative.”
It was Clark himself who turned tentative when asked if he would mount a second presidential run in 2008; the former general would say only that it is a possibility.
“I’m working hard for candidates to be elected in 2006,” he said over the noisy din of the airport. “That’s where I think the appropriate focus is right now.”