I’ve had more time now to look through Wesley Clark’s book, A Time to Lead. Mostly, it’s a fairly well-written memoir (well ghost-written by Tom Carhart, I suppose) of Clark’s interesting career over the decades. As you get closer to the end and Clark achieves positions of greater responsibility, it shades elegantly into more-and-more engagement with policy issues. One thing it does well is engage in the worthy process of trying to rediscover and reclaim what it was the Clinton administration’s foreign policy record was all about. I worry sometimes that some veterans of that administration seem to have adopted a pretty limited perspective on their own work — something like “Kosovo was good, so we must make sure the UN doesn’t stop us from doing good stuff in the future” but Clark doesn’t do that.
Instead, he takes a solid look at key 1990s-vintage documents like the National Strategy of Engagement and Enlargement, its military companion piece about flexible engagement, and Joint Vision 2010 and nicely sums up the point:
What we had done in practice was justify the idea that a robust military was essential in peacetime. We cpould use these military assets to build relationships, supplement or empower diplomacy, and head off impending conflict as well as to simply go to war. It was a much more actve form of deterrence than we had had before, and some were calling it peacetime engagement or preventive diplomacy.
This gets in the neighborhood of something that’s often been lost in discussions over the past few years, namely that sound leadership of a major power isn’t just about winning wars or supporting the “right” ones, but also about things like avoiding wars and creating circumstances where big dramatic blowups don’t take place. It’s hard for political leaders to get credit for disasters avoided, but that’s really the most important thing to do.