Gen. Wesley Clark probably is best known for his presidential run in 2003, but his new book, A Time to Lead (co-written with Tom Carhart; $24.95; Palgrave Macmillan) details a life filled with sacrifice as well as advice on what the United States needs to do to get back on track. The retired four-star general recently talked with Windy City Times about his book and the Don't Ask, Don't Tell policy.
Windy City Times: You talk in your book about leadership qualities. You say that leadership is defined primarily through performance, correct?
Gen. Wesley Clark: Exactly. In other words, I'm trying to contrast leadership and style. It's not how you put your cap on; it's about the way you walk.
WCT: So do you believe that leaders are born or made?
GWC: I think it's a little bit of both. People come up with certain qualities that are inherent in them.
WCT: The book is arranged in chronological order except for the very beginning, where you start off with 'In the Line of Fire' [about a Vietnam War experience]. Why did you do that?
GWC: Because it was the 'go or no-go' experience in my life. Besides being born, it was the closest I ever came to death. It was a moment where, if I had not turned just as [the enemy] pulled the trigger on the AK-47, I would be dead.
WCT: In the book, you state that in order for the United States to reclaim its legitimacy [in the world], we need to understand 'who we are.' What's the first step in doing so?
GWC: I think it's going to take place during this [next national] election. There are those who are going to try to frighten America and there'll be those who'll challenge America to try to live up to [its] ideals. It's about how we deal with the relative insecurities of the world we live in.
WCT: Although I don't remember seeing it in the book, I also want to get your thoughts about Don't Ask, Don't Tell.
GWC: I was a battalion commander in Fort Carson and the C-company commander came up to me and said, 'Sir, we're going to have to let the first arms driver leave the Army.' I [asked] why and he said, 'Because he brought his boyfriend into the battalion and he said that he loves this guy.' Then I asked, 'So why are we kicking him out of the Army?' and he said, 'Sir, don't you understand? It's Army regulations, and if say such and such, you have to be kicked out of the Army.' I said, 'No, I've never seen that regulation.'
The services have done a poor job of working with this policy. Some have respected this policy, and some have not. The truth is that we need people in the military who want to be in the military. There are gays serving in the military who simply are under the radar, so to speak, and there are others who would like to be in who don't want to compromise their values and look hypocritical.
I think the policy needs to change. The policy I'm familiar with in the British army is called Don't Misbehave, and it defines specific misbehavior that is sexual orientation-neutral. I think we're moving to that kind of policy.
WCT: Regarding your presidential run in 2003, you said you felt the 'call of duty' to run. Did you not feel the call this time around?
GWC: Not in the same way.
WCT: How so?
GWC: I think, first of all, that most of the Democratic Party understood this time that the war was a mistake, so I didn't feel the same demand. But also having run once, I feel that one has a personal obligation—knowing what it takes to succeed—[to] connect the dots to success, and I couldn't meet my preconditions for running.
Read the entire interview with Gen. Clark—and find out his thoughts about the Iraq War, affirmative action and Rush Limbaugh—at