WASHINGTON, Jan. 30 (UPI) -- Saying that the United States should resort to military force only after diplomatic options have been exhausted, retired Gen. Wesley A. Clark called for the Bush Administration to open a dialogue with Iran in an effort to diffuse the growing nuclear crisis.
Clark spoke at a New America Foundation event offering what he called "an honest and direct" foreign policy assessment in anticipation of President Bush's State of the Union address. Giving the keynote address at the end of a day largely spent criticizing the Bush Administration's diplomatic shortcomings, Clark said that "the State of the Union is not what it should be and not what it could be."
The former NATO allied Supreme Commander in Kosovo and candidate for the 2004 Democratic presidential nomination has been a vocal critic of the administration, berating the president for allegedly letting Osama Bin Laden slip away during the 2003 battle for Tora Bora in Afghanistan and for rushing into an "unnecessary" war in Iraq. Clark believes that the invasion was an example of the United States using a large portion of its resources and attention on what he called the least important of the three members of the Axis of Evil.
"We have a military option for dealing with Iran," said Clark, "make no mistake about it." Despite the Bush administration's tough talk, "Iran is abandoning its international obligations."
Clark said the United States military is capable of devastating Iran's developing nuclear capabilities without seriously damaging oil production and hindering shipment through the Straits of Hormuz. He emphasized that the use of force should be an absolute last resort because a comprehensive U.S. military strike on nuclear facilities could result in "an embittered and vengeful Iran."
Prior to Clark's address, voices spanning the realm of Washington politics unabashedly shared their opinions on U.S. foreign policy.
The use of democratization as a major tool for defining the objectives of the United States abroad was heavily critiqued. Last week's sweeping Hamas victory in the Palestinian elections and the recent smattering of liberal populist victories in South America, made it clear that democratic results will not always be in Washington's strategic favor.
"People we don't like are coming to power through democratic elections," said Dmitri Simes, president of the Nixon Center, a centrist think-tank in Washington. Simes, who served as an informal policy adviser to former president Richard Nixon said "We must stop our fixation with democracy. It can be a road or a tool, but it shouldn't be a goal."
"I am concerned that we are essentially promoting our goodness without thoughts to our security," said Simes. In the Muslim world especially, he said, "We are not entitled to say that promoting democracy brings peace. Many democratic governments have fought wars against one another."
Wendy Sherman, a former special adviser to President Bill Clinton, labeled the strategic situation of the United States in Iraq and the Middle East as "staggering."
Rebuking the administration's policies over Iran and North Korea and diminished relations with traditional allies, Sherman said the government has only itself to blame for the victory of Hamas and instability in the region. "The United States unwittingly helped get them there," said Sherman. "We were never engaged in statecraft or diplomacy."
In what was advertised as an honest and open discourse on politics, John O'Sullivan, former editor in chief of conservative publication National Review, said preemption and skepticism of world organizations like the United Mations will be extremely relevant in the coming year.
In terms of Iran, O'Sullivan said, "The U.N. has the ball in their court on Iran and has so far not only failed to bear fruit, but has allowed the Iranians to further pursue their nuclear capabilities."
"The genocidal aggression of the remarks made by Iran's president has alarmed many in Europe who would want to rely solely on diplomacy," said O'Sullivan. "Preemption might come to be seen as necessary, real and important to have in their back pockets."
Conversely, Clark called for the United States to use this period of global pre-eminence to "rebuild the international laws that two generations of American presidents put into place." Such opportunities, Clark believes, can only be achieved through diplomatic dialogue.
Iran goes before the IAEA later this week.