In comments to this post, Nitpicker visitor "Thomas" told me that I was wrong, that Ratko Mladic was named "as a perpetrator of 'crimes against humanity'" in 1992 by the United States. I couldn't find any such situation where the US had declared any such thing, but I was damn sure that Novak was wrong (and knew it) when he tried to say that Clark met with an indicted war criminal. I said as much.
Thomas said that I should look for Lawrence Eagleburger and Mladic, etc. And, he said, I could hang my defense on "legalisms" if I wanted, but Clark's judgment was suspect. Those legalisms being that, you know, Mladic actually wasn't indicted (as Novak claimed) and wasn't indicted for events that occurred before Srebrenica until last year, when an amended indictment was produced. I appreciate Thomas letting me hide behind those kinds of flimsy "legalisms." I'm sure he just trounced Condi Rice for saying that Bush's 16 word lie in the State of the Union was "technically accurate."
But what, exactly did Secretary of State Lawrence Eagleburger say in 1992? Did he say "Ratko Mladic is a war criminal who must be brought to justice"? Nope.
Leaders such as Slobodan Milosevic, the President of Serbia, Radovan Karadzic, the self-declared President of the Serbian Bosnian Republic, and General Ratho Mladic, commander of Bosnian Serb military forces, must eventually explain whether and how they sought to ensure, as they must under international law, that their forces complied with international law. They ought, if charged, to have the opportunity of defending themselves by demonstrating whether and how they took responsible action to prevent and punish the atrocities I have described which were undertaken by their subordinates. - Lawrence Eagleburger, Statement at the International Conference on the Former Yugoslavia, Geneva, Switzerland, December 16, 1992
So, not quite the overt labeling that Thomas would have us believe, no? Clearly not the "US" branding Mladic a "war criminal"?
Regardless, I still think it was beneficial for Clark to meet with Mladic at the time and plumb the man's psyche. I mean, Patton read Rommel's book, right? Jack Ryan met Capt. Ramius. Clark, as director of plans and policies for the Joint Chiefs, might very well have had to plan actual combat operations against Mladic, so knowledge of the man's character was essential. Here's ClarK:
Meeting with Mladic was especially useful... How many people, I reflected at the time, have the opportunity to size up a potential adversary face-to-face? He carried a reputation among the UN forces for cunning and forcefulness, I found him coarse and boastful. He knew far less than he thought about NATO, airpower, and the capabilities of the United States.
And, no matter what Novak says, Clark says that the visit didn't take place "against the State Department's wishes." In other words, we just caught Novak in yet another lie.
The story ran in the next morning's paper: "Despite Warning, US General Met With Serb War Crimes Suspect." This was untrue -- there was no warning -- but the story generated several phone calls and a couple letters from people disapproving of the visit, as well as a letter to the Presidnte from two members of Congress calling for my dismissal...
The fact was that I had not received instructions not to visit. Fortunately, I had strong support within the Defense Department, the National Security Council staff, and at State for having visited both sides to lay the basis for a proper policy analysis. I heard that the President sent a letter back to the Congress in my defense, and, after a few meetings with Congressional staffers, the controversy died. -Waging Modern War, Pages 40-41
He also met with Milosevic but, just last week, was being castigated by conservative crazy people for having supposed ties to "Muslim terrorists" because he shook hands with the leader of the KLA. How the hell can a man be both a supporter of a dictator and the people he oppressed? The right wingers are going nuts.
On the other hand, as someone who spent nine months in Brcko, Bosnia (the one city so contentious its ownership couldn't be decided in the Dayton Peace Accords), I have a little bit better perspective on what Clark was dealing with. Every other day I would go out with a unit in the field and either patrol, demolish mines or just meet the people (depending on the unit). Often, when clearing mines, we would enlist the aid of either the Serbs or the Croats or the Bosnian Muslims who had laid the mines in the first place. Many times, while sharing a coffee or an MRE or a cigarette with the locals, I would look at them and wonder: Are you one of the people who tortured children? Did you join in the "rape camps"? Did you force family members to murder one another for your entertainment? (There are much worse stories I heard, but I'm busily trying to forget ever having heard them.)
The point is, you could look forever in Bosnia and never find a man with clean hands. So, we needed to know these people as much as we could, because, in the end, we needed their help. We weren't going to need Mladic, but we did need to know what kind of man he was. Yes, we tried to bring to justice the men who led these terrible actions, but we couldn't lock up every male from three countries who happened to be between the ages of 15 and 50 during the war. I think Clark (and Holbrooke and Albright) had to deal with people who were far beneath them in character. It is the way of diplomacy and, yes, it saved the lives of several hundred thousand people.
But what of Clark's judgment? I say that you have no grounds on which to judge Clark harshly for doing the odious work of chatting up Ratko Mladic until you are just as comfortable judging George W. Bush, who met just last year with a man whose idea of "loving freedom" is to boil his political enemies alive. Rumsfeld, as has been pointed out again and again, gladly gave aid and comfort to Saddam, knowing full well what a bastard he was. And, if it was so terrible for Clark to have met with this guy, what about the judgment of the Republican senators and congressmen, whose opposition to American peace efforts would have allowed Mladic to continue the kind of campaigns he inflicted on the innocents of Srebrenica?
"I have no confidence in the Clinton-brokered peace deal, and I will oppose sending American troops into Bosnia," said Phil Gramm.
Floyd Spence opposed it because, he said, ""The administration still does not appear to have a credible exit plan."
Hell, not only that, these geniuses wanted to actually "lift the U.N. arms embargo and arm and train the Bosnians to defend themselves." Apparently, the NRA has actually convinced Republicans that tossing more weapons into a war might actually end it. Brilliant!
Republicans can try to impugn Clark's judgment all they want. I think that, again, they're trying to pick the speck out of Clark's eye while blinded by the logs in their own. Oddly enough, it's their hindsight which seems the most affected.
Update: Public Nuisance has more.