LITTLE ROCK (AP) - Using war to bring democracy to Iraq is a "hopeless, spiraling failure" that hurts the United States' power and prestige beyond its borders, retired U.S. Gen. Wesley Clark said Friday.
"It was a flawed, fatally flawed idea," said Clark, a presidential candidate in the Democratic primary in 2004. "Now we have to back away from it."
Speaking to a group of students at the University of Arkansas Clinton School of Public Service, Clark said democracy can't stop or solve problems faced by people abroad. Rather, the United States should use its power through "coercive diplomacy" - forcing its enemies to realize when they should give in.
As an example of that, Clark pointed to former President Bill Clinton's policy of engagement and enlargement - helping "our friends and reinforcing those who have our ideas." But after the Bush policy of pre-emptive war, Clark acknowledged those hearing the Clinton-era phrase would probably think it was "spam on your e-mail advertising a new male pharmaceutical product."
"Democratization cannot cure war," said Clark, a retired four-star general and former commander of NATO. "In fact, there are many democratic societies that love a good war so long as they can win it quickly."
However, Clark offered the Holocaust and ethnic killings in Rwanda and Burundi during the 1990s as examples of when the United States should have acted to stop atrocities.
"All wars are eventually about convincing your enemy not to fight," he said.
Into the future, Clark sees wars becoming less a matter of uniformed armies crossing borders, but rather ambiguous battles within nations. Alluding to Iraq, Clark said this new kind of war is fought by stealth.
"You can't see it on spy satellites," he said. "It's in their neighborhoods. You can't fight it with conventional methods."
To win these new battles, Clark said the United States and allies must be willing to provide the tools of international law, development and politics. He suggested creating a cabinet level "Department of Nation Building" or "Department of Failed States" to funnel resources and trained lawyers, accountants and others to nations in need.
"I'm not talking about the Peace Corps digging wells," Clark said. "I'm talking about changing institutions. I'm talking about transplanting law.
Clark, who grew up in Little Rock, entered the 2004 Democratic primary late and dropped out after a few months. Attributing Democrats' electoral victory Tuesday as "two-thirds a referendum on Iraq, one-third on corruption," Clark kept whatever political aspirations he has for the 2008 presidential election close to his chest.
However, he said the reasons for the Iraq war, not fully understood by the American people at the time, have come to "crashing failure."
"If you're feared, you'll be hated," Clark said. If you're hated, you will be sabotaged."
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