Wesley Clark’s Touch

By February 25, 2009Article, Atlantic Eye

PRAGUE, Czech Republic, Feb. 25 (UPI) — More than a decade ago U.S. Gen. Wesley K. Clark, the supreme allied commander Europe, arrived in Prague a hero. Clark is still a hero to most Czechs — to most Europeans, as a matter of fact. It isn’t just that he is seen as a hero; Wesley Clark is a true-blue war hero, a religious man, a great American — one with a remarkably human side.

Clark was the first North Atlantic Treaty Organization commander to visit Prague after the fall of communism. Almost immediately after becoming SACEUR in 1997, he pushed for NATO membership for Hungary, Poland and the Czech Republic. His legacy in the region is marked by NATO and Kosovo.

Clark and his wife Gertrude were in Prague last week as guests of the Global Panel Foundation and the Prague Society for International Cooperation. He was lent as the honored guest to a conference of the Czech Social Democrats. He spoke at a Social Democratic leaders’ roundtable and met up with old friends at a NATO policy roundtable of the Prague Security Studies Institute marking NATO’s 60th anniversary. At each stop Clark was met with resounding respect.

He had private meetings with Czech Deputy Prime Minister Sasha Vondra and Foreign Minister Karel Schwarzenberg — each lasting a good 30 minutes. I know they covered numerous topics, one of which was the missile defense shield.

In a public interview, Clark thanked the Czech and Polish people for supporting the United States in security matters, and also for their support of the defense shield. “I know it was a difficult choice, but as a military man and U.S. citizen, I thank you — the Czech and Polish people — for your support,” Clark said, noting the “U.S. government is reviewing the system. I know Joe Biden mentioned this in his trip to Munich a week earlier.”

The main event was the Global Panel/Prague Society public policy dinner co-hosted by Canadian Ambassador Michael Calcott and his partner, Vlado, at Hadovka — the magnificent Canadian residence. Clark recalled his experiences from NATO and spoke of its future. The select group from business, politics and academia, and mostly from NATO countries, interacted at length with Clark about energy security, the Middle East, missile defense and other international issues.

Hadovka is a very appropriate venue. Not only is Canada in NATO — Canada was also a superb substitute, as almost all U.S. ambassadors have been recalled from their posts while new ones are selected, including Richard Graber from Prague — but also numerous Canadian diplomats have hosted dissidents who opposed the communist regime at this exact place — in secret and under the radar of the communist Secret Police over 40 years. This year marks the 20th anniversary of the fall of communism, the end of the Cold War and the fall of the Berlin Wall. Many anti-communist dissidents remember Hadovka fondly as a safe haven from despicable regimes.

Clark was at his very best. He gave a wonderful expose of his time in Kosovo, of former Yugoslavia, of Slobodan Milosevic — of how it was to expand NATO. Several old friends were present, including Gen. Dieter Stoeckmann of Germany, the former deputy supreme allied commander Europe who had worked closely with Clark; Gen. Constantin Degeratu, the security adviser to the president of Romania; Gen. Abdeljabbar Azzaoui, the chief of national intelligence for Morocco; and Seffi Bodansky, the former longtime director of the U.S. Congressional Task Force on Terrorism and Unconventional Warfare. Yaakov Levi, the Israeli ambassador, asked Clark about asymmetric warfare.

Norwegian Ambassador Peter Raeder, an old hand and grand old man of the Prague diplomatic scene who also served in Iraq, and Martin Moulis, the chief of staff to the Czech defense minister, talked to me later about the Middle East. To my right I could overhear Charles Fries, the French ambassador and former European policy adviser to President Jacques Chirac; Karl A. Lamers, vice chair of the Federal German Parliament’s European Affairs Committee; and Francois Bujon de l’Estang, the former French ambassador to the United States, in discussion about the European presidency. Later, Jens-Hald Madsen, the former foreign policy spokesman for the Danish government, had a similar sidebar with Helmut Elfenkaemper, Germany’s ambassador to Prague, and Ole Moesby, his Danish counterpart.

A group of leading businessmen — including Markus Hermann of the Landesbank Baden-Wuerttemberg; Jens Geitmann of Tristone Capital Partners; Petr Palecka of Kommercni Banka; Petr Polievka of Zentiva; Roman Mentlik of Logica; and Petr Jusko of Czech Airlines — were engaged in an intense discussion about the world market and global economy. Hassan Abouyoub, the chief foreign policy adviser to King Mohammed of Morocco and former economics minister, joined the discussion.

It would break my promise, and our rules, to write about the specifics of the discussions. They were — in great Global Panel, Prague Society and Oxford style — intense, candid and informative. I know several folks met again days later to hash out business deals and expand their networks.

The energy of the evening, the motivation to discuss and its openness can be attributed to one man — Wesley K. Clark.

I know why I actively supported Clark’s candidacy for U.S. president in 2004 — he is tough, confident, thoughtful, articulate, intimidating and still down-to-earth — all of which were on display.

Clark was inexcusably passed over as a leading voice in the current administration.

His is a voice that must be heard.

(UPI international columnist Marc S. Ellenbogen is chairman of the Berlin, Copenhagen and Sydney-based Global Panel Foundation and president of the Prague Society. He has advised political candidates and public officials, and is a founding trustee of the Democratic Expat Leadership Council at the U.S. Democratic Party.)