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Clark: 'I am proud to be a Democrat'

Retired Gen. Wesley Clark
Retired Gen. Wesley Clark

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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Former NATO supreme commander Wesley Clark said Wednesday he would run as a Democrat if he mounts a challenge to President Bush in 2004, but said he was not yet ready to enter the race for the White House.

Clark had not declared his party affiliation before Wednesday. In an interview on CNN's "Inside Politics", the retired four-star general said, "I'd be proud, and I am proud, to be a Democrat."

"It's a party that stands for internationalism. It's a party that stands for ordinary men and women," he said. "It's a party that stands for fair play and equity and justice and common sense and reasonable dialogue. It's a party that has had a great tradition in our country. I'm very attracted to it, and that's the party I will belong to."

He did not say whether he would seek the presidency, but "I'm closer to working my way through it."

In an address Wednesday night at New York University, Clark said he has not made "a personal decision" to run for president.

Not deterred, his grass-root supporters handed out Clark candy bars to passers-by in support of a potential campaign. He is widely expected to make a decision by mid-September.

Clark, who led NATO's military alliance during the 1999 Kosovo conflict, would be the 10th Democrat to enter the presidential race if he runs.

Supporters of a presidential draft campaign are recruiting volunteers for a possible campaign and have aired television spots in New Hampshire, Iowa and Clark's home state of Arkansas to drum up support. Clark has said he has nothing to do with the effort but would do nothing to discourage it.

The 57-year-old Clark retired from the Army after a 34-year career that included combat in Vietnam, a Rhodes Scholarship and leading the military negotiations in the peace talks that ended the war in Bosnia in 1995.

He became NATO's supreme commander in 1997, but reportedly clashed with Pentagon officials during the Kosovo campaign and was relieved of command after the war.

He was a CNN military analyst during the war in Iraq, and has been increasingly critical of the Bush administration's handling of that conflict. In August, he told CNN that the administration led the country to war under "false pretenses," and the United States is no safer as a result.

"I always had my doubts about it. I was always concerned about what would happen afterwards, and of course so much of that has proved true," he said Wednesday.

In previous interviews, Clark has said he considered President Bush's tax cuts inefficient and unwise, and would consider suspending or rescinding them if elected president.

He said years in the Army had persuaded him to support affirmative action "in principle," though he suggested its benefits could be cut at a certain income level.

Clark also said he would reconsider the Clinton administration's "don't-ask, don't-tell" policy on gays in the armed services, saying he considered it ineffective.

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