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Clark releases stellar military record

But Democratic presidential hopeful still has critics

From Jamie McIntyre
CNN Washington Bureau

Clark's military records contain glowing evaluations received when he was junior officer rising rapidly through the ranks.
Clark's military records contain glowing evaluations received when he was junior officer rising rapidly through the ranks.

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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- In an apparent move to answer questions about his level of support within the military, Democratic presidential candidate and former NATO commander Wesley Clark Thursday released more than 180 pages of records detailing his 37-year military career.

The records contain glowing evaluations Clark received from the 1970s and 1980s, when Clark was a junior officer rising quickly through the ranks.

"Major Clark is one of the most outstanding officers of his grade in the U.S. Army... an officer of impeccable character with a rare blend of personal qualities and professional attributes which uniquely qualify him as a soldier-scholar," wrote Gen. Alexander Haig in 1978. Haig went on become President Ronald Reagan's national security advisor.

Ten years later, in 1988, then-Brigadier General William Crouch, who later achieved four-star rank himself, wrote, "Wes Clark has the character and depth to be another Marshall or Eisenhower in time of war."

And in 1992, then-Joint Chiefs Chairman Colin Powell predicted Clark "will be one of the Army's leaders in the 1990s."

"Wes Clark has been a superb battalion commander and will be a superb brigade commander. He is an officer of the rarest potential and will clearly rise to senior general officer rank," Powell wrote.

But missing was any endorsement from his military peers during the time Clark was Supreme Allied Commander of Europe, leading NATO's war in Yugoslavia. During that period, he was often at odds with the Pentagon.

His campaign explained that those sentiments are not reflected in Clark's record because generals above two-star rank do not get written evaluations.

"I was a three-star general myself. I got no efficiency reports, received none, none were written on me during my seven years as a three-star general, and that applies obviously in spades to General Clark," said retired Lt. Gen. Dan Christman, who was made available by the campaign Thursday to answer questions about Clark's military records.

Christman -- like Clark -- has been a CNN military analyst.

Pentagon sources told CNN Clark's bosses at that time -- Defense Secretary William Cohen and Joint Chiefs Chairman Hugh Shelton -- were often frustrated by what they believed was Clark's penchant for going around them to deal directly with the National Security Council or State Department to thwart orders he didn't agree with.

Clark was forced to give up his command three months early to make room for another general, who was more in favor at the Pentagon.

Asked about Clark's candidacy last month, Gen. Shelton -- now retired -- told an audience, "I've known Wes for a long time. I will tell you the reason he came out of Europe early had to do with integrity and character issues, things that are very near and dear to my heart. I'm not going to say whether I'm a Republican or a Democrat. I'll just say Wes won't get my vote."

Sources close to Shelton said the former Joint Chiefs chairman didn't mean for the comments to come across quite so harshly, but said Shelton "often felt he didn't get the straight story" from Clark when he was NATO commander.

The Pentagon and the Joint Chiefs faulted Clark's plans to use Apache helicopter gunships to attack Serb ground forces in Kosovo as "too little to late."

Sources said the Joint Chiefs found that none of Clark's options for employing the Apaches "made any sense," and would have likely resulted in many U.S. and civilian casualties.

Cohen recalls 'friction'

Former Defense Secretary William Cohen told CNN on October 7, "There was friction between General Clark and myself, and frankly I think it would be inappropriate for me to comment on his political aspirations. I made a judgment during the time that he was serving as head of NATO, and I felt... the ax -- as such -- when it fell, spoke for itself."

start quoteI've known Wes for a long time. I will tell you the reason he came out of Europe early had to do with integrity and character issues, things that are very near and dear to my heart. end quote
-- Retired Gen. Hugh Shelton, former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff

Among Clark's sharpest critics at the time were Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Joseph Ralston, who would succeed him, and Gen. Dennis Reimer, who was the Army Chief of Staff, sources told CNN.

Clark shrugged off the criticism in an September 17 interview with CNN.

"I think what you have to understand about the armed forces, it is a -- it's a competitive bureaucracy. People enter it at the bottom and they come out at the top. There's a lot of gossip. There are some sharp elbows in there."

And in book, "Waging Modern War," Clark accuses the military chiefs of having a "hidden agenda" and complains about what he calls "overly cautious Pentagon attitudes restraining commanders in the field."

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