Retired Gen. Wesley Clark -- the onetime Democratic candidate for president -- told Congress Tuesday in little-reported remarks that the United States should begin planning for an exit from Afghanistan, breaking ranks with Obama's current Afghan commander Gen. Stanley McChrystal.
The former Supreme Allied Commander of US forces Europe reminded Congress of the "legacy of Vietnam" in considering the US strategy in Afghanistan. Obama's commanders have called for an increase of as many as 60,000 troops in the war-torn country.
You've got to “figure out where you’re going," Clark told the House Armed Services subcommittee on oversight and investigations. "How do we get out of here? Because our presence long term there is not a good thing. We’re playing into the hands of people who don’t like foreigners in a country that’s not tolerant of diversity. And that’s not going to change.”
Clark pressed Congress to begin devising an exit strategy from the country. He said that the US should strengthen its relationship with Pakistan and work with the Pakistani government to target al Qaeda, while diminishing its presence in neighboring Afghanistan. He also argued that economic development in Afghanistan was important.
If the US were to increase its forces in Afghanistan, Clark said, a exit strategy should be in place first.
"The legacy of Vietnam really looms over these discussions," Clark said. "It's particularly painful for me to see where we are in Afghanistan."
Clark commanded an infantry battalion during the Vietnam War and was shot four times. He was awarded a Silver Star for his efforts in battle.
The retired general said he preferred a "minimalist" approach that would subvert Afghan terrorism, as some Democrats, including Vice President Joe Biden, have argued. Biden has asserted that the US should draw down its Afghan military presence and focus on the Taliban, while taking the fight to al Qaeda.
A Committee Democrat criticized Clark's approach, saying a focus on rebuilding Afghanistan was akin to former Vice President Dick Cheney's approach to Iraq.
Clark replied: "I'm not sure what the Cheney solution was to Iraq, but I can't associate myself with it."
"The primary issue," Clark said, "is get the stategy exactly right."