Four-star general for president?

Wesley Clark, whom I know slightly, shares one quality with Gen. Dwight Eisenhower - one of the most popular presidents of our time - and Colin Powell, who might have been had he chosen to run.

It is the ability to jettison military jargon and address civilians in civilian terms. This quality served Mr. Clark in good stead in 1996 when he faced mandatory retirement under the Army's "up or out" policy. The three-star general was completing his term as director of strategic planning for the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and the military command had no four-star assignment to offer him.

The smooth-talking general managed to enlist the interests of Defense Secretary William Perry, and even President Clinton. Clark ended up with the Southern Command - and four stars.

The Rhodes scholar who was also first in his class at West Point and was wounded in Vietnam has the necessary pedigree for a candidate in a time of security concerns. But for one who has spent most of his professional life in uniform, he also has an unusual ability to address civilian concerns.

On television, he argued for affirmative action and against a big tax cut. On CNN's "Crossfire" he spoke out against permitting "a long-term deficit." On "Meet The Press" he spoke out against the abridgement of civil liberties in pursuit of the war against terrorism.

Will the former supreme commander of NATO forces run for president? I suspect that this is for him a strategic issue and that he is conducting a feasibility study, or, perhaps, a reconnaissance. Can he, starting late, raise enough money before the primaries to make him look electable? Do people respond to a soldier- intellectual? I imagine Clark will run only if he thinks he has a chance.

Daniel Schorr is a senior news analyst at National Public Radio.

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