by Pia K. Hansen

There is one overriding theme to Wesley Clark's life, and that's a call to protect the country. Born in Chicago in December 1944, Clark soon moved to Little Rock, Ark., after the death of his father. In Little Rock, his mother got a job as a secretary at a bank and, using her deceased husband's veteran's benefits, she later bought a house. In 1954, she married Victor Clark, who became Clark's stepfather.

When he was 17, Clark entered West Point, where he later finished first in his class -- even though he flunked golf. While at West Point, he also met his future wife, Gertrude, and managed to get a Rhodes scholarship for two years of study at Oxford University in England. In 1968, he returned to the States, spent 72 days at Army Ranger School, and then shipped off to Vietnam.

Clark often brings up his ordinary and humble beginnings.

"We lived in 31 houses, apartments and, in one case, a house trailer, had 20 jobs and were always on the road -- and it wasn't the road to riches," Clark told CNN. "But when my eight-year obligation to the Army was over, I decided to stay. To me, there was no greater honor -- no way to be nearer to the heart of what mattered to America -- than to be serving and protecting the country in the United States military."

Clark was only 25 when, while serving as an Army captain in Vietnam, he was wounded and sent back home to Valley Forge Hospital. Awarded a Silver Star for his bravery in combat, he had just begun his military career -- and Clark rose quickly through the ranks. In 1994, he became the director for strategic plans and policy of the Joint Chiefs of Staff; in 1995, he traveled to the Balkans on his first mission to end the war in Bosnia, where Slobodan Milosevic's ethnic cleansing finally was catching the eye of the rest of the world.

Later, Clark was at the famous Dayton, Ohio, peace talks, which led to the end of the war in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Historian David Halberstam wrote that Clark was considered a quiet hero at Dayton, because he worked out a peace plan that could be enforced by the military, even though he had very little or no backing from the Pentagon.

In 1997, Clark was named Supreme Allied Commander of NATO, and it was as such that he called for the air strikes in Kosovo to put an end to the war there. Clark's critics point out that an unprovoked attack on Kosovo is no different from President Bush's attack on Iraq, an attack Clark has been critical of. His supporters, however, point out that not a single allied soldier was killed in Kosovo.

After Kosovo, some say that it was his abrasive and aggressive leadership style that grated on the higher-ups in the Clinton administration, eventually leading to Clark's loss of his post.

From 2001 until he announced his candidacy in 2003, Clark worked as an investment banker and as a military analyst for CNN.

He has one son and remains married to Gertrude Clark.

In his own words -- "You can't build a strong army just with great generals; you have to have great people at every rank. You have to give everyone a chance to 'be all you can be.' It's true for the United States Army, and it's true for the United States. I'm running to bring back the core ideals of our democracy. Personal liberty, open debate and opportunity for all -- these ideals have made us great. They will make us greater. They will make us safer and more prosperous. Join me: We can have a new kind of patriotism in America. We can have a new kind of America."

Thinking big: International Security -- Clark has always emphasized his military background, telling CNN that "I'm a military person... I've got ideas on national security and strategy." The former NATO commander says he would like for more countries to get involved in what's going on in Iraq and in the war on terror in general. Yet he's also unafraid of saying that more American troops may be needed over there.

It wasn't quite clear where Clark stood on Bush's war on Iraq, specifically when it came to the congressional resolution that allowed for the president's military action in Iraq. But Clark has said later that he would never have voted for this war, and he was clearly opposed to Bush's 2003 request for $87 billion to spend on military action as well as reconstruction in Iraq and Afghanistan. Ideally, he'd like to see post-war operations in Iraq turned over to NATO.

Bush-bashing -- "George W. Bush's presidency has been a series of failures followed by buck-passing. The president of the United States must be responsible for the use of intelligence by his administration. The president should not use a panel like the one announced today to lay blame on the intelligence community, whose job it is to provide information to policy makers. If there were failures, they were his -- the buck should stop with him... The president also should not be using a panel to sweep pressing issues under the rug... George Bush's modus operandi is to keep the public in the dark. I believe that in a democracy the government belongs to the people, and I'll be a president who believes in being accountable to the people, not hiding from the people."

Position/strategy -- Clark won in Oklahoma, but his Southern roots have been blunted by the strong showing of John Edwards. He was also popular in Arizona, perhaps suggesting he could surprise people in California. but he failed to break out in either Tennessee or Virginia earlier this week. While Clark claims to be in the race to win it, many are pondering what he could do as a vice president.

At the end of last year, Clark had raised almost $14 million -- less than Kerry and Dean, but more than Dennis Kucinich and Al Sharpton. He had about $4 million left on Jan. 1, but continues his fundraising.

Publication date: 02/12/04

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