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Clark details foreign policy

With harsh criticism for President Bush's foreign policy, retired Army General Wesley K. Clark yesterday outlined a doctrine of "preventive engagement," saying the United States should work with European allies to face threats from the Middle East, as it did to combat communist nations during the Cold War.

Under Bush, "a new curtain has descended," Clark said in a prepared speech before the Council on Foreign Relations in New York. "Not between America and its enemies, but between America and its friends."

Clark said one of his first acts as president would be to devise a new "Atlantic Charter," to reinvigorate NATO. America and its European allies would commit to working together on global security issues, and establish new missions to fight ethnic cleansing and assist failed states, he said. Clark said he would use NATO to confront the threat of terrorism. And he called for the United States to take a more active role in encouraging peace in the Middle East.

The speech continues Clark's bid to present himself as the Democratic presidential candidate with the fullest foreign policy portfolio. But Senator John F. Kerry's campaign quickly challenged Clark, characterizing his speech as repackaging the ideas Kerry has been pushing for months. One Kerry adviser called Clark's speech "a late to the party, Cliffs Notes version of several foreign policy proposals John Kerry has already offered."

All of the Democratic candidates have criticized the Bush administration's actions in Iraq, and many have called for a mulitilateral approach to fight terrorism. Clark's campaign has also called for NATO to be the lead military agency in Iraq. Clark has pointed to his experience working with European diplomats on the Dayton Peace Accords, and leading NATO's war effort in Kosovo, as a prime credential for the presidency, and the foundation of his foreign policy vision.

"Was it more cumbersone to fight that way? Sure," Clark said yesterday of fighting the Kosovo war through NATO. "Did it require more persuasion and argument to get things done? You bet. But we were far stronger together."

Kerry, too, has proposed that NATO play a leading role in the Middle East and other regions, and has called for NATO to take a role in rebuilding Iraq, "to give allies a graceful way to participate."

In January, Kerry gave a speech at Georgetown University in which he described a policy of "progressive internationalism" with NATO as an operating force.

"NATO is searching for a new mission," Kerry said then. "What better way to revitalize the most successful and enduring alliance in history, than to reorient it around a common threat to the global system that we have built over more than a half-century of struggle and sacrifice?"

Kerry also said at the time that "the US should take a page from our Cold War playbook."

As Kerry's campaign regroups after a change in leadership, it has launched increasing challenges to Clark's foreign policy statements.

But Clark's campaign struck back at yesterday's charges, saying Clark's foreign policy ideas have been more specific than Kerry's. "John Kerry must be hearing footsteps in New Hampshire for him or his staff to make this ridiculous allegation," said Matt Bennett, Clark's communications director. "John Kerry has never spoken about preventive engagement or a new Atlantic Charter or many of the details in General Clark's speech before the Council on Foreign Relations."

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