During the Bosnian war, Gen. Wesley Clark was among a group of U.S. officials forced to drive a dangerous mountain road outside Sarajevo because the Bosnian Serbs refused to guarantee their safety on a more direct route. Then came tragedy: one of the group's armored personnel carriers slipped off the road and crashed down the mountainside. Clark immediately risked his life to rappel down to the burning APC in a futile attempt to rescue those inside. Three Americans died, and some say Clark still blames the Serbs for the loss.
The man called SACEUR--Supreme Allied Commander in Europe--brings a lot of personal history to the war he launched last week. Clark not only knows the rugged terrain of Yugoslavia, he knows the men he's attacking: he even talks to them on the phone. On the first day of fighting, hours before the bombs began to fall, Clark called a man he knows, the chief of the Yugoslav defense staff. Clark warned the general to keep the Yugoslav Navy in port, or else. The Serb officer listened and the ships stayed put.
Clark knows Slobodan Milosevic, too. As military adviser to U.S. Ambassador Richard Holbrooke, Clark spent hundreds of hours with Milosevic and his staff during the negotiations that led to the Dayton peace accords. Holbrooke credits Clark with a small but important break in the Dayton negotiations: finding a land route to serve as a safe corridor between Sarajevo and the town of Gorazde that would be acceptable to the Serbs. On the U.S. team, this path was known as "the Clark corridor." And the general was once accused of being too civil to one of the region's worst villains. In a bit of bonhomie, Clark exchanged hats with Gen. Ratko Mladic, the Bosnian Serb commander who was later indicted for some of the worst atrocities of the war. (Mladic is still at large.) But the hat exchange, Clark's associates say, only shows the general's determination to succeed as a diplomat.
His credentials as a warrior and military leader are impeccable. Because he's from Arkansas, because he, too, was a Rhodes scholar, and because, at 54, he's almost the same age as Bill Clinton, Clark is sometimes depicted as a Friend of Bill. Clinton knows Clark and likes him, a former Pentagon official told NEWSWEEK, but Clark's real ally at the White House is national-security adviser Sandy Berger. "Clark is very smart, quite political and will tend to be aggressive" as NATO commander, this source said. "He believes that this strategy will work--he's committed to it."
After graduating first in his class at West Point ('66) and finishing his master's at Oxford, Clark went to Southeast Asia. He won the Silver Star and a Purple Heart--he was wounded four times--in combat in Vietnam. In 1975-76, Clark became a White House fellow and worked for a while as an aide to the director of the Office of Management and Budget. In the Army, his career field has been in armor--tanks. So Clark knows what heavy metal can do, and he also knows just how vulnerable a tank can be. Both understandings will serve him well in the difficult days ahead.