Retired Gen. Wesley K. Clark on Thursday accused the Bush administration of shredding America's historic ties with Europe and proposed rebuilding the Atlantic alliance as a foundation of U.S. national security.
"This administration has been all bully and no pulpit," Clark said in a speech that detailed an approach to U.S. relations with post-World War II allies that established a clear policy difference with President Bush and underlined his extensive military career -- a background that sets him apart from his rivals for the Democratic presidential nomination.
Delivered to the Council on Foreign Relations in New York just hours after Bush met in London with British Prime Minister Tony Blair, Clark's speech was particularly blunt, in both tenor and political content. It reflected the degree to which the long-held adage that U.S. political squabbles stop "at the water's edge" had been eroded in recent years.
In challenging Bush's dealings with long-standing allies in Europe, Clark plunged into a sensitive area, addressing what he saw as a central weakness in the administration's foreign policy just as the president had been trying to shore up his most loyal major ally in the Iraq war.
In London, Bush defended a policy that prompted widespread and angry dissent throughout Western Europe. But Clark, a former NATO supreme commander, said Bush's presence "is actually undermining a brave and decent British prime minister who has been an extraordinary friend to America ... " Broadening his critique, Clark added, "Simply put, this administration is wrecking NATO -- and thereby doing incalculable damage to our security and well-being.
"They've alienated our friends, dismissed their concerns, rejected their advice. They're leaving America an isolated nation," he said.
Since launching his candidacy in mid-September, much of Clark's focus has been on foreign policy -- an arena once perceived as Bush's strong point. But the continuing turmoil in Iraq has eroded public confidence in the president on this issue, according to recent polls.
Clark, in criticizing the administration's rebuilding efforts in Iraq, has called for deploying NATO troops there. And last week, in faulting Bush's handling of the overall war on terrorism, he unveiled a plan that included enlisting Saudi commandos in the hunt for Osama bin Laden.
In his Thursday speech, Clark called for a new Atlantic Charter "to meet the new threats of terrorism and weapons of mass destruction, as well as to strengthen our response to the old threats that are still with us."
He said the U.S. and its allies must "deal with failed states before their chaos spawns terrorism, misery or mass murder."
Clark made his military reputation as the North Atlantic Treaty Organization's supreme commander, particularly during the 1999 Kosovo conflict. His plan would draw on NATO to address 21st century problems that were far from the concerns when the alliance was first assembled and fighting Communism was its overarching goal.
Criticizing the administration for its policy and the mechanics it has employed in addressing the new threats, Clark said: "The bottom line is this: The Bush administration is not interested in permanent alliances. It treats them, even NATO, as obstacles -- a limitation on America's freedom of action. Instead of enduring partnerships, it prefers to build temporary coalitions of the willing, consisting of nations, however weak, that are willing to do exactly what we say."
The result, the candidate said, has been "this long international nightmare," in which the Bush administration has "squandered in two years the moral authority America spent generations building."
As outlined by Clark, under a new Atlantic Charter, "America must declare its commitment to work with its democratic allies as a first, not last, resort. European allies should make the same commitment."
The allied nations also would commit themselves to improving existing global treaties, among them the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, the Biological Weapons Convention, the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and -- in marked contrast with the Bush administration, the Kyoto agreement on global warming.
Reflecting the new demands the alliance would face, Clark called for an agreement on diplomatic, economic and legal responses to face such current threats as terrorism, "ethnic cleansing," the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and the potential chaos of the "failed states."
And he pledged a bolstered role for the United States in the stumbling search for peace between Israel and the Palestinians, as part of what he said should be the effort by Washington and its allies to heal the conflicts that fuel wider discontent and terrorism.
Later Thursday, Clark appeared on the "Late Show With David Letterman."