ATLANTA – Retired Gen. Wesley Clark (search) stepped up his criticism of President Bush's Iraq policies Friday, telling college students that if elected next November, "I won't get us into a mess like this again."
Amid reports of a crash of a Black Hawk helicopter (search) claiming six U.S. soldiers in Iraq, the Democratic presidential hopeful used a speech to assail the commander in chief and argue that the United States shouldn't have gone to war with Iraq.
"I think before you go to war, you've got to have exhausted all the diplomatic possibilities. He didn't," Clark told a Georgia Tech audience. "... I think you have to have a realistic plan for what happens after you turn loose the bombers and send the armored columns in. He didn't."
Repeating the points of the Iraq strategy he laid out Thursday, Clark said the country can succeed in Iraq by enlisting foreign help and turning the nation back to Iraqi control soon. American troops should be reduced to a smaller, more agile strike force while the Iraqis guard the installations, help secure the borders and handle other security matters, he said.
"As president of the United States, I will never commit our forces unless we've got a real plan and the forces to execute it, and I will never commit our forces unless there is absolutely, absolutely, absolutely no other way," he said.
During a short question-and-answer period with the audience and in a brief news conference later, Clark also criticized Bush for his education policies (search) and handling of the economy.
With the Labor Department (search) reporting Friday that payrolls grew by 126,000 last month, Clark said, "What you've got to remember is, 125,000 new jobs - that's almost enough to keep up with new entrants into the labor force. What we've had is 3.3 million jobs lost."
Clark spoke after a morning fund-raiser that a local campaign worker, Gary Horlacher, said raised about $90,000 for the late-starting campaign.