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Democratic presidential hopeful retired General Wesley Clark speaks at Hunter College, October 14, 2003. New York City

From Day One as a Democratic presidential candidate, Wesley K. Clark, the retired general, has had to defend his past praise of the president's national security advisers—some of those compliments coming in a speech Clark gave at a GOP fundraising dinner in Little Rock in May, 2001. At that event, he singled out top officials from Vice President Cheney to Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, calling them a "great team" and saying that "we need them there."

Those remarks raised the hackles of Clark's rivals for the party's nomination, veteran Democrats who questioned whether Clark—who says he voted for Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan—is a closet Republican who changed political stripes out of opportunism. Clark says at the time of that speech he had quiet doubts about Bush's team, but wanted it to succeed. "I still could have hope in early 2001 that this administration would learn its lessons," he said at a recent Democratic candidate debate in Phoenix, Arizona.

But another Clark speech recorded by videotape suggests that his hope wasn't snuffed out too quickly. Eight months later, even as some administration officials were making the case for war against Iraq, Clark still applauded the U.S. mission in Afghanistan as he addressed a large audience at Harding University, in Searcy, Arkansas. "I tremendously admire, and I think we all should, the great work done by our commander-in-chief, our president, George Bush," he said in the January 22, 2002 speech. The university provided TIME a videotape of his remarks.

Clark's presidential campaign adviser Mark Fabiani said that the former general was simply crediting Bush for the Afghanistan campaign for which "90 percent of Americans would have agreed" at the time. Fabiani said it was the president's Iraq policy, which had not fully flowered by the time of the Harding speech, that was the "turning point" for Clark and launched his political plans.