Monday, July 7, 2008

Minimizing McCain's Experience

By Jack Kelly

No president since Dwight Eisenhower has had more military experience than Sen. John McCain, who served 22 years in the Navy, nearly six of them as a prisoner of war in Vietnam. So many people were puzzled by the line of attack chosen by retired Gen. Wesley Clark, a supporter of Barack Obama:

"I don't think riding in a fighter plane and getting shot down is a qualification to be president," he said on CBS' Face the Nation program June 29.

That Sen. McCain once commanded the largest flying squadron in the Navy wasn't much of a qualification either, Gen. Clark said, because he didn't have that command in wartime.

Gen. Clark's larger point -- that being a war hero is an insufficient qualification to be president -- is reasonable enough, but was lost in his boorish dismissal of Sen. McCain's military service. And however inadequate Gen. Clark imagines Sen. McCain's commander in chief credentials to be, they're certainly superior to those of the candidate he's backing, as stunned host Bob Schieffer pointed out:

"I have to say, Barack Obama has not had any of those experiences (of major command in war) either, nor has he ridden in a fighter plane and gotten shot down," Mr. Schieffer said.

Gen. Clark's remark diverted media attention from Sen. Obama's speech on patriotism the next day. Sen. Obama first mildly disassociated himself from Gen. Clark's remarks, and then denied he was criticizing him. Gen. Clark repeated his criticism on other television shows the following day. This turned a one day story which reflects badly on Sen. Obama into a three day story which reflects badly on Sen. Obama.

Gen. Clark was the eighth prominent Democrat to criticize Sen. McCain's war record.

"McCain was a fighter pilot, who dropped laser guided missiles from 35,000 feet. He was long gone when they hit," Sen. Jay Rockefeller told the Charleston (W. Va) Gazette in April. "What happened when they get to the ground? He doesn't know. You have to care about the lives of people. McCain never gets into those issues."

Sen. McCain's background as the son and grandson of admirals creates a "dangerous" situation because he can only view the world through the prism of the military, Iowa Sen. Tom Harkin told the Des Moines Register in May.

"He has a hard time thinking beyond that," Sen. Harkin said. "Everything is looked at from his life experiences, from always having been in the military, and I think that can be pretty dangerous."

Sen. McCain's national security experience is "sadly limited" because he was a POW, Obama foreign policy adviser Rand Beers told a liberal group June 30.

"I think the notion that the members of the Senate who were in the ground forces or who were ashore in Vietnam have a very different view of Vietnam and the cost...than John McCain does because he was in isolation essentially for many of those years and did not experience the turmoil here," Mr. Beers said.

Also that day, Virginia Sen. Jim Webb said Sen. McCain shouldn't use his military record in politics. When he ran for the Senate two years ago, Sen. Webb cited his record as a Marine in Vietnam as his principal qualification for office. He stomped around the state wearing combat boots. And Gen. Clark, of course, cited his military experience as his principal qualification when he ran for president in 2004.

As Jim Geraghty of National Review Online noted, there are "way too many" of these attacks on Sen. McCain's war record to be a coincidence. But if it's a deliberate strategy by the Obama camp, it's an odd one, because there is no way a comparison between Sen. McCain's record on national security and his makes Sen. Obama look good.

What's important about Sen. McCain's experience as a POW is not what it taught him about conducting foreign policy, but what it teaches us about his character, wrote "Uncle Jimbo," a former Special Forces soldier, on the milblog "Blackfive."

"John McCain was so loyal to the men he was imprisoned with he endured torture on their behalf," Uncle Jimbo said. "Barack Obama associates with those who can help his career, and throws them right under the bus when they become inconvenient to his aspirations."

"In minimizing the import of McCain's military service, Clark instead opened the door to the sort of criticism that Obama, who painstakingly praises McCain's military record at virtually every event, cannot afford," wrote Jay Newton-Small of Time Magazine.

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