Why Clark Has Standing to Challenge McCain

I don't want to belabor or be gratuitous about this, but I think it's important to defend Wes Clark's right to challenge McCain's service record insofar as it is being used as a Commander-In-Chief credential.

To be clear, on a personal level, I have the greatest possible reverence for John McCain's wartime sacrifice and his overall service record. McCain and his fellow brothers-in-arms who survived the Hanoi Hilton hell-hole are heroes in every sense and remain to this day inspiring profiles in human courage.

Because of this, very few people have the moral and experiential standing to comment on McCain's service record. I would go so far to say that not everyone who has simply worn an armed forces uniform has standing to comment. It requires a peer record of combat service. Wes Clark has such a record.

From the Boston Globe:


Wesley K. Clark lay bleeding on the ground as the landscape around him echoed with the high-pitched ping-ping-ping of gunfire. It was Feb. 19, 1970, and the young Army captain had been on patrol near Saigon when he paused to peer down a trail that disappeared into the jungle.

In an instant, a hellish hail of fire from AK-47s exploded all around. Clark saw blood oozing from his body.

"They're in there!" Clark shouted to a couple of soldiers at his side.

"Get down, sir!" responded one of the soldiers, sniper Michael McClintic, who vividly recalls the moment. Pushing Clark to the ground -- and probably saving his life -- the Army sniper sprayed the jungle with covering fire. Clark said he called for backup and ordered nearby soldiers to set up a base of responding machine gun fire.

The 25-year-old Clark had waited years for a chance to engage the enemy, and now he was out of the fight from nearly the start.

The Viet Cong ambush that nearly took his life that day would be the only significant combat Clark would experience over the course of an Army career spanning 34 years. But the episode set a course for a military life that both detractors and supporters describe as charmed from the start. First in his class at West Point, Clark carried the hopes of many high-ranking champions into the battlefield with him.

"How bad are you shot?" Clark's commanding officer, David C. Martin, asked when he reached Clark on the radio.

"I don't think I'm shot too bad," Clark replied, according to Martin's recollection. Clark apparently did not realize the severity of four wounds to his shoulder, hand, and leg. Later Clark would recall: "I couldn't hold anything in my right hand, and I couldn't use my foot. I stumbled."

Martin raced to a helicopter and flew to Clark's location.

An Army typist recorded the moment, according to a document found in the National Archives: "Urgent . . . Gd [ground] contact . . . area unsecure -- need jungle penetrator. . . . Lighthorse 21 en route."

Within minutes, a second helicopter was overhead, dangling its "penetrator" lifeline into the jungle. Soldiers attached Clark to the dangling cord, and he was "extracted" and flown to a hospital 8 miles away.

McClintic, who was also hit by enemy fire during the ambush, received a Bronze Star with valor for heroic achievement in action. Clark was awarded the more prestigious Silver Star, reserved for "gallantry in action of marked distinction." While Martin originally wrote up Clark for a Bronze star with valor, a now deceased superior asked him to elevate the medal, and Martin said he agreed. Officers were often given higher medals than enlisted men in Vietnam, and a Silver Star added weight to Clark's military resume. The decision "suits me fine," said Martin, especially because Clark was "leading his people" and on foot patrol and retained control of the company.

Without jumping into the substance of Clark's critique of McCain or the political optics, I think that on the subject of whether it was legitimate for Clark to even make the attempt, I would say it is. Clark has more than earned the right to challenge a fellow military man, if his judgment informs him it;s called for. Accordingly, it probably wouldn't have been appropriate for Barack Obama or Bill Clinton, or even, Jimmy Carter (USNA grad, but no war service) to do this. If, however, Clark thinks it's fair, then I trust him.

Tags: 2008, John McCain, vietnam, Wesley Clark (all tags)

Comments

35 Comments

The problem is that

McCain's camp is trying to create the perception that Obama was the one who challenged him.  I think the only way to deal with this issue if McCain's camp pushes it is for Clark to say that he was not representing Obama when he made the statement and that he simply asserting his own opinion.  You want to present the argument between McCain and General Clark; if the public sees it as a pissing match between those two, then Obama should be in the clear from having to either stand by Clark or having to throw him under the bus, which is probably he cannot do at this moment given his close ties to Hillary.

I would love nothing more than General Clark and McCain to argue about this for the rest of the week, if Obama can absolutely stay out of the fray.  If it's between Clark and McCain, then Obama can come out ahead by talking about gas prices and the economy while McCain will look petty by arguing with a four-star general.

by Blazers Edge 2008-06-29 06:31PM | 0 recs
Re: The problem is that

I would love nothing more than General Clark and McCain to argue about this for the rest of the week, if Obama can absolutely stay out of the fray.  If it's between Clark and McCain, then Obama can come out ahead by talking about gas prices and the economy while McCain will look petty by arguing with a four-star general.

You're exactly right about this.  It's obvious hit home with the McCain folks, so why not have Clark double down and keep McCain busy while Obama pushes domestic issues.

by barath 2008-06-29 06:37PM | 0 recs
Re: The problem is that

It may not work though; McCain's response tried to frame Clark's comments as if Obama had told Clark to make them.  Clark would have to come out pretty strongly and let the American people know of his disdain for McCain, if he actually does dislike McCain.  He would essentially have to throw himself under the bus by seperating himself completely from Obama.

There's a reason the McCain camp responded without noting that the guy who made the comment was a four-star general; they wanted to create the perception that it was Obama making the comment.  We'll see what happens and if this story has legs.

by Blazers Edge 2008-06-29 06:46PM | 0 recs
Re: The problem is that

I think it's great that Clark is getting attacked on this.  Or, it's great that this is getting exposed.  He's getting attacked because he hit a myth that the mainstream is quite married to.  The more attention this gets the better.  Because underneath it, what people will hear more and more is, "How does this qualify McCain to be president?"  

Of course Obama is distancing himself from the comments. It would be almost completely inconsistent with his message of bringing a new, more civil politics to Washington.  Obama's campaign has been pretty light on attacks, and I don't think that's going to stop.  Hopefully people like Clark will keep hitting McCain on tough issues while Obama keeps his hands clean.

by spacemanspiff 2008-06-30 08:46AM | 0 recs
The framing:

"Of course John McCain is a patriot and a hero who served his country bravely, and suffered terribly for it.  No one has ever said otherwise.

But this country has many veterans who are both patriots and heroes, and not all of them would be good as Commander in Chief.  Patriotism and bravery are important traits, but they aren't the only important traits.  Executive experience.  Diplomatic ability.  And most of all, good judgment.

It's fair to ask what kind of Commander in Chief would be, and that in no way diminishes his service to this country during the Vietnam War."

by lilnev 2008-06-30 12:57PM | 0 recs
Re: Why Clark Has Standing to Challenge McCain

I love Clark and he certainly has had a distinguished career in the military .

However he should stay away from trying to belittle Mccain's military service .

He came close to doing that today .

Both men have shown bravery and valor on the battlefield and their gallantry did get them recognition that is well deserved but he almost went overboard the way he went after Mccain today .

He has the right to criticize Mccain on his military record , voting against that bill for example , certainly everyone in my opinion has but its the substance of the critique that is the issue.

Lets not veer in the personal . Clark himself wouldn't appreciate it if the roles were reversed.

by lori 2008-06-29 06:34PM | 0 recs
Re: Why Clark Has Standing to Challenge McCain

I really don't think he came close to belittling McCain's service - he said the service isn't something on which to base a vote.

by Falsehood 2008-06-29 06:48PM | 0 recs
Re: Why Clark Has Standing to Challenge McCain

I got the sense from Clark making the comment that he doesn't like McCain very much; I might be wrong about this point but do you think it's possible that Clark resents the love that McCain gets when he is actually the more decorated military figure?

by Blazers Edge 2008-06-29 06:50PM | 0 recs
Re: Why Clark Has Standing to Challenge McCain

He might not like him personally , but he has spoken highly about his military career and service to the nation.

In most cases Clark speaks of his disagreement on substance and policy , in this case he went overboard in my opinion.

by lori 2008-06-29 06:57PM | 0 recs
Re: Why Clark Has Standing to Challenge McCain

I know Clark respect Mccain's military service a heck of a whole lot but statements like below is really cutting it close :

Said Clark: "I don't think getting in a fighter plane and getting shot down is a qualification to become president."

- Some would take that as such .

Folks close to Mccain ( eg his immediate family ) could take it that way .

Its a tricky situation when you cut so personally and its something that could more than likely backfire .

by lori 2008-06-29 06:54PM | 0 recs
RE: getting shot down does not make you qualified

This is out of context. General Clark did not just throw that out there out of the blue. He was asked about it directly.

"I have to say Barack Obama hasn't had any of those experience, either. And nor has he ridden in a fighter plane and gotten shot down"

Clark: "Well I don't think riding in a fighter plane and getting shot down is a qualification to be President."

If General Clark was a bit more savvy he wouldn't have left that vulnerability. He should have said, "well I don't think THAT is a qualification to be President."

Because when people see the word, "THAT", they would have to refer to the interviewer to see what "that" is.

by USArmyParatrooper 2008-06-30 10:14AM | 0 recs
Re: Why Clark Has Standing to Challenge McCain

I don't think he belittled his military service.  In fact, he honored it by calling him a hero.  What Clark did was question whether his military service is a qualification to be president.  Those are two very different things.

by pradeep 2008-06-30 07:53AM | 0 recs
VP audition?

If so, I wonder whether it's with or without the sanction of Camp Clinton.  Hard for me to believe that WC would angle if HRC wanted it.  Or perhaps he's running for a cabinet post?  Or maybe he's just supporting the candidate.

But good for him.  And shame on the McCain people for trying to bait and switch this.  Guess that's all they've got.

by Strummerson 2008-06-29 06:38PM | 0 recs
Re: VP audition?

I have a theory on why Clark said what he said and it is a little conspiratorial.  I got the sense that he may have been testing Obama to see whether Obama will throw him under the bus for the comment.  Could he have gotten the go-ahead for the attack from the Clintons as a way to see how Obama would react?  This is the first time I've ever heard anyone challenge in such a fashion and I find it coincidental that it came from someone who stuck with Hillary until the bitter end.

What may actually be true is that perhaps Clark simply doesn't like McCain personally; someone brought up in another diary that Clark has gone after McCain in a similar fashion before.

by Blazers Edge 2008-06-29 06:43PM | 0 recs
Re: VP audition?

I find that to be completely out of whack. He was on as a surrogate, and is statements weren't anything new.

by Falsehood 2008-06-29 06:49PM | 0 recs
Re: VP audition?

Yeah.  And then there is the fact that he's right.  The particular form of McCain's heroism is not evidence of superior qualification to lead the military and foreign policy.  The politics are interesting.  Your theory is delightfully West Wing-ish, which doesn't mean it's not plausible.  But Clark is right on the merits.  For all we know, Obama was looking for someone to put this in play and Clark was the right guy.  If so, then even if Obama distances himself, that could be part of the plan.

But AGAIN, regardless of all the sporting strategic gamesmanship that may or may not be in play, Clark is right and someone needed to say it.  Gotta make McCain run on his record in the Senate, particularly the past two years.

by Strummerson 2008-06-29 06:49PM | 0 recs
Re: VP audition?

Yeah, I'm getting a little conspiratorial but I thought the PSD hire was Obama testing Hillary to see if she would support the hire (she did issue a statement announcing her support for the hire).  Perhaps Clark's comments were instigated by Hillary giving Barack her own "test" before his meeting with Big Daddy?  It would be pretty bad-ass if all this stuff was occurring behind the scenes.

by Blazers Edge 2008-06-29 06:53PM | 0 recs
Give Clark credit

This whole line of thinking does a disservice to Clark.  He is very much his own man, is not angling for anything, probably would accept the offer if tendered to serve the country, but otherwise is content doing what he's doing.  He speaks only for himself, and to imply something else belittles him.  He's congenitally constituted to tell the truth, no matter what the consequences.

by stan81747 2008-06-30 08:09AM | 0 recs
Re: Why Clark Has Standing to Challenge McCain

I'm beginning to suspect that Clark is the leading candidate for Veep. He has been more and more visible lately. This latest issue could be a warm-up for the full election battle. Clark is positioning himself as the more qualified on military matters, which is true. His command of NATO makes him far more qualified than McCain's service record makes him.

by MS01 Indie 2008-06-29 07:25PM | 0 recs
Re: Why Clark Has Standing to Challenge McCain

I honestly have no problem with what Clark has said.  His arguments are solely about McCain's attempt to convince America that his military experience makes him the best person for the job.  I do agree that Obama should not wade into this argument, but Clark should definitely hammer away as long as he can.  

by Xris 2008-06-29 07:35PM | 0 recs
You are missing the point

The problem is that the McCain camp is trying to push the idea that Obama authorized Clark to make the statement because Clark was serving as an Obama surrogate.

McCain obviously doesn't want to present the argument between him an a four-star general who head of a NATO command force; he's trying to create the impression that Obama is the one responsible for the critique.

I may be making too big a deal of this issue and it may end up being a just a story on a slow Sunday.  If I were McCain, I'd push it and put Obama in the bind of having to defend Clark and look as if he was authorized the attack or throwing Clark under the bus, which will look pretty bad considering Clark's relationship with the Clintons and is set to meet with Big Daddy in the next 48 hours.

by Blazers Edge 2008-06-29 07:45PM | 0 recs
Re: You are missing the point

i get the sense it would still be in the news tomorrow

by lori 2008-06-29 07:57PM | 0 recs
Re: Why Clark Has Standing to Challenge McCain

I commende Gen. Clark. I greatly thank him for his attac yesterday.
The WSJ is leading on McCain's 'hero' record this morning.
Since McCain has said he is a 'hero' than his record should be examined. It should be opened up.

Tie this in with is graduation 4th from bottom and he does not looks.

Hit him every which way.

by Makey 2008-06-30 04:53AM | 0 recs
Re: Why Clark Has Standing to Challenge McCain

Hit him on his war crimes for bombing targets in Hanoi in the 1960s.

by Makey 2008-06-30 05:17AM | 0 recs
Don't go there

That's not going to work.  He was simply flying a mission assigned to him.  Lieutenant Commanders don't get to make decisions like that.

by stan81747 2008-06-30 08:05AM | 0 recs
Thanks for posting this

Good job!

by kevin22262 2008-06-30 07:13AM | 0 recs
CONTEXT: Bob Schieffer brought up fighter plane

Bob Schieffer: I have to say, Barack Obama has not had any of those experiences either, nor has he ridden in a fighter plane and gotten shot down. I mean-

GENERAL WESLEY CLARK: Well, I don't think riding in a fighter plane and getting shot down is a qualification to be President.

Bob Schieffer: Really?!

And actually what Clark was saying was that Obama didn't need THAT experience in order to qualify for the Presidency. The rest of this manufactured controversy is just that. By the people who sold you WMD and the Iraq War.

by SusanCLE 2008-06-30 07:35AM | 0 recs
Re: Why Clark Has Standing to Challenge McCain

Even NewsMax puts it in context, where the McCain campaign does not.  Clark's remarks were NOT about McCain's military service (which he admires) but about his experience as a commander.

Gen. Wesley Clark: McCain Lacks Command Experience

Sunday, June 29, 2008 9:00 PM

Retired Gen. Wesley Clark, a former Democratic presidential candidate now supporting Barack Obama, said Sunday John McCain's military service does not automatically qualify him to be commander in chief.

Underscoring during a national television appearance a position he has been expressing for several weeks, Clark said performing heroic military service is not a substitute for gaining command experience.

"In the matters of national security policy making, it's a matter of understanding risk," he said on CBS' "Face the Nation." "It's a matter of gauging your opponents and it's a matter of being held accountable. John McCain's never done any of that in his official positions. I certainly honor his service as a prisoner of war. He was a hero to me and to hundreds of thousands and millions of others in the armed forces, as a prisoner of war.

"He has been a voice on the Senate Armed Services Committee and he has traveled all over the world, but he hasn't held executive responsibility," Clark said. "That large squadron in the Navy that he commanded _ that wasn't a wartime squadron."

More

http://www.newsmax.com/insidecover/clark _mccain_experiance/2008/06/29/108401.htm l


by TxKat 2008-06-30 07:45AM | 0 recs
I've been saying this awhile

I think it's pretty risky to go after McCain's record, and the McCain camp is going to frame it as a Swift Boat-style attack (which McCain vocally condemned in 2004), but if there's anyone that could make this argument credibly, it's someone that McCain still technically has to call "sir" on military matters.

by Dracomicron 2008-06-30 08:37AM | 0 recs
right out of the bush-kerry playbook

attack your opponent of their strongest card- their service (which takes the attention from their own lack of service and question of patriotism).

it was not right with kerry and it's not right with clark v. mccain. come on, we're better than this.

by darwinism 2008-06-30 09:21AM | 0 recs
Re: Why Clark Has Standing to Challenge McCain

If Obama ever wanted to put his political career in the Clinton's hands there is no better way to do it.

My take is someone knows how to play the game and its not Obama....

by dtaylor2 2008-06-30 09:47AM | 0 recs
Re: Why Clark Has Standing to Challenge McCain
I think its an academic argument, that shouldn't be played out on political talk shows.  I like General Clark, but he's trying to be a politician.  We should remember, he's never won anything.  I think his premise is debatable, as all of one's life experiences can be applicable.  Obama claimed his visits to Pakistan and world exposure as experience.  Is he wrong to do it?  
I agree with others that Clark should come out and say he's simply expressing his own opinion, not that held in the Obama campaign.  If he wants to pursue this argugment, he can and should do so on his own, not as a surrogate for Obama.
by cycl06 2008-06-30 09:54AM | 0 recs
VoteVets Petition

VoteVets has a petition to support General Clark's statement.  Take a second to sign it!

Thank General Clark for His Straight Talk, Tell Him To Not Back Down

http://ga3.org/campaign/petitionclark

General Clark,

We the undersigned thank you for speaking up forcefully and honestly about what it takes to lead this nation, and the kind of judgment we must look for. You were right to say that Senator McCain has not shown good judgment, despite his extraordinary service to America. Just in the past few years:

- Senator McCain's service and experience, both as a POW and as a Senator apparently hasn't infused him with a dose of good judgment.

- Senator McCain's experience hasn't led him to realize that the war in Iraq and it's continuance has empowered and emboldened Iran, and destabilized the region.

- Senator McCain's experience hasn't caused him to recognize that we're losing ground in Afghanistan, and Osama bin Laden is still out there, plotting.

- Senator McCain's experience didn't lead him to support the 21st Century GI Bill -- he opposed it. It didn't even make him feel the need to get back to Washington to vote on this -- one of the most important veterans' bills this Congress. He twice skipped votes on the GI Bill, to fundraise.

- Senator McCain's experience didn't help him empathize with troops are overstretched and overdeployed, when he voted against the bipartisan Webb-Hagel "Dwell Time Amendment," which would have given troops as much time at home as in the field.

We all honor Senator McCain?s service, as you said you do. But that does not mean that on matters of security, the military, and veterans that he is beyond reproach. Nor does it mean that his service trumps the poor judgment he has shown in some of the most important issues of our time.

Do not back down, and keep treating the American people like adults who can handle a real, honest, and blunt debate in these important times.

by TxKat 2008-06-30 10:08AM | 0 recs
MCCAIN HIRED SWIFT BOAT VET FOR TRUTHSQUAD

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2008/06/30 /mccain-uses-swift-boat-ve_n_110003.html

And Clark has to be on the defensive??????

by Pravin 2008-06-30 10:36AM | 0 recs
Cluck cluck cluck

Now about that FISA bill Senator?

by activatedbybush 2008-06-30 10:38AM | 0 recs

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