For the at least the third time that I can remember, Wesley Clark has launched a scurrilous attack on John McCain’s military experience, this time on CBS’s “Face the Nation.”
Here’s how it went down:
“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. That large squadron in the Navy that he commanded — that wasn’t a wartime squadron,” Clark said.
“I don’t think getting in a fighter plane and getting shot down is a qualification to become president.”
Even if you get past the snide nature of Clark’s statements and try to give it as charitable a reading as possible, his arguments don’t hold up to much scrutiny.
The leadership attributes that McCain showed in commanding the Naval squadron were absolutely remarkable, all the more so because he achieved them after being released from five and a half years of captivity with severe injuries, after which most men would have put an end to their military careers.
Our own R. Emmett Tyrrell explained the episode in a recent column
In a 2000 feature story for the New York Times, Nicholas Kristof also offered details on this stage of McCain’s career:
Mr. McCain was no great shakes to look at himself. He was still troubled by two broken arms, a broken leg, a shattered knee and bayonet wounds. Few thought that he could ever fly again, but he was desperate to try.
So he signed up for an excruciating therapy. Twice a week, for two hours at a time, he would lie in a whirlpool bath with water as hot as he could stand, and then the physical therapist (he called her his physical terrorist) would force his knee to bend.
”In physical therapy, you measure pain on a scale of 1 to 10, with 10 being maximum, off the wall,” recalled the therapist, Diane Lawrence. ”Many times we got close to 10, and he would just put a hand over his face, and say, ‘Honey, that’s it.’ And we would stop for a while.”
Obsessed with his dream of flying again, Mr. McCain embraced the pain and never missed a therapy session, and never was late, Mrs. Lawrence said….
Mr. McCain won a coveted assignment as commanding officer of the Navy’s largest squadron, the Replacement Air Group in Jacksonville, Fla. This was Mr. McCain’s first chance to command men (and a few women), but the squadron had a mediocre record and parts shortages meant that only half the planes were flyable at any time.
”Inertia had set in,” recalled Carl Smith, then an instructor pilot in the squadron. ”We had some crusty old guys running maintenance, and they were masters at saying, ‘no, no, no.’ But then McCain came in and changed them overnight and brought in new people.”…
Officers recall that he would hurtle into the maintenance shops and start kidding the officers, peppering them with rapid-fire questions and jokes, urging them, scolding them and leaving them fired up. Mr. McCain learned the names of all the enlisted men so that he could tease them as vociferously as the officers, a mild breach of protocol that won their hearts.
They responded, and by the time he left the squadron in 1977, every single aircraft had left the disabled list — the last one, which had been out for two years, was restored on his next-to-last day.
Although plagued by fatal accidents in the past, the squadron had no fatalities under his command (a turkey buzzard that shattered the windshield of a student pilot’s plane almost changed that, but officers talked the pilot down safely), and won its first meritorious unit citation. Mr. McCain’s success attracted notice among the admirals in Washington.
Okay, so Clark has this ridiculously high threshold for what would qualify somebody as commander in chief that McCain doesn’t make the cut, and yet he’s endorsing Barack Obama to be president because of what? The military experience he gained as editor of the Harvard Law Review? The wartime executive skills he honed when he was trying to get asbestos removed from buildings as a community organizer?