Here's What's in My Dirty Martini

Monday, March 3, 2008

The Right Kind of Military Experience – When the Generals Come Calling

Byron York, of the National Review Online, penned a piece on Sunday describing an attack by failed 2004 presidential candidate General Wesley Clark on John McCain. I don’t know Wes Clark but was in the military while he was (that’s kinda like saying I stayed in a Holiday Inn Express last night, eh?).

There was a recent conference call where some retired military leaders endorsed Hillary Clinton to be the next commander-in-chief. During that call Wes Clark made the following statement saying that McCain did not have the right kind of military experience:

In the national security business, the question is, do you have — when you have served in uniform, do you really have the relevant experience for making the decisions at the top that have to be made? Everybody admires John McCain's service as a fighter pilot, his courage as a prisoner of war. There's no issue there. He's a great man and an honorable man. But having served as a fighter pilot — and I know my experience as a company commander in Vietnam — that doesn’t prepare you to be commander-in-chief in terms of dealing with the national strategic issues that are involved. It may give you a feeling for what the troops are going through in the process, but it doesn't give you the experience first hand of the national strategic issues.

If you look at what Hillary Clinton has done during her time as the First Lady of the United States, her travel to 80 countries, her representing the U.S. abroad, plus her years in the Senate, I think she's the most experienced and capable person in the race, not only for representing am abroad, but for dealing with the tough issues of national security.”

As I recall, General Clark was fired from his role as the NATO Commander (although in the military it is rarely said that one was fired – they were reassigned). In my career in the military (I just hope it was the right kind of experience to be voicing my opinion here), my observation was always that one has to really screw up to be relieved of a command before the tour was over. That just wasn’t something that was (or is) done lightly. Nonetheless, Wes Clark was fired from NATO.

But worse is why he was relieved a year early. During the 2004 presidential primaries, retired Gen. Hugh Shelton, the former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, was asked if he would support retired Gen. Wesley Clark for president. He quickly took a drink of water. "That question makes me wish it were vodka," Shelton said. "I've known Wes for a long time. I will tell you the reason he came out of Europe early had to do with integrity and character issues, things that are very near and dear to my heart. I'm not going to say whether I'm a Republican or a Democrat. I'll just say Wes won't get my vote."

So, here is a guy relieved for “integrity and character” issues. This is not insignificant. And yet he thinks he knows what the right kind of military experience that is needed to be commander-in-chief.

But let’s look at what he said.

“But [McCain] having served as a fighter pilot — and I know my experience as a company commander in Vietnam — that doesn’t prepare you to be commander-in-chief in terms of dealing with the national strategic issues that are involved.”

First of all, Wes, how does being a company commander on the ground in Vietnam make one a better commander-in-chief than being a fighter pilot (I flew in jets in the Navy too)? Just what experience do you receive in a foxhole that others don’t? I might even say that McCain's experience in direct contact with the enemy on a daily basis makes him more qualified than the average grunt. After all, he was seeing them up close and personal.

But I’m curious as to how a foxhole provides you more “experience first hand of national strategic issues” than any other role in the military? The answer is – it doesn’t. So, tell me, Wes, how does being fired from NATO give you that experience?

Let’s look at past commanders-in-chief and see what in their career made them eligible to be our president and commander-in-chief. I won’t go back too far.

Woodrow Wilson, who led us into WWI, had NO military experience. Yet, he led the country into a war. He had been Governor of New Jersey, though.

Franklin Delano Roosevelt (can I use his middle name), who commanded the military during WWII, was the Assistant Secretary of the Navy for Wilson. That doesn’t really count for military experience since at that level you are really a politician trying to take care of the Navy. FDR had no time in uniform as far as I can tell.

Harry Truman was an artillery officer during WWI. So, we have the first US President in the 20th century to have both served in the military and to have led the military in a war. But, Truman wasn’t a company commander. Was his military experience the right kind? And we will never know but my guess is that if he hadn’t been FDR’s VP he would never have been president.

Dwight D. Eisenhower was a brilliant general in WWII. He led men in combat on a large scale. Unless you count the fact that he did start sending advisors to Vietnam he never led the military into a war as commander-in-chief. Did he have the right experience?

John Fitzgerald Kennedy (oops, there's that middle name again) was a PT boat skipper in WWII, not in a foxhole. He was courageous in saving his crew when they were sunk by a Japanese ship. Did that give him the right kind of military experience to lead us into Vietnam?

Lyndon Baines Johnson was Kennedy’s VP when he was assassinated. He, too, had been a naval reserve officer in WWII. Was this the right kind of military experience to keep us in Vietnam?

Richard Milhouse Nixon was also a naval reserve officer in the supply corps during WWII. Was that the right kind of military experience to lead us out of Vietnam?

Gerald Ford was another naval officer that served in WWII. Did he have the right kind of military experience? We’ll never know because he never led us in a war.

Jimmy Carter was also a naval officer and served primarily in the submarine service. Was this the right kind of military service to qualify as commander-in-chief? Let’s look at the Iranian hostage crisis to get that answer.

Ronald Reagan served in a motion picture unit during WWII because he was nearsighted and that excluded him from serving overseas. Was this the right kind of military experience?

George H. W. Bush was a navy pilot in WWII and was also shot down. Fortunately, he was rescued. But being a pilot like McCain, was that the right kind of military experience? Was he qualified to lead us to victory in Desert Storm?

William Jefferson Clinton never served in the military. Clark supports him and Hillary so what in their background gives them the right kind of military experience? WJC took us to Kosovo and Somalia. Was he qualified?

George W. Bush was a pilot in the Air National Guard. Was it the right kind of experience to be commander-in-chief?

My point here is that where I believe military experience is a plus for anyone to be our commander-in-chief, it isn’t really required. And if a candidate has military experience it really doesn’t matter what they did in the military. I just showed you a wide variety of military experience in the above past presidents, and some that had zero experience.

Whether or not a presidential candidate ever served in the military in any capacity is not that important to me. What is important is what they stand for and how well they can lead.

So Wes Clark is out to lunch on this. And to say that Hillary’s “ time as the First Lady of the United States, her travel to 80 countries, her representing the U.S. abroad, plus her years in the Senate” make her the most qualified person to be our next commander-in-chief is not only grossly idiotic but it gives credence to Gen. Shelton’s decision to fire him, and it should have been for more than Clark’s integrity and character flaws. After this comment he should add stupidity to the list of reasons.

And, Wes? Since when does military experience equate to right kind of domestic and economic expertise?


Woman Warrior

4 parts vodka
1 part blue curacao
1 part freshly squeezed lime

Shake with ice until very cold and strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with a lime.


Larry said...

Well said, sir. I also do not consider military service a pre-requisite for President. A major plus, but not an automatic qualifier or disqualifier, by any means.

The president ideally should have experience outside of politics. S/He should be well-educated, have personal integrity, and be capable of courageous decisions, informed decisions, even if the information has to come from advisors.

Chad said...

Uncharacteristically I am going to defend Clark just a little bit - I think he was saying that being a company commander didnt give him strategic experience.

That said Clark has always struck me as a ticket punching oppurtunistic turd and I have no doubt that he has integrity issues.

A-6Dude said...

Chad, upon reading it again you may be right in Clark's intent. The rest of your comments are right on for sure.

Dana said...

My mom would really love this blog and that is a compliment :)

A-6Dude said...

Dana, thanks for stopping by. I'm glad to know your mother would like this blog so send her the link. Hope you liked it, or at least found it interesting, and hope to see you back again.

Tamera Daun said...

You make excellent points here, a-6dude.