The controversy over my colleague General Wesley Clark's comments on John McCain have generated a lot of media comment, much of it negative. I have known General Clark for many years: we served in the same Army and for the same country. He's a patriot. So to suppose that somehow Wesley Clark would denigrate John McCain's service to his country, while praising his bravery during the time that Senator McCain spent in an enemy prison, is absolutely ludicrous. So let's check the facts.
On CBS's Face the Nation, General Clark said that he believed John McCain was "untried and untested." Journalist Bob Schieffer asked him to explain what he meant. How could Clark make such a claim when "you're talking about somebody who was a prisoner of war? He was a squadron commander of the largest squadron in the Navy. He's been on the Senate Armed Services Committee for many years. How can you say that John McCain is un-untested and untried?" And here's General Clark's answer:
Because in the matters of national security policy making, it's a matter of understanding risk. 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 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.
As a retired military officer and a soldier who served his country for over thirty years, I can tell you that there's nothing in what Wes Clark said with which I disagree. He has not only stated the facts, he knows something about them. John McCain was a prisoner of war, an officer who served as a squadron commander, and has been and is a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee. John McCain can put his service to country up against anyone's. But General Clark has served also -- and with great courage: he was wounded four times in Vietnam -- and like John McCain, he has met and seen the enemy.
Is what Wesley Clark said true? Let's check some other facts: John McCain made claims about progress in security by walking through the streets of Baghdad. But as I recall, he was protected by at least a platoon of American soldiers and helicopters lying overhead. In matters of national security, as General Clark pointed out, "it's a matter of understanding risk," and it's "gauging your opponents;" and it's also a "matter of being held accountable."
So I too honor John McCain. And, like General Clark, I acknowledge his sacrifice for his country. But being a prisoner of the Vietnamese and serving on the Senate Armed Services Committee does not automatically qualify one for the position of Commander-in-Chief -- understanding risks, gauging your opponents and being held accountable does. We must end this glib obeisance to sacrifice and ask deeper questions: is a man who sings "bomb, bomb, bomb ... bomb, bomb Iran" a man who understands risks? Is a man who says that we must keep our troops in Iraq until we achieve an ill-defined "victory" really know how to gauge America's opponents. If we want to hold people accountable, then let's stand behind my friend Wes Clark -- and hold John McCain accountable for what he's said.
Oh, and one more thing: today President Bush signed the GI Bill -- which Senator Barack Obama has unstintingly supported. The bill will spend $63 billion over ten years for increased college aid for military service members and veterans who served after September 11, 2001. Good judgment?
John McCain opposed it.