Wes Clark comments just a media tempest in a teapot

Wesley Clark
Wes Clark

Ret. Gen. Wesley Clark has been getting hammered, criticized, and repudiated for his comment yesterday on “Face the Nation” about Republican presidential nominee Sen. John McCain. Unfairly, I think.

Host Bob Schieffer said, “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 — .”

Clark replied, “Well, I don’t think riding in a fighter plane and getting shot down is a qualification to be president.”

End of story. Or it should have been. Talk about a tempest in a teapot! Stating the truth is not a crime; it’s not even a story. Being a pilot who gets shot down is not a qualification to be president. Military service of any kind is not a qualification. It never has been, and without a Constitutional amendment, it never will be. Yet McCain and his supporters are upset because they think McCain’s military service was being dissed. That’s not what Clark said. The Obama camp also was quick to repudiate Clark, because Republicans were saying Clark had spoken as an Obama surrogate. Clark is a Democrat, but has no connection to the Obama campaign and was, in fact, a Hillary supporter until she dropped out of the race.

The media have been going absolutely bananas over Clark’s remark, when there is absolutely no story there (not that they haven’t done this many times before). Clark himself is not backing away from the comment, nor should he. However clumsy he might have sounded, truth is his defense. The same cannot be said for the media pundits, who just can’t seem to stop fanning the flames of their own silliness.

Postscript, 7/1/2008: The following is the complete CBS transcript of the conversation between Wesley Clark and Bill Schieffer on yesterday’s “Face the Nation”:

SCHIEFFER: With us now from Little Rock, Arkansas, retired General Wesley Clark. He was for Hillary Clinton during the primaries. Once Hillary was out of it, he announced that he was supporting Barack Obama.And let’s get right to it here, General. You heard what Senator Lieberman said. He said that Barack Obama is simply more ready to be president than Barack Obama.

General WESLEY CLARK (Retired; Obama Supporter): Well, I think–I think Joe has it exactly backwards here. I think being president is about having good judgment, it’s about the ability to communicate. As one of the great presidential historians, Richard Neustadt, said, `The greatest power of the presidency is the power to persuade.’ And what Barack Obama brings is incredible communication skills, proven judgment. You look at his meteoric rise in politics and you see a guy who deals with people well, who understands issues, who brings people together and who has good judgment in moving forward. And I think what we need to do, Bob, is we need to stop talking about the old politics of left and right and we need to pull together and move the country forward. And I think that’s what Barack Obama will do for America.

SCHIEFFER: Well, you went so far as to say that you thought John McCain was, quote, and these are your words, “untested and untried.” And I must say, I had to read that twice, because 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 lo these many years.

How can you say that John McCain is untested and untried, General?

Gen. CLARK: 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 of 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. That large squadron in the Navy that he commanded wasn’t a wartime squadron. He hasn’t been there and ordered the bombs to fall. He hasn’t seen what it’s like when diplomats come in and say, `I don’t know whether we’re going to be able to get this point through or not. Do you want to take the risk? What about your reputation? How do we handle it publicly?’


Gen. CLARK: He hasn’t made those calls, Bob. So…

SCHIEFFER: Well, General, maybe–could I just interrupt you?

Gen. CLARK: Sure.

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…

Gen. CLARK: Well, I don’t think riding in a fighter plane and getting shot down is a qualification to be president.


Gen. CLARK: But Barack is not–he is not running on the fact that he has made these national security pronouncements, he’s running on his other strengths. He’s running on the strengths of character, on the strengths of his communication skills, on the strengths of his judgment, and those are qualities that we seek in our national leadership.

SCHIEFFER: Well, let me ask you this. Senator Obama announced yesterday that he’s going to Europe and to the Middle East. Most people think that he’ll probably stop off in Iraq, where he hasn’t been in more than two years. Why now?

Gen. CLARK: I think this is a good opportunity. It’s a window of time. The convention is late in the calendar this year and he’s got the window of time to go overseas, meet with foreign leaders. You know, we were meeting with him the other day and as he said, he doesn’t want to count his chickens before he–before they hatch, but he recognizes this country is in such a plight both at home and abroad that no one can contemplate taking the office of the presidency without having some very good ideas about what needs to be done from the get-go. There’s not a learning period in this job.

The next president’s going to have to step right into the job, he’s going to have to have the policies there. And I think Barack is taking a very sensible view of this by going abroad and meeting firsthand the leaders at this critical moment in times of America’s needs abroad.

SCHIEFFER: General, what do you think would be the impact, let’s say, on Iran, on the neighborhood around Iraq if in fact Senator Obama’s elected and he does announce that he’s going to bring back the troops on a specific time schedule? As Senator Lieberman said, he’s totally discounting things that could happen along the way. Would he follow that schedule no matter what?

Gen. CLARK: I don’t think Barack Obama is discounting things that have happened along the way. I think the critique is more like this, Bob, that the Bush administration and Joe Lieberman in the forefront have, from the beginning, relied excessively on military force as the answer to all the nation’s security problems. And what Barack Obama understands is that military force may have to be used as a last resort, but it’s not the first resort. So let’s take the case of Iraq. This administration went to a war it didn’t really have to fight. Barack Obama called it like it was at the time, in a speech early on, before we went into Iraq. And once there, the administration relied excessively on the men and women in uniform. It failed to put in place the overarching diplomatic strategy and the regional strategy that was necessary to deal with Iraq’s neighbors. It more or less invited Iranian incursions by threatening that Iran and Syria were next on the hit list in military actions and efforts in the region, without having an effective strategy in the region. So, when we talk about troop withdrawals from Iraq, yes, I think the major muscle movement for the United States needs to be less reliance on military power and more reliance on all the other tools of US power, including diplomacy.

So it’s within that vein that Barack Obama is talking about pulling troops back from Iraq. It doesn’t mean that he’s not going to be sensitive to other actions in the region. He’s going to be much more sensitive to those actions than the kind of mechanistic, militaristic response that John McCain has habitually given. What I think you’ll see from an Obama…

SCHIEFFER: Could I ask…

Gen. CLARK: …campaign is a regional strategy that does include dialogue with all of Iraq’s neighbors and in which the military component is one part of an overarching strategy to protect American interests.

SCHIEFFER: Do you think that Barack Obama is going to put Hillary Clinton on the ticket? Would that be a good thing, General?

Gen. CLARK: I’d love to see Hillary Clinton on that ticket. But I have a lot of respect for Hillary. I’ve known her for a long time, I think she’s an outstanding person. But I think that’s a decision that Barack Obama himself is going to have to make, and I’m sure he’s weighing that decision.

SCHIEFFER: All right. Well, General, thanks so much for being with us this morning.

Gen. CLARK: Thank you.

SCHIEFFER: Hope we can talk to you again along the way.

Gen. CLARK: Thank you, Bob.

2 thoughts on “Wes Clark comments just a media tempest in a teapot

  1. As a former general who ran for president in 2004 under the platform of military experience, Gen. Clark should not have made this comment. He could have at least worded it differently. Military experience is not a qualification for president, but shouldn’t be made a target for belittlement. I like the guy, but this is totally unacceptable.
    While I appreciated the distinctions he was trying to make, I agree that he should have stayed away from the subject altogether, particularly since he was a general. He should have known better.

  2. I think that the thing that has some people up in arms about this statement is that it seemed to be said, to somehow lessen McCain in order to build up Obama. The fact, as the interviewer pointed out, that Obama doesn’t have the experience that Clark criticized McCain for not having. And the feeble offer of good communication skills and judgment (where’s the demonstration of this?) as to why Obama is a better candidate was weak and really non-sensical.

    He didn’t have go after McCain in that way in order to talk up Obama. In short, it just seemed like a cheap shot and that is probably why people got bent out of shape about it.

    I don’t think he was speaking as an Obama surrogate, as McCain supporters claim, but more as a surrogate wannabe. He tripped over his own ambition to be Obama’s veep.

... and that's my two cents