Monday, June 30, 2008

Diverging views on General Wesley Clark

I've been writing about Wesley Clark for years, including his delegate count as of February 10, 2004, his identification as an alien-human hybrid, and, least notably, his non-existent call-in to a non-existent radio show. Sample lines from the transcript of the latter:

General Clark, do you believe that President Bush should be doing more to solve the grocery strike?

[WESLEY] He wasn't a general!

[IMA] Vote for Dean, don't vote Green!

[WESLEY] Howard Dean wasn't a general! I'm a general!

Fast forward four-plus years, to a post from Sharon Cobb, who actually watches the Sunday news programs:

[T]he credentials of [Obama's] likely presidential rival, Senator John McCain, came under sharp attack Sunday from a man considered a possible Democratic vice presidential candidate.

The retired general Wesley Clark said McCain had not "held executive responsibility" and had not commanded troops in wartime.

McCain's experience in Vietnam, where he was a prisoner of war for five years, has seemed at times almost to grant him invulnerability to criticism of his security background. But on Sunday he was assailed by a fellow military man, a highly decorated one who was once the NATO supreme commander.

Cobb entitled her post "I So Love 4 Star General Wesley Clark, Who Is Actually Qualified To Explain Why McCain Isn't Ready To Lead."

I shared Cobb's post in my Google Reader Shared Items, and the conversation shifted to FriendFeed. Some agreed with Cobb:

Me = retired army. I will take Gen. Clark's service over McCain's any day as resume material for command. I don't personally know a single vet who would not, nor a single vet who is not sick and tired of McCain's 'I was POW, so there' discussion ending statements. We have INCREDIBLE respect for your service and suffering as a POW, Sen McCain, but stop using it as a logical arguement for the Presidency. - Michael W. May via twhirl

Some were not quite sure that Clark was the guy to be casting stones:

Michael, as a vet who knows a lot of other vets, including some I served with who served under Clark in Bosnia, I haven't met a single vet who would vote for Clark for dogcatcher. - Jeff Quinton

Quinton provided a link to a 1999 David Hackworth article about Clark:

For sure, Clark is one of the smartest guys ever to wear four stars. He finished number one in his West Point class, graduated with honors from Oxford and the National War College, was a war hero in Vietnam and as a young captain was earmarked as general officer material.

But among mud soldiers, he's known as a guy who never paid his dues with the troops in the trenches and doesn't understand the nitty- gritty of war or what motivates warriors down at the bayonet level. He's like a doctor who's brilliant at theory but dangerous with a scalpel because he hasn't been there and done that long enough to learn the skills of the trade. In 33 years of service, Clark spent only seven and one- half years in command with troops from platoon to division level-- barely enough time to learn what makes a tank platoon tick. The rest of his service was as a staff weenie, an aide, a student, at the White House or at some fat cat headquarters....

The troops call his sort "Perfumed Princes," brass known for their micromanagement bias and slavish focus on "show over go" and covering their tails with fancy footwork.

Needless to say, I liked that line.

CHROMEO - Fancy Footwork

So anyways, before the Republicans all cry that perfumed princes are all idiots, and the Democrats all cry that experienced generals can provide wise guidance to the nation, let's take a look at one of the OTHER names that David Hackworth drops:

The CEO managers started taking over from the warrior leaders during the Korean War. Slowly, the Alexander Haigs and Bernard Rogers replaced the Hank Emersons and James Hollingsworths.

Alexander Haig? Mr. "I'm in charge"? Will those who talk about the wisdom of General Clark also cite the wisdom of General Haig?

The fact is, while we have had several generals who have served as President of the United States, service as a general does not necessarily qualify someone to serve as President. In fact, I'd be willing to bet that the two Senators who are the leading candidates know more about how the Presidency should operate than any active or retired general - Wesley Clark, Colin Powell, take your pick.

It's not that general are unfamiliar with politics - there's a whole bunch of politics that goes on in the military - but there's a different dynamic in the White House environment vs. the military environment. When Alexander Haig served as Chief of Staff, he was able to tell people to do things. When he became Secretary of State, this became a little more difficult. Here's the story of one general who learned that the Presidency required a whole new way of thinking:

President George Washington was aware that his every action would have significant consequences for the success of the new government and he predicted that the making of appointments would be among his most difficult duties. In selecting nominees, Washington turned to his closest advisers and to members of Congress, but the president resolutely insisted that he alone would be responsible for the final selection....

On August 5, 1789, the Senate, for the first time, rejected a nomination and in so doing, established the tradition of "senatorial courtesy." Two days earlier, President Washington had submitted 102 appointments as collectors, naval officers, and surveyors to seaports. The Senate readily agreed to all but one -- Benjamin Fishbourn of Georgia. Earlier in his career Fishbourn had offended James Gunn, who in 1789 had become one of Georgia's two senators. This seemed to have been Fishbourn's only shortcoming. In rejecting him, the Senate shared the view of some of the Constitution's framers that senators were best qualified to judge the fitness of nominees from their states.

As Senators Obama and McCain well know, a President is unable to court-martial a Senator for insubordination.

Let's wrap up the Clark story. My little FriendFeed thread wasn't the only place where Clark's words were being debated. Politics USA:

Host Bob Schieffer said that Barack Obama hasn’t had these experiences either, nor has he ridden in a fighter plane and gotten shot down. Clark replied that, “I don’t think getting in a fighter plane and getting shot down is a qualification to become president.” With one swoop, Clark attacked the entire basis for the McCain presidential campaign....

I am glad that somebody finally had the guts to stand up and challenge the Republican Party and their faux patriotism. For too long Democrats have cowered at the prospect of being labeled un-American, so it was refreshing to see Wesley Clark finally step up and challenge these GOP myths. Now I am left to wonder if Clark just elevated himself on Obama’s VP short list.

Meanwhile, Donklephant entitled a post Wesley Clark, Please Remove Foot From Mouth.

But the last word belongs to Barack Obama:

Obama, citing the political divide still lingering from the Vietnam War, said that he will not question the patriotism of others and would "not stand idly by" when his own patriotism is questioned. A little bit later, in a comment that seemed to have Clark in its sights, Obama said:

"Beyond a loyalty to America’s ideals, beyond a willingness to dissent on behalf of those ideals, I also believe that patriotism must, if it is to mean anything, involve the willingness to sacrifice -– to give up something we value on behalf of a larger cause. Now for those who have fought under the flag of this nation -– for the young veterans ... I meet when I visit Walter Reed; for those like John McCain who have endured physical torment in service to our country –- no further proof of such sacrifice is necessary. Let me also add that no one should ever devalue that service, especially for the sake of a political campaign, and that goes for supporters of both sides. We must always profess our profound gratitude for the service of our men and women in uniform, period."

OK, I said Obama had the last word, but I'll give one more word to Michael W. May. When I stated some of the above ideas (re the difference between a general and a President) in the FriendFeed thread, May replied:

And you just made my point that McCain's service record cannot be off limits for review nor used as an all important qualifier for office. And yes, neither can Clark's. But it is McCain who uses it thus. - Michael W. May via twhirl

To be continued? Respond below or on FriendFeed.

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