General Wesley Clark stepped on a land mine Sunday when he got on TV and questioned if McCain's experience in Vietnam really quallified him to be President. The statement quickly devolved from a reasonable question about what constitutes the requisate experience to be Commander and Chief to a process story about someone questioning McCain's patriotism and military record.
For the record I have the greatest respect for Senator McCain's long and valiant service to this country. There is no question in my mind of his valor and dedication to his country. There were ample chances for him to forgoe pain and suffering to come home from Vietnam. The fact that he did not is a testament to his patriotism.
However I think that GEN Clark has a point. To the best of my knowledge McCain was not a leader (in the formal command sense) while acting as a fighter pilot. While in prison he would have had some degree of leadership because of his rank, but it certainly was not command.
More than anything his military service while in the prison camp was a study in perseverance. The question that matters is, does that experience support his claims of supperior knowledge and leadership in war time. It is a question that each individual will have to answer for themself before the election. I'm personally not sold on it, and my problems with his policy positions doesn't help.
I think the second thing to remember on this set of remarks is that there is a process story. GEN Clark's name has been floated more than once as a good choice for V.P. He had one of the stronger runs for the Democratic nomination in 2004, even managed to win a few states before John Kerry locked up the nomination. Clark was also a Clinton supporter. To put the icing on the cake he was the Commander of NATO during the invation of Bosnia.
If he was trying to audition for the job this is certainly one way to do it. He has sufficent military command experience to question John McCain's executive experieince, and it shows him as the effective attack surrogate that the VP must now be after eight years of Mr. Cheney.
At the end of the day it the entire incident is was a good question fouled up by a mixed set of process interactions.