Thursday, July 3, 2008

John McCain's war record

General Wesley Clark, former NATO commander and possible Democratic Vice Presidential candidate

In the last few days a controversy has emerged in the US when when retired General Wesley Clarke did what I think many have wanted to do for a while now. He called into question whether John McCain's experience in Vietnam specifically adds to his qualifications to be President. Up until now McCain has been seen as pretty much untouchable when it comes to military affairs. Nobody ever thought to question his national security credentials. But General Clark, a former Democratic presidential candidate and current Obama advisor on foreign policy has done just that. Watch the clip below.

What General Clark in my opinion rightly says is that the act of getting shot down and spending 5 years in a POW camp does not in itself indicate anything significant about McCains ability to command large armies. It does indicate much about McCains bravery and commitment to his country.

A picture of John McCain being dragged from a lake after being shot down above Hanoi in 1967

What Clark stresses is that the ultimate skill of the presidency is understanding American power and knowing when it is appropriate to use it. McCain in his support of the war and his general rhetoric toward Iran and Russia in combination with his indifference toward Americas allies shows an arrogance of power. Clark and Obama understand that American power is about using the political and economic might of America to "build a strategy" and get results. In fact using military power shows a weakness because as Clark puts it "power is about being able to persuade people".

The difference between these two positions in practise is massive. On the one hand you have McCain who wants to stay in Iraq for 100 years and bomb Iran while he is on a role. Obama on the other hand wants to to open up a dialogue with the Iranians and the Syrians in order to stabilise Iraq. He wants to use Americans economic and military power to "Persuade" the Iranians to abandon their nuclear programme and he wants to initiate a massive diplomatic offensive in the holy land between Israelis and Palestinians. The American electorate will decide in November which path is taken.

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