Jim Webb, Wes Clark and John McCain's military service

This media clown show over comments about John McCain's military sevice by Wes Clark and JIm Webb has really gotten out of hand.  They didn't attack McCain's military service, they attacked the relevance of that service.  The relevant questions - e.g., the relevance of military service to Presidential candidates, the 180 these guys are making on that issue - are being ignored.  The media should be smart enough not to fall for the manufactured controversy they're currently covering.  Instead, reporters should be asking Wes Clark and Jim Webb when they suddenly decided that military service wasn't such a big deal and shouldn't be mentioned.  I addressed Gen. Clark's previous comments yesterday; Ramesh Ponnuru patiently explained the appropriate take on the Clark story today.

Now let's examine whether Jim Webb really believes that McCain needs to "get the politics out of the military [and] have our political arguments in other areas."   Here's a review of Webb's own record.

  • In his own 2006 Senate campaign, Jim Webb touted the importance of military experience...

    [W]hat you’re seeing here is, is a split between the theorists, who have controlled so much of the policy in this administration, theorists who have never been on a battlefield, who have never put a uniform on, and who are looking at this thing in a totally different way from people who have had to, to worry about their troops and themselves possibly coming under enemy hands.

  •  And again...

    “I know what it’s like to be on the ground. I know what it’s like to fight a war like this..."

  •  In 2004, Jim Webb criticized "those around Bush, many of whom came of age during Vietnam and almost none of whom served..."
  •  In 2000, during McCain's Presidential campaign, Jim Webb wrote an article about John McCain's military service and its relevance in the campaign.
  • In 1998, Jim Webb gave a speech in which he questioned the "new notion: that military service during time of war is not a pre-requisite for moral authority..."   He disagreed, calling lack of military service a "problem".

    I ... subscribe to a different view, in effect the reverse of that syllogism, because when it comes to leadership ... the logic is indeed the reverse: the hotter the fire, the tougher the steel, and the more reliable the leader. It has also created a vacuum of true understanding in the highest places. Today, for the first time since the United States became a major world power, none of the principals in the national security arena .. have served in the military. This problem might recede ... but it is unlikely to go away.

The media should not be trying to read "smears" into what Clark and Webb said.   Instead, they should be asking why they have suddenly reached these politically convenient new conclusions.

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I was thinking much the same thing when I heard Webb's comments this morning. I found it strange that military background has always been used as a political bonus...... until the candidate "they" support doesn't have a military background.


Absolutely right.  It cuts both ways of course.  In 92 and 96, military service is a huge deal for Republicans against "draft-dodger" Clinton.  Then in 00 and 04, suddently it turns completely as "draft-dodger" Bush is the Republican.  Now we've come full circle.  Nothing attracts political oppotunism like military service and this election will be no different. 

But you should be happy.  The advantage almost always falls to Republicans as we saw with Kerry v Bush.  Republicans are confident enough to attack the military service of Democrats but Democrats aren't brave or unified enough to do it.  Predictably, General Clark's service is now being attacked:

“General Clark probably wouldn’t get that much praise from this group,” Mr. Swindle said. “As high ranking as he is, his record in his last command was less than stellar.”

The Democrats are ridiculously ineffective in these arguments no matter the merits.

Only in left land

Does volunteering for a 4 year commitment to a unit that had difficulty filling slots because it specializes in the most hazardous type of flying (all weather interceptor), in a plane that was likened to a lawn dart for its safety record,  and was actively deployed at the time in conflict overseas, count as "draft dodging".

You see, most reasonable people don't see that as draft-dodging.    And, anyone familiar with how Reserve units function, didn't see any shred of truth in the follow up claims that he was AWOL.  

Yet, a man who volunteered to command boats which were not seeing combat, wound up in Vietnam because of an unforseen mission change, who admittedly abandoned his ship in battle to shoot a fleeing man in the back, who garnered the three purple hearts needed to go home in three months without serious injury, is a hero.   That he later, officially, slandered the men he left behind is of no consequence. 

What is tragic is the inability for the Democrats to see the difference.   Bush's service was neither a positive nor negative to republicans until it was attacked.  Then under scrutiny by reasonable people who know how the military operates,  it looked better.  Kerry's service was played up as his defining characteristic - reporting for duty and all that - and, in reality, it was better left unscrutinized.

Until the Dems, as a whole, see that difference, they need to stay away from military service as an issue.


Oh Please...

...listening to a Democrat talk about how military service should affect one's ability to be President of the US is like listening to a fish talk about riding a bicycle. 

Military service does not immune one from being viewed by the public as a posing blowhard.  Take Kerry for instance.  Or Wes Clark.   The basic problem with Democrats and the military is that it is completely obvious that Democrats neither value the military, nor honor those who serve.   Kerry was loved by the Dems because he dishonored those he served with in Viet Nam by claiming before Congress that they were all rapist and war criminals.  Wes Clark is loved by the Dems because he was willing to put USAEUR to work for the legacy of Bill Clinton.  They aren't admired because of their service, they are admired because they devalued their service.  And now both, and others, will be trotted before the American public trying to devalue John McCain's service.  No one's getting fooled here except the very same Democrats who were fooled into nominating Kerry.  They might as well show a clip of Webb and Wes saluting Obama and saying "Reporting for Duty!".  It looked retarded in 2004, and it will look retarded in 2008.