Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Clark jab overlooks McCain's command stint

WASHINGTON — Retired Gen. Wesley Clark threw a rhetorical grenade into the campaign this week with the suggestion that Sen. John McCain's military experience does not necessarily qualify him to be president.

On CBS's Face the Nation on Sunday, Clark praised McCain for being "a hero" and acknowledged the Arizona senator had extensive experience as a member of the Armed Services Committee.

"But," Clark said, "he hasn't held executive responsibility."

McCain's campaign quickly fired back. Friends and colleagues who have known McCain since his days in the Navy said he is well qualified to be commander in chief.

Yet Clark, a Democrat who has endorsed Barack Obama, had zeroed in on a weakness in McCain's resume. He served 22 years in the Navy, and 26 in Congress, but McCain, 71, has not been a mayor, a governor or a chief executive. He did serve as commanding officer of a large pilot training group after he returned from Vietnam. Clark dismissed that as an inconsequential noncombat assignment.

"He hasn't been there and ordered the bombs to fall," Clark said.

• • •

McCain's political career has been entirely in the legislative branch, so — though he oversees a staff of about 60 — he is a legislator, not an executive.

McCain's naval career is legend: He graduated from the Naval Academy in 1958, became a fighter pilot and was shot down over North Vietnam, where he was a POW for 5 1/2 years.

After he returned to the United States, McCain served at the air group in the role he cites as his executive experience. His 13-month command of Replacement Air Group 174 in Jacksonville shows how he manages and provides clues about what he might be like as president.

In 1975, McCain became executive officer of the group, which trained pilots and crew members for aircraft carrier service. The RAG, as it was known, had 1,000 people and 75 planes, the Navy's largest aviation squadron.

Eyebrows were raised when he became commanding officer a few months later. Some suspected favoritism because he was the son and grandson of famous Naval officers.

But according to people who served under McCain in the training group, he earned high marks for invigorating a unit that had been struggling with a fleet of broken planes.

"He was very inspirational," said Bob Stumpf, a student pilot at the RAG who later led the Navy's Blue Angel team. "He was always personally involved. He didn't hide in his office."

Carl Smith, who served as a flight instructor with the group and is a Washington lawyer and lobbyist, said McCain was a savvy manager who got rid of ineffective employees, hired talented people, set goals and kept his workers motivated.

"He gave the old crowd a chance to perform. When they didn't, he fired them," said Smith.

McCain inherited a squadron that had many crippled planes. He set a goal of getting them all repaired and achieved it in just more than a year.

• • •

Clark's larger point is correct: McCain has accomplished a lot in his career, but has little executive experience. But Clark, who ran for president in 2004, was incorrect to say McCain "hasn't held executive responsibility." McCain not only held an executive post over a large training unit, but earned positive reviews. When McCain departed, the unit was given its first Meritorious Unit Citation.

Washington bureau chief Bill Adair can be reached at or (202) 463-0575.

The statement

John McCain "hasn't held executive responsibility."

— Wesley Clark, Sunday, on CBS's Face the Nation.

The ruling

McCain was commanding officer of Replacement

Air Group 174 in Jacksonville after he returned

from Vietnam. He managed a staff of 1,000

and oversaw a fleet of 75 planes.

Clark jab overlooks McCain's command stint 07/02/08 [Last modified: Saturday, July 5, 2008 12:34am]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Tampa Bay Super Bowls: A brief history and some predictions for 2021


    At last, Tampa will host a Super Bowl again. It used to be that the Cigar City would host one a decade, but by the time February 2021 rolls around, it will have been 12 years since the epic showdown between the Steelers and Cardinals in 2009. Because it has been awhile, let's revisit those past Super Bowls while also …

    New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, left, holds the AFC Championship trophy? as he celebrates with head coach Bill Belichick after the AFC championship NFL football game, Sunday, Jan. 22, 2017, in Foxborough, Mass. The Patriots defeated the the Pittsburgh Steelers 36-17 to advance to the Super Bowl.? (AP Photo/Matt Slocum) FBO247
  2. Sputtering Rays keep falling one run short

    The Heater

    ST. PETERSBURG — Even going into play against the Angels on Tuesday just a game under .500 at 23-24, the Rays have some issues they have to resolve.

    Rays starter Alex Cobb waits for Mike Trout to finish his trot after homering to give the Angels a 2-0 lead.
  3. Analysis: Manchester attack was exactly what many had long feared


    LONDON — For Britain's security agencies, London always seemed like the likely target. For years, the capital of 8 million with hundreds of thousands of weekly tourists and dozens of transit hubs had prepared for and feared a major terror attack.

  4. Dade City man dies after crashing into county bus, troopers say

    Public Safety

    ZEPHYRHILLS — A 38-year-old man died Tuesday after colliding into the rear of a county bus on U.S. 301, the Florida Highway Patrol said.

  5. Suspicious device at Pinellas Park home was a spent artillery round, police say

    Public Safety

    PINELLAS PARK — Bomb squad investigators determined that a "suspicious device" found at a Pinellas Park home Tuesday afternoon was a spent artillery round, police said.