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. Trump reveals that he didn't record Comey after all


    WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump declared Thursday he never made and doesn't have recordings of his private conversations with ousted former FBI director James Comey, ending a monthlong guessing game that he started with a cryptic tweet and that ensnared his administration in yet more controversy.

    President Donald Trump said Thursday that he didn’t record his conversations with James Comey.
  2. Lightning fans, don't get attached to your first-round draft picks

    Lightning Strikes

    CHICAGO — When Lightning GM Steve Yzerman announces his first-round pick tonight in the amateur draft at No. 14, he'll invite the prospect onto the stage for the once-in-a-lifetime photo opportunity.

    Tampa Bay Lightning left wing Jonathan Drouin (27) eludes  Montreal Canadiens left wing Phillip Danault (24) during the second period of Wednesday???‚??„?s (12/28/16) game between the Tampa Bay Lightning and the Montreal Canadiens at the Amalie Arena in Tampa.
  3. Investigation Discovery TV show profiles 2011 Landy Martinez murder case


    The murder of a St. Petersburg man will be featured this week on a new true crime series Murder Calls on Investigation Discovery.

    Jose Adame sits in a Pinellas County courtroom during his 2016 trial and conviction for first-degree murder. Adame was convicted of first-degree murder last year for torturing and then executing his boyfriend as he pleaded for his life in 2011. Now it will be featured in a new true crime series Murder Calls on Investigation Discovery. The episode will air on June 26 at 9 p.m. [DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD   |   Times]
  4. Uhuru mayoral candidate Jesse Nevel protests exclusion from debate


    ST. PETERSBURG — Jesse Nevel, the International People’s Democratic Uhuru Movement candidate for mayor, on Thursday demanded that he be allowed to participate in a July 25 televised debate between incumbent Mayor Rick Kriseman and challenger Rick Baker.

    Mayoral candidate Jesse Nevel holds a news conference outside the headquarters of the Tampa Bay Times on Thursday to protest his exclusion from the mayoral debate. Nevel is a member of the International People’s Democratic Uhuru Movement.
  5. Lightning GM Steve Yzerman also has top-9 wing on his wish list

    Lightning Strikes

    CHICAGO — Much has been made about the Lightning's interest in bolstering its blue line, even after last week's acquisition of defense prospect Mikhail Sergachev.

    Tampa Bay Lightning general manager Steve Yzerman gestures as he speaks to the media about recent trades during a news conference before an NHL hockey game against the Carolina Hurricanes Wednesday, March 1, 2017, in Tampa, Fla. The Lightning, over the past few days, have traded goaltender Ben Bishop to the Los Angeles Kings, forward Brian Boyle to the Toronto Maple Leafs, and forward Valtteri Filppula to the Philadelphia Flyers. (AP Photo/Chris O'Meara) TPA101