The speculation about Barack Obama's running mate seems to overlook the candidate most likely to challenge John McCain's credentials as a national security expert. Senator Jim Webb of Virginia enticed the pundits for weeks, but he dismissed himself from consideration. The focus then turned on other candidates with limited wartime experience in Vietnam. That leaves only one visible figure who could legitimately neutralize the questionable assertions by McCain that he is the sole national security expert in the campaign.
The real deal is retired General Wesley Clark whose battlefield credentials truly are impressive. He would help Obama's run for the White House enormously and neutralize McCain's exaggerated claim to expertise as a military expert. At West Point, Clark ranked high in his graduating class compared to McCain's ranking at the bottom of his at the U.S. Naval Academy. Clark was battle-tested and wounded four times in Vietnam for which he received a Purple Heart and a Silver Star. Eventually, he turned to academia as a Rhodes Scholar in England. He also was the NATO commander in Bosnia, commander of Supreme Headquarters of the Allied Powers in Europe and head of the U.S. Southern Command.
In short, he has been responsible as a commander of large forces that McCain never has. When American military experience was needed to face the diplomatic and military challenges that emerged in the heart of Europe, Clark was the man NATO turned to unquestionably. As a military strategist and one who truly understands national security issues, he would bring far greater knowledge of military and diplomatic savvy to the debate than McCain ever could.
McCain's credentials are limited to his having been a fighter-bomber pilot who was shot down over North Vietnam and imprisoned as a POW for seven years. Despite the claims of his supporters, McCain was a survivor, not a hero. He did indeed resist Communist attempts to turn him for propaganda purposes which is what every U.S. officer is expected to do under the Military Code of Conduct and he did so despite the painful wounds he suffered when his naval aircraft was shot down in the center of Hanoi. His only other military knowledge has been accumulated as a member of the House and Senate in the U.S. Congress and as the son and grandson of U.S. admirals.
I say this, neither to embarrass or belittle John McCain's service to his country. But the Republicans' presidential hopeful has shown no sign of understanding the changing dynamics in Iraq. The political power structure there wants us out. But McCain shows no sign of changing his mind. He wants the U.S. to stay the course and continually talks of "winning" the war; remaining there for 50 years, if necessary. That is not what this campaign needs. It is not what the American people want either, faced as they are with a multitude of economic problems at home.
There's no evidence that Barack Obama has it right either with his focus on Afghanistan, a position I questioned earlier last week. What the voters will demand before this campaign is over is some straight talk. Both candidates need to recognize that the public is war weary pointless military adventures.
Perhaps a general like Wesley Clark might be the sobering ticket for Obama. If there is one thing I've learned from covering a dozen wars it is that the men in uniform at the highest level more often than not can recognize a quagmire when they see it.