June 30, 2008

An Unusual Attack on McCain Retired General Says Republican is Wanting in Experience ELECTIONS 2008

By Brian Knowlton

Jeff Zeleny contributed reporting from Washington.


With Senator Barack Obama planning to visit the Middle East and Europe in an apparent effort to burnish his foreign policy credentials, the credentials of his likely presidential rival, Senator John McCain, came under sharp attack Sunday from a man considered a possible Democratic vice presidential candidate.

The retired general Wesley Clark said McCain had not "held executive responsibility" and had not commanded troops in wartime.

McCain's experience in Vietnam, where he was a prisoner of war for five years, has seemed at times almost to grant him invulnerability to criticism of his security background. But on Sunday he was assailed by a fellow military man, a highly decorated one who was once the NATO supreme commander.

McCain frequently points out that he led "the largest squadron in the U.S. Navy," but Clark said on CBS television that that was not enough to support a claim to the presidency.

"He hasn't been there and ordered the bombs to fall" as a wartime commander, the general said on CBS. Clark is mentioned as a possible Obama running mate, although he originally supported Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton.

When the interviewer, Bob Schieffer, noted to Clark that McCain had been shot down over Hanoi, Clark replied, "I don't think riding in a fighter plane and getting shot down is a qualification to be president."

When Schieffer then asked what executive responsibility Obama had held - the Democrat's resume includes work as a community organizer in Chicago and eight years in the Illinois legislature - Clark said that Obama was running on the strength of his character and good judgment.

The exchange came a day after the Obama campaign announced its foreign travel plans and as two minor-party candidates - Bob Barr, a Libertarian, and Ralph Nader, an independent - enjoyed rare appearances on the Sunday talk shows.

Obama's two foreign trips in July will be his first as a presidential candidate. The presumptive Democratic nominee will visit Jordan, Israel, Germany, France and Britain. His second trip is expected to include stops in Iraq and Afghanistan, but aides have declined to disclose details for security reasons.

It will be Obama's second tour of Iraq and his fourth international trip since being elected to the U.S. Senate in 2004.

McCain has sought to make foreign policy experience a central campaign issue and has criticized Obama for not visiting Iraq more. McCain has visited Iraq several times.

But Obama has declined an invitation from McCain to visit Iraq together, calling it a "political stunt."

McCain made one of his sharper assaults on Obama's character, telling Republican donors in Louisville that "apparently on several items, Senator Obama's word cannot be trusted."

Surrogates for both candidates accused the other Sunday of "flip- flopping."

Barr and Nader, as minor-party candidates in a system built around two-party dominance, get little coverage, and polls show them drawing perhaps a combined 7 percent of the vote. But that could make a difference.

Many Democrats still blame Nader for costing Al Gore the presidency in 2000, and Republicans have urged Barr not to run, lest he draw crucial votes from McCain.

On Sunday, both men defended their right to run and tore into the policies of the major-party candidates.

Nader, who drew headlines recently by suggesting that Obama was trying to "talk white," quoted with seeming approval a comment from a black political scientist, Adolph Reed Jr., that Obama seemed to be a "vacuous opportunist." Nader portrayed Obama as changeable and too close to "corporate America."

"He's backed off on so many things," Nader said on ABC. He accused Obama of pandering to Israel and said Obama's promise of withdrawal from Iraq would still leave thousands of troops there.

But, asked the moderator, George Stephanopoulos, would Obama not be a better president for someone of Nader's pro-consumer background and liberal beliefs?

"Anybody would be better than the Republicans," Nader said.

Barr, a former Republican congressman from Georgia, said unapologetically that if he helped elect Obama it would be because the Illinois senator had presented a vision that resonated with voters.

It remains unclear how muscular a campaign Barr will be able to run. Wallace said Barr had raised only a minuscule $300,000. Barr, however, said that his campaign would begin in earnest only after July 4.

Originally published by The New York Times Media Group.

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