No matter who wins the Democratic nomination, he or she will be facing a decorated war hero, former prisoner-of-war, son and grandson of admirals, who speaks with such fluency and emotion when discussing the U.S. military, that he virtually owns the issue. Neither Obama nor Clinton can match John McCain’s military credentials, but they can lessen the impact by turning to a decorated military hero for their vice-presidential slot. We have already looked at the potential candidacy of Virginia Sen. Jim Webb but there are other prominent former generals who not only bring a military credential to the table but, critically, who opposed the Iraq war. The importance of this last concern cannot be overstated. McCain will try to defend the decision to go to war in Iraq, and its continued prosecution, as both a test of patriotism and martial vigor. Only a general who opposed the war from the start can effectively challenge McCain on both points. General Wesley Clark ran for president in 2004. His campaign was a comedy of errors from start to finish. I know. I left my job of 17 years to move to Little Rock and work for Clark. His message was entirely muddled. Our pollster did focus groups and decided that Democratic primary voters were so liberal, they were uncomfortable with Clark’s military background. So, despite the fact that his military credential was the only rationale for his candidacy, the campaign started referring to him as Wes Clark and the literature left on doorknobs from New Hampshire to South Carolina neglected to mention he was a four-star general. At a rally in New Hampshire he stood with George McGovern on one side and Michael Moore on the other. I turned to a friend and asked, "What’s our message?" Clark may not have turned out to be a great candidate, but he was the most articulate critic of the Iraq war before it began. I remember watching him on CNN one day point out that there was no way that a U.S. invasion could not end up strengthening Iran and suggesting that Iran was a greater long-term threat to U.S. interests that an Iraq that was weakened by sanctions. Events have proven him correct. Indeed, it is still difficult to imagine how this war can end except with Iran and its proxies in control of large swaths of Iraq. General Anthony Zinni was the other most prominent critic of the Iraq war. Like Clark, his many appearances on CNN have made his name familiar to broad sections of the commentariat. In addition to his military service as a Marine in Vietnam and a variety of subsequent assignments, he was a diplomatic envoy in the Mideast in 2002. Last year, he co-wrote a report on the national security threat posed by global warming. (Watch YouTube video here.) Articulate, engaging and photogenic, it is not difficult to see him standing beside either Hillary or Barack. America has a deep tradition of electing former generals to national leadership. George Washington, Andrew Jackson, William Henry Harrison, Zachary Taylor, Ulysees Grant, Dwight Eisenhower all made their reputations as military victors before turning their gaze to politics. John Kennedy was as well known for his heroics on PT-109 as for any legislative accomplishments in the Senate and George H.W. Bush won the White House in 1988 running as a decorated WWII hero against Mike Dukakis, the man who looked ridiculous in a tank. Bob Dole was unable to turn his WWII heroics into a victory in 1996 and John Kerry let the Swift Boaters re-define his Vietnam War service. Still, if given the choice of a bland Midwestern senator or a decorated military veteran, both Barack and Hillary would be well advised to pick the uniform. Michael Sean Winters

Comments

Anonymous | 2/29/2008 - 1:51pm
4 star general Wesley Clark would be an excellent choice for Obama. Clark was a Vietnam War hero, former supreme commander of NATO and a strong critic of the invasion of Iraq. Since Clark was raised in Arkansas and is a friend of the Clintons, he could also help mend fences between Obama and the Clintons and even put a swing state like Arkansas in play during the general election. But most importantly, Wesley Clark would trump McCain's stature as a War Hero.
Anonymous | 2/29/2008 - 12:26pm
I can't agree. As we've seen these past eight years (at least), the VP is too important an office to be decided by a candidate and her or his inner circle. Sure, in principle, a military hero is a stroke of marketing genius if it works to get somebody elected. But what if inspiration suddenly struck these parties and they decided that the VP was a real office, and that the people should have a voice in who holds that office--and I don't mean as an appendage on the presidential ticket.
Anonymous | 2/29/2008 - 11:45am
General Wesley Clark is the ultimate country before party patriot. He would be an enormous asset to a new administration- I can think of no one better to guide us forward with a sure hand through troubled waters.
Anonymous | 2/29/2008 - 10:36pm
I've started a draft Wesley Clark blog. I definitely think that Clark would be the best possible Vice President and an inspired choice for Obama. Follow the link below to get to my blog. http://my.barackobama.com/page/community/blog/WesleyClarkVP And of course Clark is a Catholic.