Let’s elect one of the Guantanamo prisoners as the next President of the United States

| July 6, 2008 | 9 Replies

Why would we elect one of the prisoners at Guantanamo as the next President of the United States? Well, the logic is becoming quite clear to anyone who has followed the corporate news media for the past few days. Prisoners at Guantanamo have that special ingredient that John McCain has that makes him an especially good candidate to be president. He was a prisoner and he was tortured! According to many pundits, this confined torture makes McCain a better candidate than Barack Obama.

What provoked this discussion? Recent statements of Wesley Clark that John McCain’s military service doesn’t make him better qualified to be President:

He hasn’t held executive responsibility. That large squadron in the Navy that he commanded — that wasn’t a wartime squadron . . . I don’t think riding in a fighter plane and getting shot down is a qualification to be president.

Please note, however, Clark’s additional words indicating that Clark nonetheless honored McCain’s military service:

I certainly honor his service as a prisoner of war. He was a hero to me and to hundreds of thousands of millions of others in the Armed Forces as a prisoner of war. He has been a voice on the Senate Armed Services Committee, and he has traveled all over the world.” Clark continued: “But he hasn’t held executive responsibility. That large squadron in Air — in the Navy that he commanded, it wasn’t a wartime squadron. He hasn’t been there and ordered the bombs to fall. He hasn’t seen what it’s like when diplomats come in and say, ‘I don’t know whether we’re going to be able to get this point through or not. Do you want to take the risk? What about your reputation? How do we handle it publicly?’ He hasn’t made those calls, Bob. [Addressed to interviewer Bob Schieffer of Face the Nation].

Invoking only the Clark’s comments that question whether McCain’s military service makes him a better candidate for President (but not Clark’s acknowledgement that McCain was a war hero), the national media is especially going wild making two false claims:

A) That Wesley Clark disparaged John McCain’s military record; and
B) That doing the sorts of things McCain did in the military make him a better Presidential candidate.

I’m not exaggerating when I suggest that the media is going crazy hawking these falsehoods. Watch this compilation and see for yourself:

The commentators in this video have come to John McCain’s rescue, noting that McCain has special experience and character because he did military service. In fact, some of them claim that McCain’s military service especially qualifies him to be President because McCain was tortured and held prisoner during the Vietnam War.

These shrieking commentators are intentionally ignoring Clark’s praise of McCain’s military record, i.e., they are lying. This is backdoor swiftboating by falsely accusing others of swiftboating. It is an attempt to draw attention to Barack Obama’s lack of military service, a clever way of making a groundless argument that Obama is not qualified to be President. This is all especially crazy when the sitting president went AWOL while in the military. Shouldn’t that fact alone make us pause to ask ourselves whether military service per se makes one better prepared to be president? Shouldn’t we go one more step and ask what types of military service might make one a better President? Very little chance of a rational discussion of that sort these days . . .

This whole dispute about McCain’s military service is especially strange, given that the President has many duties, and being Commander in Chief is only one of those duties. An equally important duty is using diplomacy to avoid going to war. Presidents also set the domestic agenda, often by using the bully pulpit to speak out on energy issues, environmental issues, economic issues, administration of justice issues, and social justice issues. Legally speaking, the powers (and therefore the duties) of the President are contained in Article II of the U.S. Constitution.

But back to the fray. Relatively few news personalities are addressing Clark’s real point: Does serving in the military make a person a better candidate for President? It’s true that many Presidents have served in the military, but it is a logical fallacy to argue that being in the military thus makes one a better President. It’s as silly as saying that because all Presidents have been Caucasian (or men) that being Caucasian (or a man) is a prerequisite to being President. Maybe being in the military is good for a career for reasons other than the training to make one a fighting machine. The military is far more than a fighting machine. It’s also a giant social club. Perhaps serving in the military enables one to make lots of social connections with others who served when one chooses to run for office.

Consider, too, that there are both pro’s and con’s to being in the military. Perhaps serving in the military makes a person too uni-dimensional to be President. After all, there are all of those other Constitutional powers and duties, very few of them furthered by being trained in the art of war.

I would agree with Clark that some types of military service might prepare one to be President (e.g., having “executive responsibility”). I would also agree with Clark that many types of military service do not necessarily make a person better qualified to be President (when compared with someone who has no military experience).

It should be patently obvious that being a prisoner or being tortured doesn’t prepare one to be president. If so, sitting Presidents should all go on special retreats where they are imprisoned and tortured so that they were better prepared for office. If anything, being tortured causes long-term injuries and psychological damage—not an obvious asset for a person aspiring to be President.

Torture subjects often suffer from a post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Their strong feelings of hate, rage, terror, guilt, shame, and sorrow are also typical of subjects of mobbing, childhood abuse, domestic violence, domestic vice, rape and incest. They feel anxious because the perpetrator’s behavior is seemingly arbitrary and unpredictable—or mechanically and inhumanly regular.

As much as the pro-McCain pundits might not like it (possibly because they love McCain’s barbecues so much), there are real questions about McCain’s ability to act appropriately under pressure.

What about flying planes or getting shot down while flying an airplane? Do these activities make you a better President? I don’t see any connection at all. I know people who fly airplanes who would make terrible Presidents, whether or not they’ve ever been shot down.

And what about flipping the switch to drop big bombs on people from the cockpit of a plane? This was one of McCain’s jobs in the military. Did this make him a better candidate for President?

Consider, further, McCain’s attitude regarding the bombs he dropped:

McCain knew that what he was doing was wrong. Three months before he fell into that Hanoi lake, he barely survived when his fellow sailors accidentally fired a missile at his plane while it was getting ready to take off from his ship. The blast set off bombs and ordnance across the deck of the aircraft carrier. The conflagration, which took 24 hours to bring under control, killed 132 sailors. A few days later, a shaken McCain told a New York Times reporter in Saigon: “Now that I’ve seen what the bombs and the napalm did to the people on our ship, I’m not so sure that I want to drop any more of that stuff on North Vietnam.”

Yet he did.

“I am a war criminal,” McCain said on “60 Minutes” in 1997. “I bombed innocent women and children.” Although it came too late to save the Vietnamese he’d killed 30 years earlier, it was a brave statement. Nevertheless, he smiles agreeably as he hears himself described as a “war hero” as he arrives at rallies in a bus marked “No Surrender.”

[Since writing this post, I have searched for the original transcript of the "60 Minutes" admission.   Here are some links.  Based on the transcript, I think that the above-quoted Common Dreams passage should have made clear that McCain made this confession while in a North Vietnamese prison.   He stated that he regretted making the statement and that he broke under torture.   Now, however, I'm curious whether McCain would deny that he dropped bombs on innocent women and children.  In short, does he merely regret saying that he did this or does he regret doing it?]

When you do things soldiers do, does it really make you a better President?  What about climbing a rope, cleaning a gun or learning how to salute? Do these things make you a better President?

What about going through boot camp? Does that make you a better candidate to be President? Think about it. Going through boot camp breaks down your sense of individuality. How can that make you a better leader of an allegedly free country? Yet many conservatives are arguing that military service makes one a better president. Consider the many leaders conservatives admire. How many of them have ever seen any combat? Not Ronald Reagan. Not Dick Cheney. Not Dan Quayle, Newt Gingrich, Rush Limbaugh, Pat Buchanan, Phil Gramm, Clarence Thomas, or George Will—all of them conservative Republicans who were of draft age during the Vietnam era yet none of whom served in the conflict.

This claim that military service makes one a superior candidate for President is so utterly ridiculous that it brings to mind this Monty Python video (from their movie “The Meaning of Life”). If you believe the pundits currently hammering on Wesley Clark, here is vignette featuring a person who is especially well qualified to be President:


For more on this issue of whether military service is good preparation to be President, consider this video commentary by Cenk Uygur

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Category: Military, Politics, Psychology Cognition, War

About the Author ()

Erich Vieth is an attorney focusing on consumer law litigation and appellate practice. He is also a working musician and a writer, having founded Dangerous Intersection in 2006. Erich lives in the Shaw Neighborhood of St. Louis, Missouri, where he lives half-time with his two extraordinary daughters.

Comments (9)

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  1. paul says:

    LOL good point this article makes., or at least kind of. I agree with author about Clarks comments, he was dead on. Obama should not of thrown him under the bus, but instead should embrace him. I also think Wesley Clark has been treated very unfairly by the press for his comments. I like Clark, Thank you General Clark for speaking the truth. Here is why Obama needs Clark http://www.theobamaplan.com

    As far as McCain and his Veep goes. I like Huckabee for the McCain Veep. He is going to need help in the south. http://www.McCanes.com

    The Libertarians should run Barr with Paul instead of Barr with Root. http://www.BarrRoot.com http://www.BarrPaul08.com

    I love the vp discussion blogs, I get all my veep info and rumors at http://www.VeepPeek.com

  2. Jack says:

    Try considering the source – Wesley Clark. That's right able to get himself cut short on his "executive" tour in Kosovo. A shill for the Democratic party. Imagine that he's criticizing McCain; lucky for him no one looks at his military record closely.

    Why don't we just surrender and convert to Islam now. It would be a lot easier, I mean we can just live by their utopian rules – women become property, other religions are persecuted, and we can easily solve the issues between the Palestinians and Isrealis…. just like that World Peace.

    Perhaps people should wake up and weigh the issues not the emotions. Military service helps the Commander in Chief understand the sacrafices made by the soldiers, sailors, airmen, and marines when choices put them in harm's way. One would hope that creates restraint in their use and expedition to victory when they are. Those who choose to serve give themselves so that others may live free deserve a Commander in Chief who understands this.

  3. Erich Vieth says:

    Jack: The only alternative to McCain is that we will all convert to Islam? You have a pathetically limited imagination.

    You think that you need to be in the military to understand the sacrifices made by members of the military? You've got to be kidding. Go watch Body of War. Go read a good book by someone who has served as a soldier. Talk with soldiers. Go read their accounts of the Iraq occupation.

    Are you suggesting that you can't know what it takes to be President without actually serving as President? That you can't understand the sacrifices made by coal miners without actually being a coal miner?

    It doesn't matter what Clark has done in the military. His words ring true to me. Those words could have been spoken by a friend or a neighbor, and they would still have rung true.

  4. Niklaus Pfirsif says:

    in "The Art of War", Sun Tzu makse clear in one lesson that military matters should not be handled by the civilian branch of the government. to the point, the leader of the military should not be the leader of the people. I have read several translations of this but the clearest one is something like this:

    The purpose of the military is to protect the state from its enemies. The purpose of the civilian government is to promote well-being among the people. When the military and the civilian government is the same, the people become the enemy.

    I would much prefer a president who truly understands economic issues.

  5. Erich Vieth says:

    This election should be a blow-out. McCain has shown massive ignorance on most critical issues of the day.

    His status as a former POW and his "heroism" in getting shot down are serving him well to disguise his many intellectual weaknesses.

    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/max-bergmann/the-we

  6. Dan Klarmann says:

    "A blow-out"?!? Please remember who "won" and by how much when an inarticulate buffoon ran against a scholar back in Y2K.

  7. Erich Vieth says:

    That's why I used the phrase "should be." It should be a blow-out, but I suspect that it won't be. A blow-out wouldn't sell much advertising in the corporate media, would it? It is in the interest of the media to keep this 51-49 all the way.

  8. Erich Vieth says:

    Maybe this is a good time to remember John McCain's brave visit to an Iraqi market last year.

    With Obama's visit to Iraq expected any day now, the Right is about to move into full belittlement mode. They'll attempt to trivialize, satirize, and diminish whatever occurs on this trip. So this is a good time to remember John McCain's last visit to Iraq, a visit that he now claims helped form his war policy.

    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/rj-eskow/mccain-to-

  9. David says:

    As a fellow Viet Nam era veteran, I resent anyone calling John McCain a war hero or an expert in war…Sure, he was a POW for a few years but he spent most of his time in a hotel in Hanoi with some whores. Why? (1.) he was the admiral's son and (2.) he squealled like a stuffed pig during interrogation and betrayed his fellow pilots. We lost some good pilots because of this traitor…John McCain was also famous for his goofing around and one time when he was trying to scare a fellow pilot with his flame out he inadvertently set off some bombs and killed 134 sailors. Once again, his Dad came to his rescue and white washed this incident.

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