The Washington Times - June 30, 2008, 01:09PM

Not only has Sen. John McCain’s campaign found an opening to blast Sen. Barack Obama for Gen. Wesley Clark’s comments over the weekend, but it’s given the McCain camp the opportunity to brag about McCain’s extensive military career.

On CBS’ “Face the Nation” on Sunday, Clark said McCain lacks executive experience, can’t evaluate risks and, when pushed on Obama’s own lack of wartime experience, said: “Well, I don’t think riding in a fighter plane and getting shot down is a qualification to be president.”

So now the McCain folks are parading decorated veteran after decorated veteran out to attest to McCain’s experience and using words such as “courage” and “character” and “loyalty” repeatedly.

It’s also given them a chance to talk about McCain’s postwar executive experience as commander of the Navy’s largest aviation squadron, VA-174, a training squadron based at Cecil Field in Florida.

McCain says that squadron “set a record for the longest flying hours without an accident” and, under his command, received its first Meritorious Unit Citation.

“He was that much better than everybody else,” said Carl Smith, a former Navy pilot who served as McCain’s executive officer. “The credit goes to John McCain and his extraordinary leadership, it’s as simple as that.”

The Obama campaign, seeking to head off what could quickly become a fiasco, put out a statement that dismisses Clark in an afterthought: “As he’s said many times before, Senator Obama honors and respects Senator McCain’s service, and of course he rejects yesterday’s statement by General Clark.”

Stephen Dinan, national political correspondent, The Washington Times