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Pentagon Notebook: McPeak calls McCain too fat
Turns out the most senior retired general to back Sen. Barack Obama crossed paths with Sen. John McCain during their active-duty years.
Gen. Merrill A. McPeak, the Air Force chief of staff during 1991 Desert Storm, told The Washington Times he and Mr. McCain sat in the same National War College class of 1973-74. Mr. McCain, then a Navy commander, had been released by North Vietnam in March 1973 and arrived at the Fort McNair campus in July.
“We both graduated,” Gen. McPeak said of what is considered a ticket-punching step up the ladder to higher rank.
Mr. McCain, a fighter pilot just like Gen. McPeak, was seeking to restart a military career after nearly six years of harsh treatment in North Vietnam.
“He was fresh out of jail, you know,” Gen. McPeak said. “Skinny kid. All beat up of course, physically. But quite thin. They weren’t feeding him very well in Hanoi. He’s done very well at the dinner table in Washington.”
Gen. McPeak also said Mr. McCain received special favors when he returned to the U.S.
“McCain was always kind of an exception,” Gen. McPeak said.
When told about Gen. McPeak’s comments, Mr. McCain’s roommate in the Hanoi Hilton was not amused.
“Surely a four-star general can come up with something better than that,” said Orson Swindle, a former Marine Corps pilot who, like Mr. McCain, was shot down over enemy territory. “It reeks of pettiness and sarcasm, and I can’t imagine why he can make that kind of comment to imply that John McCain feasts at the Washington establishment.”
“It’s just disappointing to see someone who rose to four-start rank be so petty,” said Mr. Swindle, who is campaigning for the Republican senator.
Former Press Secretary Scott McClellan’s accusatory book on President Bush and his aides is not the first such broadside. The Pentagon, specifically loyalists of former Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, are livid over a book by retired Army Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez.
His May release of “Wiser in Battle: A Soldier’s Story” is replete with criticism of Mr. Rumsfeld and his Iraq war oversight. Gen. Sanchez was the top general in Iraq during the rise of the Iraqi insurgency, a spike in the deaths of American service members and the Abu Ghraib prison scandal.
Gen. Sanchez was not happy he never earned a fourth star. Rumsfeld aides say the former general is ignoring the lengths to which the defense secretary went to try to get him promoted. The secretary pushed him for a four-star post, possibly within NATO. Mr. Rumsfeld lauded Gen. Sanchez inside the Pentagon and to the Senate Armed Services Committee. But members made it clear they would not vote to confirm Gen. Sanchez because of Abu Ghraib.
“Rumsfeld also encouraged the civilian side at DoD to consider General Sanchez for appropriate post-retirement for which he was qualified, like heading up one of the regional education institutions under the National War College auspices,” said Larry Di Rita, a close aide to the secretary. “Given Sanchez’s recent comments, I can only believe he is unaware of the lengths Secretary Rumsfeld went to keep him from being scapegoated and to help preserve his reputation.”
U.S. intelligence officials recently obtained this quote from a Taliban leader:
“Tanks and armor are not a big deal. The fighters are the killers. I can handle everything but the jet fighters.”
Even though the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are considered “irregular” warfare, precision bombing by fighters has proved valuable in taking out insurgent hide-outs. It was a bomb from an F-16 fighter in 2006 that killed al Qaeda in Iraq leader Abu Musab Zarqawi.
Adm. Michael Mullen, head of the Joint Chiefs, said Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates made clear to him from the start that he would hold generals accountable for their mistakes.
“Actually, in one of my first meetings with Secretary Gates after he came over, when he assumed this job, he spoke to all of us, all the senior leaders about accountability and an expectation that he would essentially certainly give us guidance,” Adm. Mullen told a group of defense reporters on June 10. “He’s a leader who decentralizes control, but then he would hold leaders accountable. I can remember that conversation as if it were yesterday, and he’s done that and I admire him for it.”
Mr. Gates had just fired the Air Force’s top general and service secretary for what he said was lax oversight of nuclear weapons and components.
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