McCain camp slams former general for downplaying military record

Other News Materials 1 July 2008 01:35 (UTC +04:00)

Republican presidential candidate John McCain on Monday took exception to the comments of retired general Wesley Clark, who suggested that McCain's long record of military service did not qualify him to be president.

McCain, regarded as a war hero after being held captive and tortured for five years in Vietnam, called the remarks "unnecessary" and suggested it was part of a wider strategy by supporters of Democratic presidential rival Barack Obama, who quickly distanced himself from Clark.

"I'm proud of my record of service, and I have plenty of friends and leaders who will attest to that," McCain told reporters at a stop in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.

McCain's campaign also slammed Clark's critique in a conference call Monday morning and declared the creation of a "truth squad" to fend off attacks on the Arizona senator's military record.

"If that's the kind of campaign that Senator Obama and his surrogates and his supporters want to wage, I understand that, but it doesn't reduce the price of a gallon of gas by one penny," McCain said.

Clark, a former NATO commander who ran for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2004, said McCain "hasn't held executive responsibility" and never had to make tough national security decisions during his time as a fighter pilot and squadron commander in the US Navy.

"He hasn't been there and ordered the bombs to fall," Clark told US broadcaster CBS on Sunday.

"I don't think riding in a fighter plane and getting shot down (in Vietnam) is a qualification to be president," said Clark, who has been mentioned as a possible running mate for Obama.

Obama, in his own broad speech on patriotism on Monday, said the country needed "no further proof" of McCain's sacrifices for the United States.

"No one should ever devalue that service, especially for the sake of a political campaign, and that goes for supporters on both sides," Obama said.

Campaign spokesman Bill Burton in a statement said Obama "rejects" Clark's remarks and honours McCain's military service to the country, dpa reported.