Why didn’t John McCain make Admiral? by mattsteinglass
August 1, 2008, 9:42 pm
Filed under: President

Matthew Yglesias writes:

The presidency, after all, involves significant managerial challenges. And neither McCain nor Barack Obama has ever been a mayor or a governor or run an executive agency. Neither has ever run a company. McCain was a Navy officer, but he didn’t achieve the kind of rank where he had substantial managerial responsibilities — he flew airplanes, he didn’t command ships.

One of the questions that hasn’t really been examined much in this campaign is that of why John McCain, unlike his father and grandfather, was not promoted to the rank of Admiral in the United States Navy. Obviously at some level it’s an absurd question. There’s no reason why McCain should have made admiral; 99.999% of the people in the Navy don’t. The problem is that McCain himself says he did. McCain claims that in 1981 then-Secretary of the Navy John Lehman told him the admiralty was his for the taking, but he decided to drop out of the Navy anyway. This is really kind of hard to believe. McCain could have gone on to a political career as an admiral, as Rear Admiral Jim Stockdale, himself a former POW, did. It just doesn’t quite compute that you drop out of the service when you’re about to be promoted to the general staff. Is it true?

Jeffrey Klein has done some reporting on this issue for the Huffington Post. Klein found numerous contemporaneous naval officers who stated on the record that the McCain campaign’s claim was false:

McCain never mentioned the alleged offer of an admiralship by Lehman in any of his books, nor in the numerous interviews McCain gave during his first run for the presidency in 1999-2000.

Furthermore, articles written during the current presidential campaign quote McCain’s closest friends about McCain’s failure to be promoted to admiral before he retired from the Navy. For example, in an April 26, 2008, National Journal cover story, William Cohen (then a Senator, subsequently Secretary of Defense and the best man at McCain’s second wedding) recounts that McCain “knew his career in the Navy was limited.” Former Senator Gary Hart, who served as a groomsman at McCain’s 1980 wedding, says in the National Journal story that he had been told “that [McCain] was not going to receive a star and not going to become an admiral. I think that was the deciding point for him to retire from the Navy.”

McCain had at that point never had a command responsibility in the armed forces. After returning from Vietnam he was detailed as the Navy’s congressional liaison. In the mid-70s he insisted, against the resistance of other naval officers, on being requalified to fly. Shortly thereafter, he appears to have crashed a plane — the fourth plane he crashed during his Navy career, not counting the one he was shot down in over Hanoi, or the one blown up by accidental missile fire with him in the cockpit during the USS Forrestal fire in 1967. (I’ve always been stunned by the apparent coincidence that McCain was at the center of the most deadly accident in the history of US naval aviation. In June 1967, while McCain was sitting in the cockpit of his A-4 on the deck of the USS Forrestal waiting to take off, a missile suddenly launched from the wing of an F-4 behind him, hitting his plane in the gas tank. McCain somehow got out of his plane, which blew up seconds later, triggering a fire that killed 134 sailors and airmen and put the Forrestal out of commission for 2 years.)

In 1967, shortly after the Forrestal fire, McCain told the NY Times’s R.W. Apple (while they were drinking cocktails together at a mutual friend’s place in Saigon) that he was having second thoughts about dropping bombs on Vietnamese, having seen what the ordnance did to Americans. Apple quoted him saying this in the NY Times after McCain was shot down. Telling journalists over cocktails that you’re not sure about the morality of bombing the enemy seems like the kind of thing the Navy would frown upon. Journalists love it, obviously — McCain clearly had the touch, even back then — but the brass hates it. It was this kind of mouthing off to journalists that got John Paul Vann’s career in Vietnam frozen at colonel. It’s not impossible that a “maverick” officer who speaks before he thinks could get promoted to senior staff — think Gen. “Vinegar Joe” Stilwell, Patton, even MacArthur — but they were all combat officers with extensive command experience.

In his autobiography, McCain doesn’t try to hide the sub-par quality of his naval career, up to the point where he was shot down. On his own description, he spent most of his early career flunking out, crashing, blowing things up, carousing with booze and girls, and mouthing off to the press. In fact, he refers to his naval career, up to the point where he transferred to Vietnam and was quickly shot down, as his “misspent youth”. It strains credulity to believe that his father’s position did not help him continue to get desirable postings despite his lackluster performance. He maintained his dignity admirably as a POW, but as a junior officer he never commanded men inside the camps, and once he got out he went back to Navy school for a while, wrote an unimpressive paper on the Code of Conduct, and then became a political liaison. It strains credulity to believe that, with this record, the rest of the naval staff would have happily promoted him to Admiral. John McCain’s father died March 22, 1981. A week later, McCain was out of the Navy. You draw the conclusions.

2 Comments so far
Leave a comment

I am torn, do I vote for Obama, who I dont think
is really the change that he claims, and the
change he is going to bring might be for the worse. He is sooo
arrogent too. Bush was very arrogent. I think weve learned our
lesson for voting for someone who wont admit when they are
wrong. Stay the course is a scary Motto. I dont want that any
more. Obama is a bit scary. OH, did you see the video of
Obama losing his temper., I had never saw that before. They
have that video of
and McCain isnt the same candidate as he was in 2000
I think everyone thought they were getting 2000 McCain,
Instead we got a much more confused and cranky McCain.
Did you seem him knock the stuff off the shelf in the grocery
store., Or him blowing up on the reporter. His Campaign has
become a punch line. You can see both mentioned train wrecks

Comment by charleslawlesss

John McCain is too old to be president. He is just a spoiled Navy kid, who while he was in the Navy, and on his fourth airplane loss, he forgot to eject from his plane that had been hit by an accidentally fired missle. I was on the Forrestal at that time. My life was in danger, but I was out there trying to save this fool. That fool climbed out of the cockpit and crawled down the nose and jumped onto a part of the ship that got blown off. Now how smart was that? This man doesn’t deserve to be president. He needs to pay America back the money he cost us for the five planes he is responsible for loosing!

Comment by Earl Childs

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