John McCain is trying to find his way toward a rationale for continuing to oppose the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell even though he’d previously suggested he’s open to repeal in principle and would vote for it if the Pentagon found that it could be done without damaging military readiness. McCain is now arguing that all he cares about are the views of the four service chiefs, especially those of the Commandant of the Marine Corps, rather than the President, the Secretary of Defense or even the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, Adm. Mullen — arguing in a rather strained fashion that even the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs is “not directly in charge of the troops.” (See the Goldwater-Nichols Act for more on this point.)
But to make his point McCain says this …
“I’m paying attention to the commandant of the Marine Corps. I’m paying attention to the other three service chiefs who have serious concerns. They are the four guys who are directly in charge. In all due respect, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs is not directly in charge of the troops. The Secretary of Defense is a political appointee who’s never been in the military. And the president, obviously, has had no background or experience in the military whatsoever. It was a campaign pledge to the gay and lesbian community.”
The constitutional logic is strained. And there’s a lot of trash talk. But note that he says that Secretary Gates lacks credibility to make this decision in part because he’s “never been in the military.”
But TPM Reader RW says that’s false. Gates definitely did serve in the military, in addition to being a career veteran of the CIA. That’s my recollection too. And sure enough he’s right. Gates’ bio at the Pentagon website says he was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the U.S. Air Force in 1967. According to Thomas Powers, he did two years in the Air Force at Whiteman Air Force Base (part of Strategic Air Command) in Missouri giving intelligence briefings to ICBM missile crews.
(Now, Gates did join the CIA in 1966. He then joined the Air Force in 1967 for two years before rejoining the CIA in 1969. Powers says that the CIA didn’t get you out of the draft. But since he was an intelligence officer in the Air Force one might suspect that perhaps Gates never really left the Agency. And perhaps McCain thinks this means Gates was never really in the Air Force? Like, not really, really. I have no idea if that’s what McCain’s talking about. But if he were, that would be slicing it awful close.)
It’s sort of sleazy pulling rank in this manner, claiming that no one who hasn’t served in the military themselves can speak to this issue or even claiming that the senior uniformed officer in the US military has no standing to speak about it. But as long as you’re going to play this card you might as well have your facts right.
I’m curious whether anyone has asked McCain about this remark.
Josh Marshall is editor and publisher of TalkingPointsMemo.com.