Yesterday, Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) was asked on the Today Show whether he had an estimate of when troops could come home from Iraq. McCain replied, “No, but it’s not too important. What’s important is the casualties in Iraq.” Defending McCain against what his campaign called “a false attack,” Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-CT) cited McCain’s Vietnam experience as justification for McCain’s assertion.
Appearing on MSNBC’s Countdown with Keith Olbermann last night, VoteVets Vice Chairman and Iraq and Afghanistan veteran Brandon Friedman disputed the idea that McCain’s military experience gave him “carte blanche” on war issues. He called McCain’s comments “a morale crusher,” and said veterans like him “would expect a lot more” from someone who’s “been in our shoes”:
FRIEDMAN: John McCain should know better. You know, he’s been in our shoes. He’s had it worst than most of us. You know, he should know better. … You know, we all respect John McCain’s service. But he’s not the only person who suffered in war. We have troops coming back from this war who are quadriplegics, who’ve been maimed, who had to go through so much. And, you know, it doesn’t give him a carte blanche reason to say something like that. He doesn’t it get a free pass.
Despite the McCain camp’s attempt to spin away his comments, the fact is McCain has a history of being careless when it comes to soldiers. He spearheaded opposition to Sen. Jim Webb’s (D-VA) 21st Century GI Bill, helped block legislation lengthening the time soldiers spend at home between deployments, and has consistently voted against increasing funding for the Veterans Administration.
OLBERMANN: How do veterans, how do veterans` families feel when they hear that the man who wants to be the next commander-in-chief does not think it`s too important when they come home?
FRIEDMAN: Keith, this is a morale crusher. You know, if you can imagine, say a sergeant, who`s on his third tour and he`s in the 14th month of that tour and he hears the potential president saying something like this, it kills morale.
You know, the troops are over there and, you know, I`ve been there, I`ve had to deal with this. But the troops over there hang on every word they hear from a leader, you know, especially the commander-in-chief but also someone who could be the commander-in-chief.
And when they hear something like this, you know, it really kills them on the inside because, you know, their families want them home. They want to come home, you know, or focus on the real global war on terror elsewhere. But this is really a killer when you hear something like this.
OLBERMANN: What I hear when I hear from servicemen or I talk to vets, more than anything else, is their astonishment when generals or veterans like McCain or the brass — just to use the general term there — don`t get it. That of all people, these are the ones they naively thought would understand risk and sacrifice. Does it — does it matter more that they are abandoned by a John McCain who did serve as opposed to a George Bush who did not?
FRIEDMAN: Absolutely, Keith. You know, we`ve come to not expect a whole lot from George W. Bush. But when you have a veteran like John McCain who has gone through so much in Vietnam, you really expect a lot more out of him because the way you see it as a soldier or marine or airman or whatever, is that John McCain should know better.
You know, he`s been in our shoes. He`s had it worst than most of us. You know, he should know better.
And, you know, for those of us who`ve been there and who`ve lived through this, we just would expect a lot more and it really saddens us, you know, to see this happen, because there are thousands and thousands of veterans who`d just disagree with him on this.
OLBERMANN: And the Lieberman reaction or the reaction to his reaction, where basically he referenced McCain`s status as a veteran, as POW, as war hero, as carte blanche for the excuse for this, as if McCain is immune to military criticism simply because he was a POW, that the merits can`t even be discussed. Then, that reminds me of every bit of army red tape I`ve ever heard of or every bit of censorship that a military sometimes invokes in times of war relative to its own personnel.
FRIEDMAN: Absolutely. You know, we all respect John McCain`s service. But he`s not the only person who suffered in war. We have troops coming back from this war who are quadriplegics, who`ve been maimed, who had to go through so much. And, you know, it doesn`t give him a carte blanche reason to say something like that. He doesn`t it get a free pass.
You know, we`ve been over there, too. We`ve been in war too. And we know what it`s like. And he doesn`t get a free pass, especially from us because we hold him to a higher standard.
And you know, all I can say is that we respect John McCain`s service. All we ask in return is that he respects ours. And from many of the people I talked to, who are on active duty, or who have just come off active duty but who have served over there, we don`t feel like we`re getting that a lot of the time.