While Obama surrogate Wesley Clark was hammering John McCain for getting shot down over North Vietnam, another retired general was criticizing the GOP nominee for his girth.
In comments reprinted by the Philadelphia Bulletin, retired Air Force Chief of Staff General Merrill “Tony” McPeak suggested that McCain has become a bit plump since his days as a student at the National War College. McCain and McPeak were members of the same war college class in 1974-1975. It was McCain’s first assignment after his release from the Hanoi Hilton and hospitalization for the injuries he received as a POW.
He was fresh out of jail, you know," Gen. McPeak told the Washington Times. Both he and Mr. McCain sat in the same National War College class in 1973-74.
"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," the general added.
McPeak’s remarks are simply beneath contempt. But, it’s about what we’d expect from the most reviled Chief of Staff in Air Force history, a man who tried to reinvent the service in his image, and wasted billions of tax dollars in the process.
From composite to wings to new apparel, everything was fair game for McPeak’s experimentation. As we noted in a previous post, one Air Force wing revamped its structure three times in less than two years, to suit the general’s whims. The GAO estimated that McPeak’s efforts to meld different types of aircraft into a single unit consumed at least $5 billion, with no appreciable improvement in efficiency or unit readiness.
But (perhaps) the most hated innovation of McPeak was his new uniform. Abandoning 40 years of tradition and evolution, General McPeak authorized a service dress combination with Navy or Coast Guard-style rank on the sleeves. More than a few officers, traveling in the uniform, complained that they were mistaken for airline pilots.
McPeak’s uniform jacket was also tailored for a lean, athletic cut. It was fine if you shared the general’s build (described by some as emaciated), but if you didn’t have a marathoner’s physique, it was confining, at best; downright uncomfortable, at worst.
The new uniform prompted legions of complaints from the ranks, but McPeak ignored them. Apparently, he couldn’t understand why the rest of the Air Force couldn’t follow his rigid diet and exercise regimen. By one account, McPeak ate tuna and crackers for lunch every day, and packed those items in his luggage, in case he couldn’t find Starkist and saltines at his temporary duty location.
The Air Force dumped McPeak’s uniform shortly after his retirement, returning to something a bit more traditional--not to mention, more comfortable. Fourteen years later—and as thin as ever—we can only imagine what “new” military innovations McPeak would offer, as a senior member of an Obama administration. Memo to all military personnel--save your clothing allowance. Those "airline-style" uniforms may yet make a comeback.
After dropping to 100 pounds in a North Vietnamese prison—and nearly dying from his injuries—we’d say that John McCain has earned the right to eat whatever he wants, and in the quantities he desires. The irony, of course, is that Mr. McCain is anything but obese, except by the rail-thin standards of Tony McPeak.
As readers of this blog know, General McPeak has already committed some blunders for the Obama campaign, including his suggestion that U.S. policies toward Israel would be “decided by voters in New York and Miami.” Given his penchant for ill-advised comments, it’s surprising that the Obama machine is still using him as a surrogate. On the other hand, given the candidate’s lack of military experience, he’s eager to surround himself with anyone who held flag rank, even a crank like Tony McPeak.
The McCain campaign can only hope that Obama’s staff keeps trotting out General McPeak as a military spokesman. Mr. McCain is hardly a favorite of the USAF, but plenty of those who served in the McPeak era will gladly pull the handle for anyone who hasn't been endorsed by the former Chief of Staff.