Former Nato commander questions value of McCain's military experience


US:A TOP supporter of Barack Obama has questioned the value of Republican John McCain's military experience, suggesting it did not qualify him to be president.

Former Nato commander Wesley Clark described Mr McCain as "untested and untried", lacking the executive experience needed to lead the country.

"He has been a voice on the Senate armed services committee. And he has travelled all over the world. But he hasn't held executive responsibility. That large squadron in the navy that he commanded - that wasn't a wartime squadron," Mr Clark said. "I don't think getting in a fighter plane and getting shot down is a qualification to become president."

Mr Obama, who has no military service record, is usually careful to praise that of Mr McCain, who spent five years in a prisoner-of-war camp after he was shot down over Vietnam.

Independent Democratic senator Joe Lieberman, who is supporting Mr McCain, yesterday criticised Mr Obama's foreign policy, arguing that, in calling for a withdrawal from Iraq, the Democrat is failing to recognise that the current policy there is working.

"If we had done what senator Obama asked us to do for the last couple of years, today Iran and al-Qaeda would be in control of Iraq. It would be a terrible defeat for us and our allies in the Middle East and throughout the world," Mr Lieberman said.

Mr Obama hopes to beef up his foreign-policy credentials with a visit to Iraq and Afghanistan later this year. His campaign announced at the weekend that the Democratic candidate would go to the Middle East and Europe next month. Mr Obama will visit Israel, Jordan, Germany, France and Britain, but does not apparently plan to stop in Ireland, where he has ancestral roots in Co Offaly.

"This trip will be an important opportunity for me to assess the situation in countries that are critical to American national security and to consult with some of our closest friends and allies about the common challenges we face," Mr Obama said.

Mr Obama has chosen Carol Wheeler, a prominent political activist and fundraiser in Washington, to lead his outreach to the Irish-American community.

A key figure in Irish-American circles for many years, Ms Wheeler is a leading supporter of Project Children and the Washington Ireland Programme for Service and Leadership, which help children and young adults from both parts of Ireland to visit and study in the United States.

Mr Obama and Mr McCain on Saturday vied for the support of another key demographic group when they addressed more than 700 Hispanic elected officials in Washington. A poll last showed Mr Obama leading Mr McCain among Hispanics by 47 per cent to 22 per cent with 26 per cent undecided.

The Republican has long been popular among Latinos on account of his record of support for comprehensive immigration reform and he told Saturday's meeting that he intended to find a humane solution to the problem of illegal immigration.

"It will be my top priority yesterday, today and tomorrow. We have to secure our borders," he said. "But we also must proceed with a temporary worker programme that is verifiable and truly temporary. We must also understand that 12 million people are here, and they are here illegally, and they are God's children."

Mr Obama told the meeting that, although Mr McCain had been an early supporter of immigration reform, Hispanic voters should no longer trust the Republican on the issue. "He was a champion of comprehensive reform, and I admired him for it. But when he was running for his party's nomination, he walked away from that commitment," he added.