Sestak and Veterans Groups Wrong To Criticize Specter Ad

The facts show that the Senate candidate's military record is tough to defend

“We’re all here because we’re enraged at the fact that someone, anyone in the United States today, would question someone with 31 years of [military] service.”

So said a retired lieutenant general about Arlen Specter’s television ad, which stated that Joe Sestak, his opponent in the U.S. Senate Democratic primary, was relieved of duty in the Navy for creating a “poor command climate.” [SIGNUP]

Other veterans have chimed in with similar criticism of Specter, labeling the senator and his commercial as “disrespectful” and “unpatriotic,” and adding that it should be off the table to question, let alone criticize, a veteran.

And making the sin mortal, we are told, is that it’s one veteran attacking another.

That line of thinking is not only wrong, but dangerous.

Why should anyone’s record be off limits to scrutiny — veteran or not —especially when that someone is seeking to become a United States senator?

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First of all, allowing anyone’s record to go unchecked is closer to having a dictatorship than a democracy. It goes without saying that our freedom to ask tough questions of our leaders — without fear of retribution — is the cornerstone of a free society.

No one should get a free pass. No one.

If that ever changes, you might as well pack it in.

Secondly, beyond the tenuous code these veterans like to invoke, it becomes clear that they don’t understand, or don’t want to acknowledge, that two plus two always has to equal four.

Translation: they may not like their candidate being attacked, especially by a fellow vet, but the facts in Specter’s ad are just that — facts.

The issue isn’t whether the commercial is “disrespectful,” but whether it’s true.

And is this case, the facts speak for themselves.

Sestak was a three-star admiral who, in 2005, was fired from his post as Deputy Chief of Naval Operations by then-Chief of Naval Operations Admiral Mike Mullen. (Mullen now serves as Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff).

Of significant interest is that Admiral Mullen fired Sestak on the very first day Mullen started in his new post.

According to the Navy Times — a reputable source — the reason cited for Sestak’s dismissal was that he created a “poor command climate.” The publication went on to state, “Sestak was then shuffled into lower-profile desk jobs before he retired in January 2006 as a two-star admiral.”

In fact, many press reports quote another admiral familiar with Sestak as calling his leadership style “tyrannical,” and one in which he commanded “…by intimidation and fear.”

So let’s recap:

Sestak was a three star admiral.

Sestak was fired from his position as Deputy Chief of Naval Operations.

It is a reasonable assumption that Mullen was so disturbed by what he saw of Sestak’s command climate that he had no problem demoting Sestak.

So when we read a veteran’s quote stating, “he wasn’t demoted,” it becomes obvious that the issue is more about politics than defending a fellow veteran’s record.

By definition, when an admiral is relieved of command, that’s a demotion.

And by the way, according to news reports, Sestak has never demanded that the Navy Times retract or amend the article to reflect a different story, nor has he released records related to the situation.

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Typical of so many in politics, Sestak and the veterans want it both ways.

They wish to anchor Sestak’s campaign on his Navy service, trumpeting it in commercials and speeches, without any responsibility to defend his military performance.

And while we hear that a veteran shouldn’t attack the record of a fellow veteran, and that doing so is a violation of the “brotherhood,” truth must always be the most important concern.

If these vets wish to support Joe Sestak because they believe in him and his positions, fine.

Likewise, if they oppose Arlen Specter, great.

Does Sestak’s Naval performance — and the fact that it has been dodged — disqualify him from being Senator? That’s up to the voters, but it is, and should be, an issue.

The voice of our veterans is an extremely important one, especially since America’s forces are engaged in conflict around the world.

But if they want to maintain the credibility they have worked so hard to earn, they would do themselves a huge favor by sticking with the facts, without hyperbole and half-truths.

Anything less lowers the high standard in which America holds them.

Chris Freind is an independent columnist and investigative reporter who operates his own news bureau, Readers of his column, “Freindly Fire,” hail from six continents, thirty countries and all fifty states. His work has been referenced in numerous publications including The Wall Street Journal, National Review Online, foreign newspapers, and in Dick Morris’ recent bestseller “Catastrophe.” Freind also serves as a weekly guest commentator on the Philadelphia-area talk radio show, Political Talk (WCHE 1520), and makes numerous other television and radio appearances. He can be reached at