Bush 's Guard absence was not without leave--eventually
Should Wes Clark have distanced himself from Michael Moore's comments about George W. Bush's "desertion," as suggested by Tim Russert and Peter Jennings? Eric Alterman writes:
In the first place, what a weird question. When, in the 1992 or 1996 elections was either George H.W. Bush or Bob Dole asked to disassociate himself from any supporter who termed Bill Clinton a "draft dodger?" Clinton did not "dodge" the draft. He sought and was given a deferment. But the term became common currency among conservatives.
Moreover, why would Wes Clark be expected to be sufficiently familiar with the complicated history of Bush's record of military service in the early 1970s to pass judgment on whether the term "deserter" was so outrageous so as to demand repudiation? Almost no reporters seem to be.
Alterman goes on to say that Bush did get permission to leave his unit and go to Alabama. He simply failed to return to his unit as ordered when the transfer was overturned. And eventually he succeeded in getting the overturning overturned. So...
Dare we call the president of the United States a "deserter?" Well, technically, no, of course. If he eventually got the papers, he's retroactively innocent of that charge. But what would have happened if, say, during late 1972, some by-the-books Alabama MP had happened upon Bush in a bar and was unaware that this son of a congressman would eventually be able to work out a deal with the higher-ups. He would be in Alabama without permission while his unit was training in Texas. Might that have been enough to throw Bush into the brig?
It's hardly an outrageous question, but even raising it seems to place one beyond the pale. And I doubt Tim Russert or Peter Jennings could have answered it more articulately than Gen. Clark had either one been willing to examine the issue with the seriousness it so clearly deserves.