The former Air Force Chief of Staff visited the Lakes Region on Monday as part of a campaign trip that has him supporting Senator Barack Obama as the only candidate with the "chops" to lead the country.
Retired Gen. Tony McPeak — a self-described moderate Democrat who once served as a prominent supporter of President George Bush — says the current administration has left the country in the dark about a war he and Obama are hoping American troops will be out of by the end of 2008.
On Monday McPeak, a top foreign policy adviser to Obama who served on the Joint Chiefs of Staff during the Gulf War, made stops at the New Hampshire Veteran's Home in Tilton and at a house party in Franklin to stump for a candidate he says he is supporting more for his character than his political affiliation.
"He is head and shoulders about the rest (of the candidates) in every measurable dimension," said McPeak, during an interview with The Citizen.
The longtime military man is no stranger to the campaign trail having supported several presidential hopefuls both Republican and Democrat since he retired from service in 1994.
McPeak served as the Oregon state chairman for Bob Dole's 1996 run for office and in 2000 worked as the chair of a veteran's organization in that state working to get George W. Bush elected. He worked for Howard Dean in the 2004 election and eventually supported John Kerry.
A longtime Republican, McPeak registered as an independent in 2004 and is now a registered Democrat. He attributes his switch in political affiliation to what has occurred during Bush's years in the White House.
McPeak said he took note of Obama's leadership when he heard the candidate state years ago that he wasn't against war, but was against the United States engaging in "dumb" wars whose consequences will not be positive.
"(He) was exactly right," said McPeak, adding that he appreciates the enthusiasm Obama is bringing to the presidential campaign as a person who isn't a Washington Beltway insider.
In talking about the current foreign policy struggle the United States is in, McPeak prefaced his comments by assuring he is no pacifist or left-winger.
"I'm a professional military guy ... I have either been fighting someone or getting ready to," explained McPeak.
However, he said Obama is correct in being among the only candidates who have opposed the current war in Iraq long before troops hit the ground in the battle-torn nation.
McPeak called the current situation in Iraq nothing short of "a mess" and expressed extreme skepticism about a recent report from U.S. Commander General David Petraeus that indicated forces where making progress in slowing violence in a country that some say is involved in a civil war.
The retired general said he respects Petraeus, but called his recent report a "non-event" that saw the Bush administration "making lemonade" out of a situation that has ethnic cleansing and millions of displaced Iraqis fleeing, resulting in diminished reports of violence in certain areas of the country.
McPeak said Bush has avoided providing information on military spending relating to the number of bases being built in the country and has refused to take responsibility for a policy that put U.S. troops in Iraq.
"It's pretty unedifying to watch our president play dodge ball in this way," said McPeak in reference to his belief that Petraeus is being put in the limelight on the Iraq war.
The former military leader said the Bush administration has also been less than forthright in explaining the extent of the military's use of upward of 140,000 private contractors in carrying out the military plan.
McPeak said reports indicate there are at least 25,000 "snake-eating (and) gun-toting" contractors working to actually fight the war and noted that the Bush Administration's numbers only have 400 of such people having been reported killed in the war compared to a Department of Labor report that pegged it at around 1,000 individuals.
"It's obvious that not enough sunshine is allowed on questions like this. The administration has been very circumspect in the very least," said McPeak.
McPeak said he stands with Obama in his belief that the current administration has ignored pressing concerns relating to the proliferation of nuclear weapons and the need to work diplomatically to assure that Muslim nations can maintain peaceful relations with Israel.
In speaking of Israel's situation McPeak said: "This is a fundamental problem. (The Bush Administration) really didn't do anything to work on it."
The foreign policy adviser said Obama is looking to put such issues back on the front burner.
McPeak said he supports Obama's plan for a phases withdrawal of troops in Iraq.
He drew upon a past quote in station his belief that the U.S. must be as careful in leaving Iraq as is was "careless" in entering a war that he believes was ill-conceived.
When pressed about what Iraq will look like when American forces depart, McPeak responded by admitting that it certainly will not be pretty. He equated the situation with having your foot caught in trap, noting that it will painful no matter how it is removed.
McPeak said one thing he is sure of is that Obama is the candidate who is best equipped to handle the situation and show the world that the United States wants to head in a different direction concerning how it handles itself globally.
"What we need to decide in this election is what type of leadership we want (during) this mess. (Obama) has the chops ... who else does?" asked McPeak.
When asked about some voters belief that Obama lacks the experience to lead the nation, McPeak said the United State has had more than one great leader who was relatively young when they took over.
He referred to George Washington specifically in noting that he took over the Continental Army at age 43.