ABC News' Teddy Davis and Molly Hunter Report: While Barack Obama was urging supporters not to devalue the military service of rival John McCain, a former Obama adviser and top Democratic voice on foreign policy argued Monday that the former POW's isolation during the Vietnam War has hobbled the Arizona senator's capacity as a war-time leader.
“Sadly, Sen. McCain was not available during those times, and I say that with all due respect to him" said Rand Beers. "I think that the notion that the members of the Senate who were in the ground forces or who were ashore in Vietnam have a very different view of Vietnam and the cost that you described than John McCain does because he was in isolation essentially for many of those years and did not experience the turmoil here or the challenges that were involved for those of us who served in Vietnam during the Vietnam war."
"So I think," he continued, "to some extent his national security experience in that regard is sadly limited and I think it is reflected in some of the ways that he thinks about how U.S. forces might be committed to conflicts around the world."
McCain spent five years in captivity as a POW in North Vietnam.
The Beers remarks, which were made at the liberal Center for American Progress Action Fund in Washington, D.C., drew a swift rebuke from a McCain spokesman who portrayed them as an example of Obama saying one thing and his supporters doing another.
"Mr. Beers' remarks are part of a pattern of Obama supporters attacking John McCain'?s military service, and a reminder of why it'?s what Sen. Obama, his supporters and his campaign actually do that matters most," McCain spokesman Brian Rogers tells ABC News. "Sen. Obama speaking out against these attacks isn't really relevant -- either his supporters aren'?t hearing him or they don'?t believe his words."
The Beers comments came one day after Gen. Wesley Clark downplayed the significance of McCain's military experience during an appearance on CBS's "Face the Nation."
"I don't think getting in a fighter plane and getting shot down is a qualification to become president," said Clark.
Speaking Monday in Independence, Missouri, Obama implicitly distanced himself from the comments made by the former Supreme Allied Commander of NATO and 2004 Democratic presidential candidate.
"For those who have fought under the flag of this nation -- for the young veterans I meet when I visit Walter Reed; for those like John McCain who have endured physical torment in service to our country -- no further proof of such sacrifice is necessary. And let me also add that no one should ever devalue that service, especially for the sake of a political campaign, and that goes for supporters on both sides," said Obama.
CAPAF, which is the political arm of a liberal think tank headed by former Clinton White House chief of staff John Podesta, has been taking the lead for Democrats on dissecting McCain's policy proposals. CAPAF's Monday series of four policy panels on the economy, health care, foreign policy, and energy was dubbed "McCain University."
Beers' comments were prompted by an audience member saying during the question-and-answer period that his son had just become eligible for the draft if one were re-instituted in the United States.
"I will be damned if I will send my son to war to create a free Iraq or a free Syria or a free North Korea or a free Iran," said the questioner. "To defend the United States is one thing, to go to send my son to war to extend a neocon foreign policy is not going to happen, and I don't know if John McCain understands the passion and the depth of this kind of feeling."
"Does he not remember what went on in the streets of this country in the late 60s, when we were doing this kind of nonsense in Vietnam?" he continued.
In the past, Beers has provided advice to both the Obama and Clinton campaigns, according to Beers spokesperson Moira Whelan. At present, he serves in no advisory role to the presumptive Democratic nominee. From 2003-04, Beers served as National Security-Homeland Security Issues Coordinator for John Kerry. Prior to joining Kerry's campaign in 2003, he served from 2002-03 as Special Assistant to President Bush and Senior Director for Combating Terrorism. He currently serves as president of the National Security Network.
In Vietnam, Beers served as a Marine officer and rifle company commander.