Sen. John McCain’s labeling of the Pentagon’s press secretary, Rear Adm. John Kirby, as an “idiot” ought to spark a long overdue debate on the role of military officers serving in high-profile Obama administration posts.

McCain, a Navy war hero, insulted Kirby in a recent radio interview in North Carolina during which he expressed his frustration with Kirby’s rambling response when he was asked at a Pentagon press briefing whether the U.S. is losing the war against ISIS, as McCain had suggested.

I’m a former Pentagon spokesman and retired Navy commander who served in the Office of the Secretary of Defense while in uniform under Secretaries Donald Rumsfeld and Robert Gates, so McCain’s remarks hit close to home. Especially considering that I’ve known John Kirby as a friend and former colleague for roughly 15 years, and I know John McCain as well.

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While I’m saddened to see the admiral in a tough position, McCain brings up a very important issue that deserves to be discussed nationwide.

Here’s the question:

Are the uniformed military officers who try to persuade Americans to essentially “keep calm and carry on” while the White House clearly weakens America more each day really just President Obama’s “useful idiots” — or are they “good officers,” simply following orders?

No matter what side of the political spectrum one is on, when evaluating American military power and prestige these days, facts are facts:

• The White House is implementing $1 trillion in defense cuts over this decade, hollowing out the military as it did in the 1970s;
• President Obama failed to notify Congress as required by law about releasing the Taliban’s five top leaders from Guantanamo in exchange for Army deserter Bowe Bergdahl;
• The Pentagon’s response to combat ISIS has been notoriously weak;
• The president and secretary of defense fail even to acknowledge ISIS — the Islamic State — is “Islamic”;
• Top military brass is being fired more than at any time in recent history;
• Team Obama is forcing one social experiment after another on the military.

And the list goes on.

Everyone knows that military men and women swear an oath to support and defend the Constitution, and the president was duly elected by the American people. They follow orders. It’s that simple, as it should be.

Yet it’s disheartening to see military officers covering for political decisions that are so severely damaging national security.

I feel bad for Adm. Kirby. I feel bad for Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey. And their top advisers too. As fellow career military officers, they can’t be pleased to see our armed forces gutted so badly and to witness one foreign policy train wreck after another. And even worse, to accept high-visibility, high-prestige and high-pay positions from which they are justifying the White House actions to the American people.

In their defense, one can argue they are zealously representing their bosses and doing their jobs.

I was criticized by some during my Pentagon tour as providing military “window dressing” for President Bush, Secretary Rumsfeld and Secretary Gates. But here’s the difference — I truly believed they were working to advance American security interests. Can anyone honestly say the same about President Obama and Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel?

In Kirby’s case, though he is Hagel’s spokesman, his actual boss is Assistant Secretary of Defense for Public Affairs Brent Colburn, a young political operative who was Obama’s national communications director for the 2012 campaign.

In Dempsey’s case, his boss is Hagel, who, although he is a Republican, was to the left of most Democrats on defense issues during his time in the Senate. He was among the softest senators on Iran and a key figure behind the “Global Zero” movement trying to abolish nuclear weapons. A nice thought, but laughable to the Russians, Chinese, North Koreans and Iranians. And downright scary for our allies who rely on the U.S. nuclear umbrella.

So while some dismissed McCain’s insult as bluster, we can’t wish away the underlying problem. A serious national conversation on this issue is entirely appropriate.