John McCain slid into Rush Limbaugh territory this week when he said “Obama would rather lose a war to win a political campaign.” But when will someone ask McCain publicly if he’s willing to lose the Army to win a politicial campaign?

Bill Sasser has a powerful piece up on Salon today about how the Army is rushing to promote sergeants — qualified or not — in an apparently desperate race to fill the holes left by an exodus of officers and the demands of a deployment cycle that has yet to afford men and women anything better than an average 1 year in, one year out dwell time ratio:

After six years of war, with multiple tours of duty commonplace, the Army continues struggling to retain and recruit quality soldiers. After failing to meet its recruitment goals in 2005, the Army undertook measures to boost its numbers, with some success. That included stop-loss orders (compulsory postponement of retirements), bonuses of up to $50,000 for re-enlisting, and the loosening of standards on criminal backgrounds, education and age. It also began automatically promoting enlisted personnel with the rank of E-4 to sergeant, or E-5 in the Army’s hierarchy of service ranks, based on a soldier’s time in service, while waiving a requirement that candidates for E-5 appear before a promotions board.

Under the current policy, after 48 months of service E-4s serving in military specialties with shortages are automatically placed on a promotions list. Although a soldier’s name can be removed by his or her commander, each month that soldier’s name is placed back on the list. This was termed “automatic list integration” by the Army (or what the soldiers call “paper boarding”). This April, the policy was expanded to include promotions to staff sergeant, or E-6.

Sgt. Selena Coppa, a communications specialist in the 105th Military Intelligence Battalion, said she has noted a marked lowering of standards for E-4s being promoted to sergeant. “The doctrine now is that you just need to be trainable, and people who are not competent and not good leadership material are being promoted,” said Coppa, who has expressed her concerns through unit performance surveys and spoken directly to her superiors. “A sergeant major told me, ‘Yes, you’re right, but there’s nothing I can do about it.'”

It would seem to me that as a “military man,” McCain would be best qualified to articulate this problem and gain some serious credibility with voters if he stopped ignoring it and offered some solutions. But he cannot. His marriage to “more boots on the ground” might as well have been signed in blood five years ago, and for better or for worse, he cannot waver, much less draw attention to anything that might suggest his ideological compact might be hurting the Army’s ability to effectively put “more boots on the ground” anywhere else in the world in the foreseeable future. Ironically, they call him Mr. Straight Talk, but we have gotten more of that from active duty officers, who have testified that if something isn’t done to ease the strain on the forces, they just won’t be able to respond on other fronts.

One thinks they risked more in telling the truth than McCain, who has but “a political campaign” to lose.