Campaign Crawlers

Commander in Contradiction

Kerry actually does support the armed forces; except when he doesn’t.

By 6.1.04

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Leave it to the incessant drumbeat of pro-Kerry propaganda, otherwise known as the "news cycle," to make the impossible seem possible. Witness, for example, the amazing transformation of the Massachusetts senator who spent two decades slashing defense spending and slandering American veterans into...Commander Kerry, military devotee and soldier's best friend.

How is this possible? Too many of Kerry's backers, it appears, have been absorbing his pronouncements on defense matters without question. The reception that greeted Kerry's foreign policy address last Thursday is a good illustration of this phenomenon.

"On my first day in office," said Kerry, "I will send a message to every man and woman in our armed forces: This commander-in-chief will ensure that you are the best-led, best-equipped and most respected fighting force in the world." Hinting at his willingness to commit higher troop levels, Kerry vowed that American forces would "never be sent into harm's way without enough troops for the task."

Kerry cheerleaders seized on the senator's sudden hawkishness to fudge his dovish voting record and duck charges of waffling. Not only does Kerry support more troops, they claimed, but, indeed, this has been his position all along. Thus, we got this sparkling endorsement from Clinton National Security Advisor and Kerry confidant Sandy Berger: "John Kerry has been amazingly consistent from the beginning on Iraq and he has been consistently right on the need for more troops."

Aside from the dubious wisdom of increasing troop strength in Iraq, Berger's account had yet another flaw: It was totally false. As MSNBC's Tom Curry pointed out, in a debate last September with other Democratic contenders in Albuquerque, New Mexico, Kerry resolutely opposed sending more American troops to Iraq. "We should not send more American troops," Kerry argued, adding: "That would be the worst thing. We do not want to have more Americanization, we do not want a greater sense of American occupation." So much for consistency.

But what about Kerry's pledge to strengthen our fighting forces? Closer inspection reveals that this, too, is largely hype. For instance, Democratic proponents note Kerry's willingness to increase the U.S. military by 40,000 troops to relieve the burden on the National Guard and Reserve. Yet they conveniently ignore the fact that the Bush administration already has beaten him to it: Back in January, Secretary Rumsfeld authorized the Army to boost its size by 30,000 troops. Kerry's supposed commitment to beefing up our military turns out to be little more than warmed-over pandering.

Beyond that, there is little in his record to suggest Kerry's newfound military enthusiasm is anything more than an election year kick. A more accurate picture of Kerry's priorities emerges if we chart his voting record. The following becomes apparent: at vital moments of national security, Kerry has undermined our military resources. Throughout the '90s, he pushed through budget cuts in weapons programs and in the Central Intelligence Agency. Following the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, Kerry voted to cut $7.5 billion from the intelligence budget. More recently, Kerry voted against the $87 billion requested by Bush to bolster support for U.S. troops in Afghanistan and Iraq.

His chronic contradictions notwithstanding, it should be manifestly clear were the senator stands on the military: he is genuinely committed to shortchanging our armed forces. To be sure, that may get him votes -- particularly within the "Democratic wing of the Democratic Party" -- but our troops deserve more in a Commander in Chief. With Kerry slated to present his proposals for restructuring the armed forces this Thursday, it's helpful to keep in mind where he really stands.

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About the Author

Jacob Laksin is a writer in New York City.