If the Democrats learned anything from the 2002 election, it’s that in 2004 they won’t beat George Bush with another Bill Clinton. Americans don’t want the San Francisco Democrats leading them now. It’s war, stupid, and anyone who doesn’t get it won’t win. This year even Georgia’s Max Cleland — who lost his legs fighting in Vietnam — was beaten because he stuck to the SFD’s line that union jobs were more important than homeland security. Looking ahead is pretty easy. Alone among the still-gathering gaggle of dwarves, Massachusetts Senator John Kerry stands alone as combat veteran. President Bush’s experience as a Texas Air National Guard pilot pales in comparison to Kerry’s service, for which he received not only a Silver Star, but a Bronze Star and three Purple Hearts as well. You can’t say that he hasn’t been there and done that.
But Kerry’s military record isn’t enough to win the hearts and minds of our professional military. They have a profound distrust of Kerry and it’s not because he’s a pure-as-Ivory-soap liberal. (His ACLU and NARAL ratings are exactly the same as those of Teddy Kennedy, Babs Boxer and Oregon’s Ron “the Whiner” Wyden. People for the American Way — Norman Lear’s hyper-lib group — says he voted their way on 11 of the 12 issues they care about.) The reason for the military’s distrust of Kerry is his positively Clintonian contempt for them.
After serving with distinction in Vietnam, Kerry soon left the Navy and joined the Vietnam Veterans Against the War. Kerry testified in a highly-publicized Senate hearing on 23 April 1971, when the war was still going hot and heavy, and long before Vietnam released the American prisoners of war it admitted holding. Kerry’s Senate appearance made him a public figure and was the foundation on which he has built political success. In it, Kerry eloquently condemned America’s military for what he called “war crimes committed in Southeast Asia.” He said these were “not isolated incidents, but crimes committed on a day-to-day basis with the full awareness of officers at all levels of command.”
He condemned American soldiers not only for war crimes, but for racism, and condemned his country for that and more:
We rationalized destroying villages in order to save them. We saw America lose her sense of morality as she accepted very coolly a My Lai and refused to give up the image of American soldiers who hand out chocolate bars and chewing gum. We learned the meaning of free fire zones, shooting anything that moves, and we watched while America placed a cheapness on the lives of Orientals…We fought using weapons against those people which I do not believe this country would dream of using were we fighting in the European theater…
It is part and parcel of everything we are trying as human beings to communicate to the people of this country — the question of racism that is rampant in the military…the hypocrisy in our taking umbrage at the Geneva Conventions and using that as justification for a continuation of this war when we are more guilty than any other body of violations of those Geneva Conventions…
In those days, Kerry was a supporter of the “People’s Peace Treaty.” One of its provisions would have set a firm date for U.S. withdrawal, and only after that date was set would negotiations begin for release of our POWs. In short, Kerry would have given up any ability we had to pressure the North Vietnamese to release the POWs.
Kerry’s testimony lingers, a shouted libel that hangs in the air over silent listeners. His sincerity cannot be doubted. But he has the facts wrong. The My Lai massacre tore this country apart. Lt. William Calley, the commander of the unit involved, went to prison for it. Then, Kerry’s passion overcame the facts. Today, he wants to use the past he was once ashamed of to propel him to the presidency.
We call upon the young men to fight. All of us, in our late twenties and early thirties, had experiences that made deep impressions, and stayed with us for the rest of our lives. So it is with John Kerry. His war scarred him deeply, perhaps too deeply for his mind to ever heal. Announcing his presidential bid on “Meet the Press,” Kerry said he still suffers from nightmares about Vietnam.
Now, Kerry makes much of his war record. In that same “Meet the Press” appearance, he mentioned his military service several times, and even said it was a positive force in his life. None of that rings true to the military. During the Clinton era, they all developed a very sensitive nose for baloney. Now they smell it every time Kerry speaks.
ONE SENIOR ARMY OFFICER, A WARRIOR from Gulf War 1, told me that Kerry suffers from the Vietnam syndrome. In his judgment, Kerry is, “too traumatized by the lost war to cope with any other war under any circumstances.” A former Navy SEAL told me he thinks Kerry is an opportunist. That same judgment of Kerry came independently from a Marine whose Vietnam service was as tough or tougher than Kerry’s. He told me, “I do not trust people like [Kerry] — scratch that individual and watch an opportunist bleed.”
Kerry’s opportunism echoes Clinton’s. Kerry looks at the military as a mechanism to advance leftist social change. He has supported mixed-gender training, which has dumbed down all of the services’ standards (except the Marines, God bless ’em). He opposes the death penalty for usual criminals, but supports it for terrorists because terrorists are the headliners, and he wants his share of the front page. He opposes missile defense and has voted against a proposed constitutional amendment to prohibit desecration of the flag. He voted against the 1991 Gulf War resolution — when Saddam already occupied Kuwait — and voted for the 2002 resolution even though he said the threat of Saddam’s weapons of mass destruction isn’t imminent enough to go to war over. His support for the International Criminal Court — aimed at the U.S. military — is a big strike against him.
Kerry wants the military to think he’s complex, perhaps a little confused, but someone with whom they can work. But Kerry, unlike Clinton, is not complex at all. He would be a disaster as a commander in chief, because he would never trust the military, and it could never trust him. One of George Bush’s most important campaign promises in 2000 was to restore the trust between the White House and the troops. He has made a good start, and the people who now serve have faith in him because he keeps the faith with them. He has been truthful with them in a manner that John Kerry never could be, and never will.
Some men who survive one war have the ability to fight another. But John Kerry is not one of them. That his Vietnam experience still haunts him does not disqualify him for the presidency. His disdain for the military, driving opportunism and liberal purity do. Were we at peace, his candidacy could pose a credible alternative to George Bush. We should respect Kerry, even honor him, for this wartime service. But we must not trust him to lead us — and the world — to victory in this war.