John F. Kerry is a dove in hawk's clothing. Yes, he volunteered in Vietnam -- and none can deny him the honor he deserves for having done his duty. But he now asks to be commander in chief largely on the strength of that four-month stint -- which is like trying to build a pyramid atop a toothpick. Moreover, every position Kerry has taken on foreign policy since he left the swift boats behind stands in sharp contrast to those months of service.
There were many honorable ways to protest the war in Vietnam. Kerry did not choose those. Instead, he joined a group, Vietnam Veterans Against the War, that had disgraced itself by presenting a libelous picture of American soldiers to the world. Nor were they honest about their own service.
As recounted in B.G. Burkett's book "Stolen Valor," Al Hubbard, the VVAW's executive secretary, lied about his service in Vietnam. He had claimed to be a decorated Air Force captain who had been wounded flying supplies into Da Nang in 1966. A CBS reporter uncovered the truth: Hubbard was a staff sergeant, not a captain or a pilot. He had never served in Vietnam. Yet, like other members of VVAW, he served up a damning concoction of stories about his service. Kerry defended Hubbard when the subject of his dishonesty was raised. Michael Harbert, another VVAW leader, had claimed to have flown 47 missions over Vietnam. But a glance at his record showed that he spent most of the war at McClellan Air Force Base in California. His only overseas service was in Taiwan in 1967 and 1968.
No one disputes that Kerry really was in Vietnam. He now asks us to believe that his service in war proved his suitability to lead a country at war. Not so. This is a "war hero" who tossed his medals over the White House fence -- a gesture not just of opposition to the war, but of contempt for the nation that sent him. There is also some question as to whether Kerry himself has been altogether honest about his Vietnam service. In a Senate floor speech delivered in 1986, Kerry said: "I remember Christmas of 1968 sitting on a gunboat in Cambodia. I remember what it was like to be shot at by Vietnamese and Khmer rouge and Cambodians, and the president of the United States telling the American people that I was not there; the troops were not in Cambodia. I have that memory which is seared -- seared -- in me."
As The Washington Times noted last week, Richard Nixon wasn't even president on Christmas Day, 1968, and unless Kerry is making news by suggesting that Lyndon Johnson ordered him into Cambodia, the story does not hold up. Besides, the new book "Unfit for Command," details the denials of every living officer in Kerry's chain of command that Kerry was ever in Cambodia.
Kerry's star turn as a Vietnam Vet against the war -- he famously testified before Congress about atrocities supposedly committed by U.S. forces -- casts further doubt on his now-preferred image of good soldier. That was not courage. That was libel.
Kerry's snappy "reporting for duty" line cannot erase his record as a weak sister during the Cold War. While President Reagan and the Republicans were attempting to rebuild America's defenses during the 1980s, Kerry was an enthusiastic backer of the nuclear freeze -- a measure that would have cemented the USSR's lead in intercontinental ballistic missiles. In 1985, Kerry sponsored legislation that would have strangled the Strategic Defense Initiative in the cradle.
Concerning the flashpoints of the Cold War conflict, Kerry was perennially inclined the give the communist side the benefit of the doubt. He denounced the U.S. ouster of Cubans from the Caribbean island of Grenada as "bullying," and he was a vociferous opponent of aid to the anti-communist forces in Nicaragua and El Salvador.
As recently as the 1990s, Kerry proposed to cut funding for intelligence agencies, and opposed the first Gulf War. He seems to believe that he would be successful in gaining the support of France where Bush has failed. But no one has yet asked him, to what end? Even if he could sweet talk the French into a more supportive posture (highly doubtful), how would that improve America's safety?
Kerry has draped himself in red, white and blue for 2004. But his new clothes cannot obscure the truth -- that his record is one of appeasement and weakness.