An Indefensible Defense

Posted: Sep 10, 2004 12:00 AM

Well. That didn?t take long.

Seconds after President Bush finished his lengthy Republican National Convention speech, journalists were firing back. ?Already the Democrats are out with a response sheet saying there was no mention of North Korea, no mention of Iran or Osama bin Laden,? Tom Brokaw announced in the fifth sentence he spoke on NBC. He took no notice of similar Republican critiques after the Democratic convention.

The next morning?s papers kept up the barrage. Under the headline ?GOP Prism Distorts Some Kerry Positions,? The Washington Post reported, ?Speakers at this week?s Republican convention have relentlessly attacked John F. Kerry for statements he has made and votes he has taken in his long political career, but a number of their specific claims -- such as his votes on military programs -- are at best selective and in many cases stripped of their context.?

Credit where it?s due: That story provided a better defense of Sen. Kerry than he himself did.

?I?m not going to have my commitment to defend this country questioned by those who refused to serve when they could have and by those who have misled the nation into Iraq,? Kerry announced at a post-convention rally in Ohio. In other words, if you didn?t serve in Vietnam, shut up!

Well, I was in grade school when it ended, so I didn?t serve in Vietnam. But like many speakers at the GOP convention, I believe Sen. Kerry?s record as a lawmaker is fair game. So did The Washington Post, once. ?[Twenty] years ago, in his first Senate campaign, Kerry talked a different language about national defense, denouncing President Ronald Reagan?s military buildup and calling for cuts of about $50 billion in the Pentagon budget, including the cancellation of a long list of weapons systems, from the B-1 bomber to the Patriot antimissile system to F-14A, F-14D and F-15 fighter jets,? the paper reported back on Feb. 8.

We can talk about nuance and context all we want, but the bottom line is that Kerry has opposed virtually every weapons system that came up for a vote during his tenure. After Georgia Sen. Zell Miller read off a list of systems Kerry had voted against, the Democratic response -- as parroted by Wolf Blitzer on CNN -- was, ?[Cheney] opposed some of them when he was the defense secretary, and sometimes he was overruled by the Congress.?

Of course, the only real defense against the charge that Kerry is weak on defense would be for him to list the weapons he?s voted for, rather than claim someone else had also opposed a handful of the ones he voted against. The fact that Kerry?s team hasn?t identified specific votes for specific weapons suggests there aren?t any specific votes for specific programs.

It?s also telling that Democrats are chiding Bush for not mentioning Iran. Days before the president spoke, vice presidential nominee John Edwards told the Post his side has a plan for dealing with Iran: Allow the Iranians to fire up nuclear power plants if they?ll agree to hand over their nuclear waste.

And if Tehran balks? ?If in fact this is a bluff and [Iran is] trying to develop nuclear weapons capability, then we know that our European friends will stand with us,? Edwards said. Ah. So, Kerry-Edwards thinks it would be all right to take action, presumably military action, to stop Iran?s nuclear program.

Let?s ignore the fact that, even as they?re chiding Bush for actually dealing with Iraq, they?re chiding him for not dealing with Iran. Instead, let?s focus on Edwards? specific claim: Would our European allies stand with us? It seems unlikely.

Back in June, Iranian troops crossed the border into Iraq, forced eight British servicemen into Iran, and then detained them. The Brits were paraded blindfolded on television. They were forced to apologize for their supposed ?incursion.? The British government was forced to apologize, too. The men were returned after four days in captivity, but their equipment wasn?t.

When the ordeal was over, Jack Straw, the British foreign secretary, announced, ?I am in no doubt at all that our policy of engagement with the government of Iran is the best approach.? Yes, that policy is clearly working well.

And remember, this is the behavior of our closest European ally. If the Brits don?t want to confront Iran when their military reputation is on the line, why would any reasonable person think any other European nation would be willing to confront Tehran?

In just the last few weeks, John Kerry has announced that he?d still have voted for the Iraq war, even if he?d known then what he knows now. Yet he also accuses President Bush of ?misleading? the nation into ?the wrong war in the wrong place at the wrong time.?

Maybe, before Kerry-Edwards launch us into a solo war with Iran, they ought to get their stories straight about the coalition war we just fought in Iraq.