Sunday, August 29, 2004

Goodbye my sweetheart, hello Vietnam

I've taken a dim view of the vets who have impugned John Kerry's service in Vietnam, but I've also believe that Kerry's war record has no bearing on his abilities to be president, and I continue to be nauseated by the way he has prostituted his military service to establish bona fides as a potential commander-in-chief. The Democrats weren't too concerned with who served and who didn't when Bill Clinton ran sans military experience in 1992.

I finally got around to reading Christopher Hitchens' take on the issue in Slate. Hitchens is a hawk in Iraq, backing the decision to topple Saddam Hussein, but he remains steadfast in his belief that Vietnam was an immoral war waged by a dishonest government. Here's a glimpse:

So what if he (Kerry) has been telling the absolute truth all along? In what sense, in other words, does his participation in a shameful war qualify him to be president of the United States? This was a combat of more than 30 years ago, fought with a largely drafted army using indiscriminate tactics and weaponry against a deep-rooted and long-running domestic insurgency. (Agent Orange, for example, was employed to destroy the vegetation in the Mekong Delta and make life easier for the Swift boats.) The experience of having fought in such a war is absolutely useless to any American today and has no bearing on any thinkable fight in which the United States could now become engaged. Thus, only the "character" issues involved are of any weight, and these are extremely difficult and subjective matters. If Kerry doesn't like people disputing his own version of his own gallantry, then it was highly incautious of him to have made it the centerpiece of his appeal.

I would take issue with Hitchen's assertion that service in Vietnam is of no value; I'm sure the experience of combat in Vietnam shaped the character of many of the men who fought in it much the same way that World War II shaped the character of the men who fought that war. The difference is that the World War II vets had the good fortune of fighting in a war that we won, and that was just. But as Hitchens notes, many Vietnam veterans were draftees; they did not choose to take us into that war, and they can't be blamed for its outcome. (And don't think that American soldiers didn't commit atrocities in World War II.) That said, despite what Kerry has implied, the lessons of Vietnam don't have to have been witnessed firsthand to be taken to heart.

Here's how Hitchens finishes up:

Meanwhile, even odder things are happening to Kerry's "left." Michael Moore, whose film Kerry's people have drawn upon in making cracks about the president and the My Pet Goat moment, repeatedly says that you can't comment on the Iraq war—or at least not in favor of it—if you haven't shown a willingness to send a son to die there. Comes the question—what if you haven't got a son of military age? Comes the next question—should it only be veterans or potential veterans who have a voice in these matters? If so, then what's so bad about American Legion types calling Kerry a traitor to his country? The Democrats have made a rod for their own backs in uncritically applauding their candidate's ramrod-and-salute posture. They have also implicitly subverted one of the most important principles of the republic, which is civilian control over military decisions. And more than that, they have done something eye-rubbingly unprincipled, doing what Reagan and Kissinger could not do: rehabilitating the notion of the Vietnam horror as "a noble cause."


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hitchens is absolutely correct about one thing -- Kerry has a great deal of trouble posing as both a fervent warrior who notched his gunbelt in Vietnam AND a fervent peacenik, who will lead U.S. troops out of the "quagmire" of Iraq.

First, Iraq isn't Vietnam. While 1,000 men have died there in more than a year of desultory fighting, that's about two or three weeks of casualties in Vietnam in 1968. Many of the men who died were conscripted (although certainly not all, or even most, of the dead). Chalk this up to a modern, tough, technologically superior all-volunteer U.S. military.

Whereas Kerry certainly dressed in his uniform once to blather about allegedly wide-spread atrocities in Vietnam (a position he, himself, now debunks), he has done little over the past three decades of public service to build a strong record on defense. He's no Sam Nunn, Al Gore or Daniel Inouye, to name three very prominent Democrat leaders who helped construct the fighting forces we see now in Iraq.

In fact, close inspection of his Senate record show Kerry as a hopelessly myopic amateur, out of his element on such weighty issues as cruise missiles, troop levels, stealth aircraft, bombers and nuclear technology. Al Gore was an expert on all of these.

To make up for this dearth of interest in, and committment to, America's defense, Kerry started doing two things on the campaign trail: (1) He dusted off his Vietnam days, started saluting conventions, and ran commercials dwelling on his "heroism" in Vietnam (no more talk of atrocities, blah blah blah); and (2) Named Sandy Berger, a former Clinton National Security Advisor, to his shadow cabinent to teach him about force projection.

The first strategy has come crashing down because of a 527 group filled to the brim with most of his former chain-of-command. This is what Dole is alluding to -- as a former officer himself, he wonders why nearly everyone Kerry knew in Vietnam is now so strongly against him. There must be something there.

The second strategy died when the National Archives accused Berger of stealing highly classified documents that painted the Clinton anti-bin Laden efforts in a bad light, at one point even stuffing the top secret details into his underwear.

Kerry's four months of service to his nation in Vietnam is to be applauded, as Bush has done. But four months in-country as a LtJG 35 years ago doesn't make you the natural civilian leader of the American military.

A Senate record might have helped, but Kerry's doesn't exist, and what's there makes him look stupid.

His efforts to create a contemporary national security profile by selecting key aides are also looking pretty bad now. What next, Michael Moore as the Secretary of Defense?

If the election turns around national defense, then Kerry is sunk, and even a draft-dodging duo of Bush and Cheney can't screw up enough to save him.

6:59 PM


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