No matter how entertaining
the Democratic race becomes, it pays to remember the Republican convention
will be held in New York City, in early September, a short cab ride from
Ground Zero. That’s no happy coincidence, but it is good political
placement; it allows President Bush to essentially say, “Look: Having valiantly
served your country in Vietnam is virtuous, and if we were still fighting
1973’s war you could be right in voting for John Kerry. But the fact
is, America is fighting a new, modern war against an enemy with new, modern
ideas. If left unchecked, Islamic terrorism could rise to become a
threat not unlike Communism at its peak; you don’t want a president who ended
up seeing no value in ending Communism’s spread throughout Southeast Asia
deciding which parts of the new threat are worth taking seriously.
And not for nothing, but I’ve got three years of on-the-job training here,
why take the chance?”
If only the president were so bold.
has produced an odd struggle between General Clark and Senator Kerry (perpetrated
by Clark) concerning who managed the most valuable service while stationed
in Vietnam, odd because Lyndon Johnson was the last Democrat to care about
what happened to non-Communists there (it is campaign season, and politicians
really care during campaign seasons). Mr. William F. Buckley, Jr. made
interesting observations, of most interest here: “A problem with presidential
candidacies is their pursuit of trendy popularity. Kerry tasted deep of this
when he paraded before Congress in 1971, condemning the judgment and integrity
of three U.S. presidents who had argued the importance of resisting the Communists
in Vietnam. And now Kerry has his eyes on a sitting president who,
with the backing of 77 senators, including John Kerry, set out to disarm
Saddam Hussein by force.
One hypothesis has Democrats attempting to re-fight the ideological battle
over Vietnam, to make known certain connections (real or imagined) between
that conflict and what has happened in Iraq. The hope is that more
and more people will come to see another Vietnam developing in the Middle
East, become disenfranchised at the thought and switch their votes to the
Democratic candidate in November. In this logical string no one is
more qualified than either Clark or Kerry to not make the mistakes the administration
So New Hampshire Democrats (Democrats everywhere, really, but New Hampshire
Democrats today) are supposed to be considering which man is better qualified
to be president given their experiences, but things get in the way.
For example, the same John Kerry who served with such valor and distinction
in Vietnam came home and decried American savagery, saying in his 1971 congressional
testimony that he sought to “destroy the last vestige of this barbaric war,
to pacify our hearts, to conquer the hate and fear that have driven this
country these last ten years and more,” and so forth. But in 2001 he
defended Bob Kerrey’s involvement in the killing of Vietnamese civilians
in 1969, and has yet to fully explain how civilians ended up dying under
his Swift boat.
Senator Kerry did make clear there were hardly ever such things as average
Vietnamese citizens, that “the civilians were often combatants. A 12-year-old
kid could walk up to a cafe, and did, and lobbed a grenade into that cafe
and blew up people. Women would have a gun, perhaps hidden under …
a dress, a skirt … this was where the combatants were completely confused
with civilians.” Fair enough, but this explanation came thirty years
after his emotional testimony. Even taken at its face it still comes
nowhere close to explaining why Senator Kerry voted against the eighty-seven
billion dollar Iraqi aid package, sixty-seven billion of which went to the
upkeep of the American soldiers there, many of whom today face the same uncertainty
the senator faced in Vietnam.
Now let’s say this: There is nothing wrong with demanding an end to American
barbarism where it exists or has existed. But there is intellectual
inconsistency is striving to end barbarity in the American military without
at least explaining what it was about Bob Kerrey's victims that made
them exceptions and whether it is ever especially worthwhile to shoot first and ask questions
later. So once again, what exactly is it about John Kerry’s career
that suggests he’s more qualified than the president to oversee modern warfare,
other than the fact he says he’s more qualified?
earlier version of this article confused John Kerry's experience in Vietnam
with Bob Kerrey's experience. IC regrets the error.
Brian Wise is the lead columnist for IntellectualConservative.com.