Friday, September 24, 2004


The 2004 election is about the present and future, not what happened 30 years ago. I can understand the public’s bewilderment regarding the debate over who did or did not do what during the Vietnam war. After all, America’s present offers plenty of real issues that the next president will deal with. But a nation is nothing if not the result of its history and America’s history has much to tell us in these early years of the 21st Century. I cannot see America’s war on Iraq without remembering Vietnam. And that’s why that war has a high degree of relevance for me so long after its end.

Much of my concern is personal. I served in Vietnam, in combat, even though I thought the war to be wrong. I did not serve willingly but I served. And ever since, that war has haunted me. My service did nothing for my country. America was no better off because I and 2.5 million Americans served in that war. Vietnam was no better off, either. In fact, America’s war there killed over 2 million Vietnamese, left the countryside devastated and poisoned and only served to postpone the resolution of Vietnam’s century long anti-colonial struggle. That resolution was all the more destructive in 1975 than it would have been in 1956 had the US and its South Vietnamese ally allowed the national election mandated by the 1954 accord that ended the French Indo-China war.

That’s why I find Bush’s intervention in Iraq so disturbing. Neither he nor his claque of neo-conservative advisors seem to remember how we got into Vietnam. As a result, their assumptions, language and even their tactics resemble those of the cold warriors who led us into that southeast Asia quagmire. So once again, the United States has intervened unilaterally in another nation based on the belief that we can change that nation to conform to our own world view. And just as Lyndon Johnson lied to the American people and Congress to obtain a resolution to support his intervention, George Bush lied about Iraqi weapons of mass destruction and links to al-Qaeda to justify his intervention.

And the results look about the same. We faced nationalist insurgency in Vietnam and the same has occurred in Iraq. What I find truly amazing is that Americans are surprised that Iraqis are opposing our intervention. If the tables were turned, if an outside power attacked and occupied the US, every able bodied person would resist. Even if there was some merit to their actions–say, to overturn Bush’s theft of the 2000 election–Americans, including me, would object to the intervention. So why are we surprised at Iraqi resistance? Especially when we have failed to live up the promises to restore order, essential public service and have resisted their call for elections to create their own government to replace the one created by the American occupation?

As a veteran I find Bush’s actions especially appalling. He has committed American troops to an unnecessary war. He is sending Americans to Iraq to suffer and die in vain. That to me is an unpardonable abuse of his authority and demonstrates his complete lack of judgment, which disqualifies him to hold the sacred trust of the presidency. I was fortunate enough to escape death or disfigurement in Vietnam but know what it means to serve in vain. Bush has created a whole new generation of soldiers who will suffer the same fate. Their only alternative is to live the lie that so many Vietnam veterans live, namely, to believe that they served their country when in fact their service, however honorable and heroic, did not contribute to America’s security in the world. I have not had to live with that lie since I knew even as I served that the war’s premise was faulty. Instead, I get to live with the knowledge that I was willing to kill war that was wrong.

Either way, Iraq war vets will suffer the same fate as Vietnam vets. If the US ever had a chance to successfully change the regime in Iraq, it has long since passed. George Bush and his Vulcans ignored the advice of military leaders about the number of troops needed to secure Iraq, grossly underestimated the financial cost and were totally unprepared to reconstruct Iraq in the very short time that most Iraqis saw us as liberators. Now our soldiers are mired in a no-win war against the people they came to liberate.

Sometimes war is unavoidable and the sacrifices of our armed forces are necessary to save the nation. Iraq is not that war but the sacrifice of our soldiers is all too real.

George Bush did not learn that difficult lesson when it was taught 30 years ago and it shows in his willingness to commit American forces to a war that does not serve our national interest. That is the crime for which George Bush deserves to be removed from office.

Monday, September 20, 2004

Whatever Happened to John Kerry?

Forty-three days until election day. Bush is surging and John Kerry is flailing. A year ago, the great fear was that any Democratic nominee would be overwhelmed by the Republican financial advantage. Surprisingly, that has turned out not to be the case. Strong fund raising efforts by the Kerry campaign, Democratic National Committee and allied groups have enabled the Democrats to remain financially competitive with the Republicans this year. But their fund raising success is compromised by their inability to deliver a clear message. Kerry’s style is not conducive to effective campaigning, nor has he effectively demonstrated his qualifications based on over 30 years in public service. Meanwhile, Bush rolls on, confidently connecting with voters, wearing the mantle of a “war president” whose mission is to protect America.

Part of the problem is Kerry’s style. He has the pontificating, roundabout speaking style of the US Senate where he has spent the bulk of his career. He can be painful to listen to at times. I watched him address the Congressional Black Caucus and found it painful; Kerry resembled a parody of a candidate. He also appears uncomfortable as a candidate, aloof and somewhat condescending as he tries to connect with voters. But most of all, I don’t think Kerry has a good sense of who he is and what he stands for. While I don’t doubt the courage of his convictions, his record–especially on the war in Iraq–seems inconsistent. I am convinced it makes perfect sense to Kerry but his record seems to take him all over the place, no more so than when interpreted and distorted by the Bush campaign.

By all reasonable standards, Kerry should be far more competitive than he’s been so far. Bush launched an unprovoked attack on Iraq that has led to over 1,000 American deaths, killed more than 11,000 Iraqi civilians and committed the US to fighting a nationalist insurgency with no end in sight. The US economy is sputtering along in a weak recovery with a net loss in employment during Bush’s tenure. His tax cuts have seriously weakened the government’s ability to meet its responsibilities to citizens. Bush should be highly vulnerable in all of these areas, but so far Kerry has hardly landed a punch on him. Polls show Bush leading in states with a combined electoral vote total of 327, more than enough to actually elect him this time.

The Bush campaign has succeeded in turning the question to Kerry’s fitness for office. Normally, this election should be a referendum on Bush’s tenure. And many Americans have concerns about his ability to lead America. But Kerry has given these concerned voters little reason to vote for him. He has not defended himself against the Republican distortions and attacks. And his own record has left him open to the charges of inconsistency and flip-flopping. I think Kerry has spent too many years being a “safe” politician and has lost his willingness to take risks. Maybe he’s even lost a strong sense of who he really is, which would explain why he cannot establish himself as a credible alternative to Bush. Kerry certainly doesn’t offer a real alternative to the many Americans like me who think that the Iraq war is a disaster. Kerry would leave US forces in Iraq for as many as four more years. It’s hard to see that as much of an alternative to Bush.

If Kerry is to have any hope of winning this election, he needs to demonstrate to the American electorate that he will do better–significantly better–than Bush. After months of relentless pounding by the Republican disinformation machine, I wonder whether Kerry can actually do this. The Bush campaign has successfully portrayed Kerry as a vacillator, liar, an effete snob and a big government free spender. The irony of all this is that each of these descriptions accurately fits George Bush, with consequences that are far more dire to this nation. Yet the Kerry campaign has completely lost its ability to put forth a consistent, convincing message. It’s very depressing.

When he finally responded to the Swifty Liars, Kerry alluded to the lesson he learned in Vietnam: when attacked, charge into the attackers. Unfortunately, Kerry doesn’t seem to remember that lesson too well. He is not consistently hitting back with his own message. He seems afraid to attack Bush for what he is: a liar who has seriously compromised America’s national and economic security. John Kerry has a long, distinguished career serving this country as a commander, anti-war activist, prosecutor and senator. He courageously used his status as a decorated veteran to question the Vietnam war, he pursued an investigation of the Bank of Credit and Commerce International even though it hurt his own party and he worked effectively with John McCain to restore relations with Vietnam and to resolve the POW/MIA issue. If he ever hopes to be president, he needs to stand by his record and show why it qualifies him to take over after the disaster of George W. Bush.

Kerry has come back from the dead before. He did so in his 1996 Senate race. He swept the Democratic primaries when conventional wisdom had written him off in the wake of the Howard Dean juggernaut. I hope he can do it again and will do what I can here in Arizona to make it happen.