Thursday, August 26, 2004

Dregs of Society Running for President

As a Vietnam veteran, I find myself caught between the Swift boat veterans for Bush and the Swift boat veteran/anti-war protestor running as the Democratic candidate. I share the Swift boat veterans' contempt for John Kerry because of his denunciation of all Vietnam veterans when he returned from Vietnam (after a cushy assignment finishing his Navy tour of service by accompanying an Admiral around the country). But I also respect Kerry for volunteering to serve in Vietnam, in close combat (after an earlier cushy tour cruising off the coast of Vietnam on a big Navy ship).

The Democrats did this to themselves by nominating someone who brings out the best and the worst of military service. Republican Senators John McCain or Chuck Hagel don't carry this "worst" of Vietnam baggage. I don't know of a Democrat who carries the "best" like they do. But as a Deaniac, I would have preferred that the Democrats nominate someone who did not conjure up these black and white Vietnam passions. I would have preferred someone passionate about today's issues, like the war in Iraq. Kerry is milk toast on Iraq. If they wanted someone wishy-washy, they could have nominated Gephardt, who is a decent, if colorless, man, and they would have avoided the Vietnam pit.

My own theory is that Kerry only got the nomination because Dean and Gephardt killed each other off in Iowa, and left the number three candidate, Kerry, standing. He did not get the nomination because of any great preference for him by Iowa and New Hampshire voters. But now the Democrats are stuck with him. He does represent contradictions, although not exactly as portrayed by the Republican negative ads. He is a Vietnam war hero who opposed that war, just as he was a senator who supported the Iraq war, but voted against the money to fight it.

Once again, maybe deservedly, we Vietnam veterans are left holding the bag, looking bad on both sides. The Swift boat veterans look bad for their attacks on Kerry, which are not supported by the written, historical record; they appear to be motivated by hatred of him because of anti-war statements after his return. Kerry looks bad because of his unfounded attacks on all Vietnam veterans as war criminals after his return.

I would like to support a Vietnam veteran like Kerry, but not one who has vilified other Vietnam veterans as he has. So, despite my contempt for the Swift boat veterans and their ads, I may still support Ralph Nader, who is at least honest, a man of integrity, even if this vote helps Bush, whom I now despise for his "pre-emptive" war on Iraq, certainly one of the most horrible foreign policy adventures of our generation, one motivated by hatred, hubris, fear, and every other bad motive you can imagine.

The atrocities committed at Abu Ghraib under his command only illustrate his depravity. He is commander-in-chief of all the armed forces and the whole war, not just the parts he likes. I am outraged, not that the Abu Ghraib atrocities occurred (horrible things happen in war), but that Bush and other senior officials were so slow and spineless in responding to them. If Bush were a true Christian, he would have taken strong actions up and down the chain of command immediately to show his revulsion, instead of hiding behind a long, drawn-out series of studies and reports, and show trials of low-ranking individuals.

Tuesday, August 03, 2004

State Department Has Vietnam Veterans; Pentagon Doesn't

As a Vietnam veteran and a retired Foreign Service officer, I found the article in today's Washington Post, "Old Vietnam Hands in Charge in Iraq," an interesting comparison between the State Department and the Pentagon. The State Department has quite a few people who served in Vietnam now serving in Iraq. The senior civilian leadership of the Pentagon is devoid of Vietnam veterans. What's wrong with this picture? To me it means that more people at the State Department are concerned about their country than people at the Pentagon. People at State answered their country's call in the 1960's, while those at the Pentagon, Paul Wolfowitz and company, had better things to do. (Of course, Wolfowitz served at State, too, in previous administrations.) Retired General Barry McCaffrey particularly points to Secretary Donald Rumsfeld as someone who did not serve in Vietnam, and thus who is first-hand unfamiliar with the problems encountered there. However, Rumsfeld did serve in the military during peacetime. Of course, the military leadership at the Pentagon probably has a lot of Vietnam veterans, but they are aging and may be retiring too fast to remain in the military leadership. The one general I felt some connection with was Army Chief of Staff Eric Shinsheki, who served in the same general area of northern I Corps (near the DMZ) that I served in, and who was vilified by the Pentagon's civilian leadership for calling for more troops to occupy Iraq.

I think it is significant that the leadership of the State Department, which has the reputation of being dovish, actually has more combat experience than the civilian leadership of the Pentagon.