John Kerry would be the first presidential candidate to visit a war zone since the failed bid of Sen. George S. McGovern, if the presumptive Democratic nominee decides to visit Iraq on a fact-finding trip.
In September 1971, Mr. McGovern, the liberal South Dakota senator, visited South Vietnam, where he declared President Nixon’s policy a “glaring failure” and called for a complete withdrawal of U.S. forces.
Mr. Kerry, a four-term senator from Massachusetts, said this week that he is considering a trip to Iraq, although he left open the possibility that he might ask a group of congressional colleagues to conduct a fact-finding mission for him.
“I’d like to see what the latest assessment is of people that I trust, of people whose experience and knowledge is significant, and have the ability to make some judgments about where we are today,” Mr. Kerry told reporters in Mississippi. “I think that would be very valuable in the formulation of policy and in my ability to get important updates.”
Republican National Committee (RNC) Chairman Ed Gillespie said Mr. Kerry’s sudden need to travel to Iraq raises an important issue.
“Senator Kerry says he either needs to go himself or send a delegation to learn more about the situation in Iraq so he can form his policy positions, and yet for the past six months, he’s been criticizing the president’s policy. Now we know his criticism is uninformed,” Mr. Gillespie said.
The RNC head also said the move is purely political — a clear deviation from the axiom that “politics stops at the water’s edge” — and illustrates Mr. Kerry’s proclivity to flip-flop on major issues.
During his three-day visit to Vietnam, Mr. McGovern attended a meeting of priests, nuns and students, most of whom were members of antiwar and antigovernment groups in a Catholic church. Shortly after the meeting began, a mob gathered in the churchyard, prompting Mr. McGovern and others to barricade themselves inside. U.S. military forces extracted the group 20 minutes later.
The McGovern visit stands in sharp contrast to another promised by a presidential candidate — Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower. During the run-up to the 1952 election, Mr. Eisenhower made a campaign promise to go to Korea if he won.
After his victory over Adlai E. Stevenson, the Republican visited troops north of Seoul as president-elect in December of that year.
Mr. Kerry, who voted for the war in Iraq and said in a debate last year that President Bush made “the right decision to disarm Saddam Hussein,” since has said he voted only to “threaten” the use of force. In January, he said he was an avowed antiwar candidate and this month has stepped up his criticism of the war in Iraq.
Mr. Kerry told Time magazine this week that he doesn’t want “any sense of politicization” that a trip to Iraq during a presidential race might raise. The Kerry campaign did not return phone calls for comment, nor did officials of the Democratic National Committee.
Mr. Gillespie derided those statements.
“That’s like me saying I’m going to the Republican National Convention, and I’d like it not to be political. The fact is, it’s entirely political,” he said.View Entire Story
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