- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 10, 2004

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.

“This is someone who, as a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, made strong public statements about the need to remove Saddam Hussein from power, supported the Clinton administration’s decision to adopt a policy of regime change, but once he gets into the Democratic primary, as with so many other positions, reverses himself under political pressure,” he said.

A trip by Mr. Kerry also would break his pledge last March that he would stop criticizing U.S. efforts to oust Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein once the shooting started.

“I remember being one of those guys and reading news reports from home,” the Vietnam veteran said. “If America is at war, I won’t speak a word without measuring how it’ll sound to the guys doing the fighting when they’re listening to their radios in the desert.”

While in Vietnam, Mr. McGovern — who won only Mr. Kerry’s home state of Massachusetts in the 1972 election he lost overwhelmingly to President Nixon — met in Saigon with Nguyen Van Thieu, who was elected the nation’s president in 1967 and won re-election in a rigged contest in 1971.

Mr. Thieu, the cornerstone of the United States’ doomed policy in South Vietnam, went into exile in Britain a few days before the communist victory in July 1975.

Upon his return to Washington after an 11-day world tour, which included stops in Paris and Tokyo, Mr. McGovern said the Vietnam War was a failure and declared that the United States should set a date for total withdrawal.

Bush-Cheney ‘04 spokesman Terry Holt also criticized Mr. Kerry.

“The politics of this are highly suspicious,” he said. “It’s too late for Kerry to vote for body armor and for funding the war. That was decided last fall. The fact is that John Kerry has opposed funding for troops in the field for the war in Iraq, and I’m not sure how a visit to Iraq could roll back his record.”

Meanwhile, the Independent Task Force on Post-Conflict Iraq, chaired by former Defense Secretary and Energy Secretary James R. Schlesinger and former U.N. Ambassador Thomas R. Pickering, said in a new report that no one should politicize the war in Iraq.

“With the transition to democracy in Iraq at a critical juncture and with the American presidential election nearing, President Bush, presumptive Democratic nominee John Kerry and senior members of Congress must reaffirm the U.S. commitment to Iraq,” the group said in a report titled “Iraq: One Year After.”

Sen. Joe Lieberman, Connecticut Democrat and a former presidential candidate, has called for an end to “the partisan-reflex rancor” in foreign policy.

He said Mr. Bush and Mr. Kerry must “see beyond the red states and the blue states to a larger cause that is as critical to the red, white and blue as any America has ever fought for.”

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