Wednesday, August 25, 2004

While Sen. John Kerry continues his attempt to demonstrate his presidential bona fides by concentrating virtually exclusively on his four-month tour of duty in Vietnam in the late 1960s, it is instructive to examine the potentially destructive role he has played on the national-security front during his two decades in the Senate. Perhaps no issue offers more evidence of Mr. Kerry’s foreign-policy follies than the matter of defending the American homeland against ballistic missiles carrying weapons of mass destruction, including nuclear warheads.

The issue is particularly timely given that the first ground-based missile interceptor was installed on July 22 in an underground silo at a missile-defense complex at Fort Greely, Alaska. With Mr. Kerry’s presidential fixation mired in the jungles of Vietnam, President Bush has just taken a huge step to confront the certain dangers of the 21st century. If voters are seeking evidence of visionary presidential leadership, they need look no further than Fort Greely.

Make no mistake: The initial deployment of that missile interceptor, which soon will be followed by others in Alaska and at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California during the first phase of a planned robust missile-defense system, represents a historic moment in military affairs. If Mr. Kerry had his way, President Reagan’s vision of defense against nuclear ballistic-missile attack would have been destroyed in its infancy. As a freshman senator in 1985, Mr. Kerry sponsored an amendment to slash spending for Mr. Reagan’s Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI). As the 2004 Democratic presidential nominee, his budget proposal has promised to “reduc[e] total expenditures on missile defense.”

In an era of worldwide proliferation of ballistic-missile and nuclear-weapons technology, now is not the time to slash missile-defense’s $10 billion annual budget. That modest amount represents less than one-half of 1 percent of total federal spending and less than 2.5 percent of defense spending, which will be less than 4 percent of gross domestic product (GDP) next year. That’s well below the 9 percent of GDP commanded by defense during the administration of Mr. Kerry’s hero, John F. Kennedy.

In fact, Mr. Kerry always has vigorously opposed missile defense. In 1985, he sponsored an amendment that would have slashed the spending authorization for SDI by more than 50 percent. The Congressional Quarterly (CQ) 1985 almanac reports that Mr. Kerry’s amendment “would have denied all funds for 11 projects within the [SDI] program.” CQ added: “Like most of the liberal SDI critics, Kerry insisted such a defense never would work.”

Fortunately, the vast majority of his colleagues from both sides of the aisle soundly repudiated Mr. Kerry. In a bipartisan vote, the Senate overwhelmingly rejected Mr. Kerry’s destructive amendment. The vote was 78-21. Current Democratic senators who opposed Mr. Kerry in 1985 include then-Minority Leader Robert Byrd, Joe Biden (now the ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee), Carl Levin (now the ranking member of the Senate Armed Services Committee), Jay Rockefeller (now the vice chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence), Max Baucus, Frank Lautenberg and Chris Dodd. Even then-Sen. Al Gore voted against Mr. Kerry’s amendment, as did Republican Sen. John Heinz.

Sen. John Kerry was wrong on missile defense in 1985, and he is wrong today.

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