- The Washington Times - Monday, February 23, 2004

On the theory that the best defense is a good offense, Sen. John Kerry, in an open letter to President Bush, tried to intimidate the president into not raising the senator’s defense and foreign policy voting record as an issue during the campaign. He told the president to stop questioning his “commitment to the defense of our country … [or ]the patriotism of Democrats who question the direction of our nation.” Then, using one of the reddest herrings ever drawn across the public’s collective political olfactory sense, he averred: “I’d like to know what it is Republicans who didn’t serve in Vietnam have against those of us who did.” One searches in vain for a sincere syllable in that flagrant decoy.

Of course, Republicans — both the leaders and the rank and file —have nothing against (and a lot in favor of) Vietnam veterans. Moreover, three decades ago, Republicans overwhelmingly continued to support both that war and our soldiers, sailors, marines, airmen and coast guarders long after many top Democratic Party leaders and their rank and file had cut and run.

Mr. Kerry’s accusation against Republicans constitutes McCarthyism of the first water, and should be shunned and condemned by responsible citizens and news organizations.

But at the tactical heart of the senator’s canny open letter is the effort to conflate in the public mind his patriotism with his judgment. Of course the president and his advocates are not questioning Mr. Kerry’s patriotism or commitment to our national security. But they are questioning his judgment and wisdom as measured by his public words and votes over his public career.

American foreign policy has been hotly disputed throughout our history. Overwhelmingly, however, it has not been a dispute between patriots and traitors, but between different patriotic visions of how to maintain our liberty and safety in a dangerous world.

Isolationism and internationalism in the 1930s were both sincere, patriotic theories of national defense. But internationalism proved the wiser (and inevitable) policy.

During the latter years of the Cold War, peace through disarmament and peace through rearmament were both patriotic visions. But Ronald Reagan’s rearmament strategy proved the wiser in the judgment of history.

It is completely legitimate for President Bush’s campaign to cite Mr. Kerry’s voting record and public words in an attempt to prove that the senator’s military and foreign policy judgments of the last 30 years have been unwise and unrealistic.

Mr. Kerry’s service in Vietnam is a credit to him as a man. But it cannot be used as a shield to protect him from a fair assessment of his judgment and wisdom as a statesman. It is sad to see him attempt to so use it.

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