Sen. John Kerry, who delivers a major speech today on how he would reshape the military, is getting his national security ideas from a cadre of retired generals and ex-civilian officials who advised President Clinton.
But in speeches so far, the Massachusetts Democrat sounds like President Bush when discussing his strategy for the war on terrorism and a military of the future. Mr. Kerry even attempts to sound tougher than the hawkish president.
The presidential candidate said this week that he wants to “secure all bomb-making materials” in the world. The phrase seemed designed to trump Mr. Bush’s achievements in getting Libya to disarm and cracking Pakistan’s nuclear weapons black market.
Mr. Kerry’s series of national security speeches also is a bid to close poll numbers that give Mr. Bush a big edge in fighting the war on terror. In the process, the candidate is positioning himself to the right of the Democratic Party’s left wing, which ridicules the need for a global war on terror.
“His speech will be focused on strengthening the military to meet the new threats we face,” said campaign spokeswoman Brooke Anderson.
Mr. Kerry says he wants to hunt down terrorists worldwide and prepare the military for new threats — themes that closely mirror those of the Bush administration.
The president has adopted a policy of pre-emption to kill or capture al Qaeda and other terrorists before they attack.
Mr. Kerry seemed to echo that position in a May 27 speech. “As president,” he said, “my No. 1 security goal will be to prevent the terrorists from gaining weapons of mass murder. And our overriding mission will be to disrupt and destroy their terrorist cells. … We must take the fight to the enemy on every continent.”
In the speech, Mr. Kerry did not repeat his earlier position that the military would play “far less” of a role in the war on terror if he is elected.
The earlier statement has stirred questions on whether Mr. Kerry would revert to counterterrorism policies of the Clinton presidency, when no military attack on the ground was launched against Osama bin Laden or his al Qaeda network.
Mr. Kerry also said in the speech that “we must modernize the world’s most powerful military to meet the new threats.”
The statement is similar to Mr. Bush’s pledge as candidate in 1999 and 2000 to transform the military for the 21st century by ending some developing weapons systems in favor of more futuristic ones.
Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld has pushed the armed forces to break away from Cold War doctrines and to adopt battlefield tactics that emphasize speed in getting to the battle and in fighting the enemy.
Mr. Kerry also says he would temporarily increase Army strength by 40,000 soldiers to ease the burden on the 10 active-duty divisions that are stretched thin globally. The Army, under Mr. Bush, has used emergency powers to increase the ranks by up to 30,000 to keep troop levels in Iraq at about 138,000.
Mr. Kerry’s most conspicuous supporters among retired four-star generals are John Shalikashvili, whom Mr. Clinton appointed as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff in 1993; and Wesley Clark, whom Mr. Clinton named as chief of U.S. Southern Command at a time when some in the Army wanted him to retire at three-star rank. Mr. Clinton later appointed the general as chief of NATO, where he directed the 79-day air war against Serbian forces of deposed leader Slobodan Milosevic.
Also speaking out for Mr. Kerry is retired Adm. William Crowe, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff under the first Bush administration. Adm. Crowe, upon retirement, backed Mr. Clinton in the 1992 election and became ambassador to Britain.
He has come to Mr. Kerry’s defense in response to attack ads from the Bush campaign.
Also advising the Kerry campaign is retired Army Lt. Gen. Claudia J. Kennedy, the Army’s top intelligence officer. She gained fame as the Army’s most prominent spokeswoman against sexual harassment and then found herself involved in one of the military’s most famous cases. She accused a two-star general of groping her in her Pentagon office.
The Army inspector general substantiated the charge, based mostly on her testimony. The general, who denied the charge, was disciplined and forced to retire. The inspector general’s report said Gen. Kennedy had no motive to lie.
Civilians advising Mr. Kerry on national security are mostly Clinton Cabinet members, including Defense Secretary William Perry, National Security Adviser Samuel R. Berger and Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright. Mrs. Albright has emerged as one of Mr. Kerry’s most partisan Bush attackers on cable TV. At one event, she announced her alliance with left-wing activist Michael Moore.
Mr. Kerry also has benefited from two retired generals who are frequent Bush critics: retired Army Gen. Barry McCaffrey, an NBC News on-air analyst; and retired Marine Corps Gen. Anthony Zinni.
Gen. Zinni, a former head of U.S. Central Command, argued against using ground troops to go after al Qaeda in the 1990s. Today, he frequently criticizes Mr. Bush for the Iraq war and says Mr. Rumsfeld should quit. The general supported Mr. Bush in the 2000 election.
Ms. Anderson had no comment on whether Mr. Kerry, as president, would move to end the ban on open homosexuals in the military. As a senator, he has opposed the prohibition. But he also has said that commanders in some units should have the flexibility to exclude homosexuals to protect unit cohesion.
Mr. Clinton began his first term by trying to lift the ban, but ended up signing a defense bill that codified the restriction. If Mr. Kerry wants to change the policy, he would need the approval of Congress.