Monday, September 20, 2004

Senator John Kerry has asked that we examine his defense record. When Georgia Democrat Senator Zell Miller laid out Mr. Kerry’s repeated votes against specific major U.S. military weapons systems, the response from the chattering classes was fascinating. First we have CNN’s Wolf Blitzer claiming that the Kerry votes were the same as former Secretary of Defense Cheney’s proposed cuts in the defense budget following the end of the Cold War. This was repeated by PBS’s Jim Lehrer following Sen. Miller’s address to the Republican National Committee.

Let’s go back and look at the record. Mr. Kerry first ran for national office in 1984 when he sought the Senate seat held by Democrat Tsongas. In that campaign he proposed that the United States cancel or cut back the F-15, F-14, tactical fighter planes; the B1 and B2 bombers; the Peacekeeper missile; the Trident submarine; the Aegis cruiser; the Abrams tank, the Apache helicopter, and the Tomahawk cruise missile. All these weapons systems either are the backbone of U.S. defenses today or were critical to winning the Cold War.

Now, this was at the height of the Cold War. Mr. Kerry coupled his proposed cuts with support for the “nuclear freeze,” which would have terminated the entire U.S. strategic nuclear modernization effort, including the B2 and B52 bomber programs, the Trident submarine and related D-5 ballistic missiles, and the Peacekeeper and Small ICBM. Given that the U.S. strategic nuclear deterrent was in desperate need of improvement, the proposed nuclear freeze would have frozen the United States into a position of nuclear inferiority, given the comparative modernized state of the nuclear forces of the USSR. At the time, the United States and NATO were also outnumbered by the USSR and the Warsaw Pact in conventional weapons. This conventional imbalance on the European continent was only redressed by the U.S. nuclear umbrella, an umbrella that Mr. Kerry would have left in tatters.

Now, friendly pundits have claimed Kerry’s later proposed cuts in defense and intelligence were made after the end of the Cold War and thus simply comparable to defense budgets submitted to Congress by the Bush-Qualye administration in 1991 and 1992, budgets drawn up after the end of the Cold War as well. But this is not true. The proposed Kerry cuts in 1994, for example, would have cut tens of billions from the U.S. defense budget, including satellites giving warning of attacks to our troops. Senator Inouye, the senior Democrat member of the Senate Appropriations Defense Subcommittee warned: “Is this the time to cut satellite programs that give our forces warning of attack? It would blind our pilots.” The amendment was soundly defeated by a vote of 75-20, even with Senator Kennedy voting against Kerry.

But these are not isolated examples of Mr. Kerry’s long-term opposition to providing the United States the intelligence and defense resources needed. Since 1990, Kerry voted 34 times against higher defense spending; proposed cutting $6.5 billion from defense in 1996 even as U.S. commitments and troops deployments under the then Clinton administration were increasing; the year before, Mr. Kerry supported cutting some $34 billion from defense that year while calling for a freeze for the next seven years, which would have slashed defense by an additional $60 billion.

But there is even more. In 1990 alone, there were three specific votes on many of the specific weapons systems Mr. Kerry had first sought to eliminate back in 1994. On the B1, B2, F-14, F-15, F-16, AVHB Harrier, AH-64 Apache, Aegis, Trident, M1 Tank, Bradley fighting vehicles, and Tomahawk cruise missiles, Kerry voted against these weapons even though they were part of an already reduced defense posture. The votes ranged from 59-39 to 80-16 in favor of these critical elements of our national security, with Mr. Kerry in the minority each time.

But even if one believes these weapons platforms — now in use around the globe — are immaterial to U.S. defenses, it would be hard to conclude that even after the end of the Cold War our need for good intelligence was somehow diminished. In 1994, Kerry called the Clinton proposed intelligence budget “madness,” and proposed $6 billion in cuts, a proposal that his fellow Democrat Senators Byrd, Inouye and DeConcini described as “dangerous,” even though the Senate Intelligence committee had already approved a $1.2 billion cut in intelligence during mark-up. The proposed additional cuts were turned down by a vote of 75-20. Undeterred, Mr. Kerry proposed $1.5 billion in additional intelligence budget cuts the next year, but could not find any supporters and thus the proposals never were voted on.

The Kerry campaign has said the intelligence cuts were targeted at wasteful spending on the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO), but the amendments were simply across the board cuts, which never even mentioned specific intelligence programs. An additional amendment, offered by Kerry, Specter and Coats, did address itself to the NRO. Others have claimed that the proposed Kerry cuts were simply a reduction in the proposed growth in the intelligence budgets, when in fact as the Congressional Quarterly Almanac of 1996 explains the Kerry amendments would have reduced intelligence spending by fully 5% in real terms.

Peter Huessy is president of GeoStrategic Analysis.

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