Thursday, August 12, 2004

On Wednesday, the Kerry campaign acknowledged that John Kerry probably was not in Cambodia on Christmas 1968, contrary to the senator’s decades-old assertion. Speaking on Fox News’ “Fox and Friends,” Kerry campaign aide Jeh Johnson said, “John Kerry has said on the record that he had a mistaken recollection earlier. He talked about a combat situation on Christmas Eve 1968 which at one point he said occurred in Cambodia. He has since corrected the record to say it was some place on a river near Cambodia and he is certain that at some point subsequent to that he was in Cambodia. My understanding is that he is not certain about that date.” Recall that this is the date that Mr. Kerry, speaking on the Senate floor in 1986, said was “seared” into him.

Case closed? Not quite. Michael Meehan, a Kerry campaign adviser speaking on NBC News, offered an explanation for Mr. Kerry’s confusion: “The Mekong Delta consists of the border between Cambodia and Vietnam, so on Christmas Eve in 1968, [Mr. Kerry] was in fact on patrol … in the Mekong Delta between Cambodia and Vietnam.” Unfortunately for Mr. Kerry, this explanation raises more questions than it answers. First, at the point where the Mekong River intersects the Cambodian/Vietnam border, there is no “between.” As the map on the opposite page reveals, the river in fact runs from Cambodia to Vietnam, unlike, say, the Potomac River, which creates the border between Maryland and Virginia, and Virginia and Washington. If there is a point where the river meanders in a way that Cambodia is on one side and Vietnam the other, it constitutes such a small area that for Mr. Kerry to be in that exact spot on the river would be highly dubious, although not, we add, impossible.

Furthermore, the nature of the Cambodia/Vietnam border, especially at the Mekong intersection, was a point of extreme tension in 1968. As Andrew Antippas writes on the opposite page, both the Cambodian and the Vietnamese officials were very sensitive to Cambodia’s neutrality, though North Vietnamese incursions did occur. For U.S. forces, entering Cambodia was forbidden. As the Foreign Service officer in Saigon responsible for Cambodian border incidents, Mr. Antippas remembers just one occasion in 1968 where a Navy vessel ventured into Cambodia, most likely because the accident created such a diplomatic nightmare for the Americans.

But why would Mr. Kerry tell such a misleading tale on the floor of the Senate? Throughout his political career, Mr. Kerry has referred to his Christmas in Cambodia as the moment when he became disillusioned with the American political leadership, and why he became such a vociferous opponent of the war upon his return from duty. Indeed, it is a moving lesson, as he recounted in 1986 on the Senate floor: “I have that memory which is seared — seared — in me that says to me, before we send another generation into harm’s way we have a responsibility in the U.S. Senate to go the last step, to make the best effort possible in order to avoid that kind of conflict.” But it didn’t happen. And what are Americans to make of a presidential candidate whose life-altering moment was a figment of his imagination?

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