Wednesday, August 18, 2004

Democratic presidential nominee Sen. John Kerry yesterday told military veterans that President Bush’s plan to recall troops from Europe and South Korea is a dangerous, shortsighted move.

“The president’s vaguely stated plan does not strengthen our hand in the war on terror. It in no way relieves the strain on our overextended personnel. It doesn’t even begin until 2006, and it takes 10 years to achieve,” he told the Veterans of Foreign Wars convention in Cincinnati. “This hastily announced plan raises more doubts about our intentions and our commitment than it provides real answers.

“With al Qaeda operating in 60 countries, we need closer alliances in every part of the world to fight and win the war on terrorism,” said Mr. Kerry, Massachusetts Democrat. “As president, I will be a commander in chief who renews our alliances based on shared interests and a common vision for a safer world.”

Mr. Kerry spoke to the group just two days after Mr. Bush laid out his troop redeployment plan. And although many of the veterans gave Mr. Kerry a warm welcome and standing ovation, others were so angry at him that they stayed seated or, in some cases, stood and turned their backs on him.

Mr. Kerry famously testified before Congress three decades ago that fellow troops had committed atrocities in Vietnam, and his involvement with the Vietnam Veterans Against the War in the 1970s has angered many veterans.

Yesterday, Mr. Kerry sought to portray his protests in the 1970s as a matter of the times.

“I can remember when we came back from service in what we all know was a controversial period of time. I wish it hadn’t been,” he said. “I volunteered to go to Vietnam. I volunteered for the duty that we had. I didn’t make it controversial; the war and the times were.”

With his decorated service as a Navy lieutenant in Vietnam, Mr. Kerry has made a strong appeal to veterans during this campaign. Mr. Bush served in the Texas Air National Guard during the Vietnam War, but did not see action overseas.

Responding to Mr. Kerry’s criticism of the troop redeployment, Mr. Bush’s campaign pointed out that Mr. Kerry has said earlier this month that with new diplomacy, troop levels could be reduced on the Korean peninsula and in Europe.

And in a statement sent by the Bush campaign, former Marine Corps Commandant Gen. P.X. Kelley said Mr. Kerry’s criticism “demonstrates a backward-looking view.”

“The threat America faces today is fundamentally different than the threats America’s military was configured to face during the Cold War. I should know, I was commandant of the Marine Corps during the Cold War,” he said, calling Mr. Kerry’s opposition political and “an insult to the hundreds of people who have been working on this proposal for years.”

Mr. Kerry took issue with Mr. Bush’s statement on Monday that his administration is “getting the job done” on veterans’ issues, particularly on health care and Veterans Affairs hospitals.

“Just saying that the job is getting done doesn’t make it so,” Mr. Kerry said.

“My friends, let me tell you when the job will be getting done. The job will be done when 500,000 veterans are not excluded from the VA health care system. The job will be done when we’re not closing VA hospitals so that veterans have a difficulty reaching the very care that they need,” he said.

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