Cheney: Soft on Defense
By Evelyn Pringle
single time I hear Chief Chickenhawk Cheney challenging John
Kerry's military readiness, I see red. Cheney once told reporters,
"I had other priorities in the '60s other than military service,"
when asked why he didn't serve in Vietnam. I can't help but
wonder how many soldiers in Iraq, if given the chance, might
say that they have more important priorities to attend to
Kerry not only volunteered for military service, he specifically
volunteered to serve in Vietnam at a time when Cheney went
to great lengths to obtain five deferments to evade service.
Kerry served two tours of duty in Vietnam. He was awarded
three Purple Hearts, a Bronze Star, a Silver Star, and a Presidential
Unit Citation for Extraordinary Heroism.
And yet Cheney, whose only experience with military service
comes from sending other people's children off to die, has
the gall to question Kerry's ability to handle matters of
defense and national security, and his suitability to be commander-in-chief
during a time of war.
Over the next several months, voters will compare the military
backgrounds of the candidates in order to decide who can best
serve the country in a time of war. In order to do that, they
must be given the truth, instead of a steady diet of disinformation
from TV ads and dozens of talking heads on cable news shows.
In campaign speeches all over the country, Cheney has charged
that Kerry would not be a strong president because during
his years in the senate, he opposed some key weapons programs.
Here's what he said about Kerry when he spoke at Westminster
College: "The senator from Massachusetts has given us ample
grounds to doubt the judgment and the attitude he brings to
bear on vital issues of national security."
Cheney is a complete hypocrite for criticizing Kerry's voting
record against defense programs, in light of the fact that
when he was secretary of defense during the first Bush administration,
Cheney himself presided over the biggest cutback in defense
programs in modern history. Between 1989 and 1993, he cut
many of the exact same programs that he now assails Kerry
for voting against.
The RNC Smear Machine Goes Into Overdrive
One of the latest Bush-Cheney TV ads portrays a B-2 stealth
bomber flying over a battlefield and disappearing into thin
air, to make voters think that Kerry voted to cut programs
critical to national defense. Yet, if the truth be known,
it was Cheney and Bush Sr., who canceled the B-2 bomber program,
at the same time that they opposed upgrading the M1 Abrams
tank, recommended cutting the F-14 fighter jet, and opposed
buying more F-15s.
The minute that Kerry appeared to be the likely nominee,
Republican pundits took to the airwaves in droves. RNC chairman
Ed Gillespie led the pack. Gillespie said Kerry voted to cut
$1.5 billion from the intelligence budget, but he conveniently
left out half the story. Kerry never did any such thing. According
to John Pike, who runs the globalsecurity.org Web site, the
truth is that the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) had
appropriated $1.5 billion for a spy satellite that was never
launched. So the Senate passed an amendment to get a refund
for a program that had already been canceled. There's no doubt
that Gillespie knew this charge was dishonest when he made
Never too far from any mud-slinging contest, Chickenhawk
Gingrich always has to put in his two cents, "I think the
more that the president and the Republicans describe accurately
- they don't have to exaggerate at all; they just have to
describe accurately and calmly - what it means...to have voted
against every major weapon system," he said on Fox's Hannity
and Colmes, "I think if they stick to that and stick to the
facts, Senator Kerry will react by saying that he's being
smeared by his own record."
Apparently nobody listened to Newt's advice about not exaggerating.
Sean Hannity certainly didn't when he chimed in with: "He's
(Kerry) voted against every major weapons system we now use
in our military." Every major weapons system, huh Sean? Yeah
Hannity's participation in feeding the public disinformation
is not a bit surprising, but he's not the only media person
to repeat the Republican mantra, without checking out the
truth or falsity of the accusations.
In February, the RNC released a report that listed 13 weapons
systems they said Kerry had voted to cut, apparently implying
that he should have voted differently. The list included Patriot
air-defense missiles, B-2 bombers, Tomahawk cruise missiles,
Apache helicopters, and others. However, the report omits
the fact that ten of the votes that were cited were the result
of Kerry's vote on bill S. 3189, the "Fiscal Year 1991 Defense
Appropriations Act." It was one vote on one bill. There were
no separate votes on the ten programs listed.
Soon after the list was made public, CNN's Judy Woodruff
took the bait and repeated the charge while interviewing Democratic
Rep. Norm Dicks. "The Republicans list something like 13 different
weapons systems that they say the record shows Senator Kerry
voted against. The Patriot missile, the B-1 bomber, the Trident
missile and on and on and on," she said.
Dicks explained how Kerry merely voted on a single bill
and Woodruff seemed amazed. She asked: "Are you saying that
all these weapons systems were part of one defense appropriations
bill in 1991?" Duh - yeah, Judy, that's exactly what he was
saying. I wonder who's in charge of fact-checking (if anyone)
at CNN these days?
Woodruff wasn't the only CNN reporter who gave Republicans
air time to distort the facts about Kerry's voting record.
In an interview with Wolf Blitzer, Republican strategist Ralph
Reed said Kerry's record was one of "voting to dismantle 27
weapons system, including the MX missile, the Pershing missile,
the B-1, the B-2 stealth bomber, the F-16 fighter jet, the
F-15 fighter jet, cutting another 18 programs, slashing intelligence
spending by $2.85 billion, and voting to freeze defense spending
for 7 years."
Here again, had someone at CNN done just a little research,
it wouldn't have taken much time to figure out that, at worst,
Reed was a bald-faced liar, or at best, that he was totally
ignorant about the defense programs that Cheney fought to
get rid of the last time there was a Bush in the White House.
Hypocrisy in Action
In fact, the testimony during the hearings on the Appropriations
Bill proves that Bush Sr. and Cheney were pushing for even
deeper cuts. Cheney berated Congress for not approving more:
"You've squabbled and sometimes bickered and horse-traded
and ended up forcing me to spend money on weapons that don't
fill a vital need in these times of tight budgets and new
requirements. You've directed me to buy more M-1s, F-14s,
and F-16s - all great systems, but we have enough of them,"
Here's the hypocrisy of this issue. The same M-1 tank, F-14,
and F-16 fighters that Cheney mentioned in his testimony are
all on the list of programs they now say Kerry was wrong to
vote against. And if that's not bad enough, here's what Cheney
said during a recent interview on Fox: "What we're concerned
about ... is his (Kerry's) record in the United States Senate,
where he clearly has over the years adopted a series of positions
that indicate a desire to cut the defense budget, to cut the
intelligence budget, to eliminate many major weapons programs."
I know of only one reporter, Fred Kaplan, who actually did
do a fact check on the accuracy of the RNC report. He took
the time to look up the Senate voting records and found out
that ten of the thirteen items on the list were included in
one single vote. Based on his review of the information, Kaplan
said the report "reeks of rank dishonesty."
Before the media sanctioned the criticism of Kerry's record,
it should have compared how closely his voting record was
aligned with Bush Sr.'s proposed cuts in defense programs
that he outlined in his 1992 State of the Union Address. Here's
what was said: "After completing 20 planes for which we have
begun procurement, we will shut down further production of
the B-2 bomber. We will cancel the small ICBM program. We
will cease production of new warheads for our sea-based ballistic
missiles. We will stop all new production of the Peacekeeper
[MX] missile. And we will not purchase any more advanced cruise
missiles. The reductions I have approved will save us an additional
$50 billion over the next five years. By 1997 we will have
cut defense by 30 percent since I took office."
Next, reporters should have checked out Cheney's testimony
(given three days later) before the Senate Armed Services
Committee, in which he bragged about all the cuts that he
had made in the defense budget: "Overall, since I've been
Secretary, we will have taken the five-year defense program
down by well over $300 billion. That's the peace dividend.
And now we're adding to that another $50 billion of so-called
peace dividend," he said.
Finally, the media should have reviewed Colin Powell's testimony,
as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, at the same hearings,
where he proposed specific radical cuts in the (1) Army divisions
by one-third; (2) aircraft carriers by one-fifth; and (3)
the overall armed forces by 500,000.
Something is very wrong with this picture. Kerry now stands
accused of voting for proposals to cut defense programs that
were presented to him by Bush Sr., Cheney, and Powell. This
has got to be the definition for hypocrisy with a capital
Chasing the Chickenhawks
For Democrats, bashing Kerry's voting record was bad enough,
but the straw that broke the camel's back came when Cheney
and his minions took to the airwaves and waged a full-blown
assault on the credibility of Kerry's military service record
Kerry obviously decided he'd had enough and came out with
both barrels aimed at the top two chickenhawks. "I think a
lot of veterans are going to be very angry at a president
who can't account for his own service in the National Guard,
and a vice president who got every deferment in the world
and decided he had better things to do, criticizing somebody
who fought for their country and served," Kerry told the Dayton
Daily News. "I think it's inappropriate. I think it shows
how desperate the Republicans are. They don't have a record
to run on. They have a record to run away from," he said.
DNC chairman, Terry McAuliffe, also came out swinging. He
accused Cheney of being "the Bush Campaign's Attack Dog in
Chief," and rebuked Cheney for not serving when it was his
turn. "When John Kerry was risking his life for his country
in Vietnam," McAuliffe said, "Dick Cheney was getting deferments
because, in his words, he had other priorities than military
service. And he feels qualified to tell us that John Kerry
won't do whatever it takes to defend America?"
That's right. Where was Bush for the better part of that
year when he was AWOL? And what qualifies Cheney to decide
whether Kerry has what it takes to defend our country? I hope
Kerry and McAuliffe keep chasing those chickenhawks until
they're forced to answer those questions.