By Chris Cillizza
Special to The Washington Post
Sunday, April 23, 2006
Thirty-five years after Massachusetts Sen. John F. Kerry (D) appeared before a Senate committee to call for an end to the war in Vietnam, he defended that decision yesterday in a speech in his home town and linked it to his current insistence on an early drawdown of troops from Iraq.
Kerry, in remarks delivered in Boston's Faneuil Hall Marketplace, cast dissent in wartime as a patriotic act -- a response to Republican critics who insist that questioning the conduct of the war in Iraq emboldens America's enemies.
"I believed then, just as I believe now, that it is profoundly wrong to think that fighting for your country overseas and fighting for your country's ideals at home are contradictory or even separate duties," he said. "They are, in fact, two sides of the very same patriotic coin."
Yesterday's address was the latest move in Kerry's shadow presidential campaign, launched in the aftermath of his 2004 defeat by President Bush. In a series of speeches, guest columns and television appearances, Kerry has sought to right what many Democrats regard as the defects of that race by outlining a clear exit strategy for Iraq and vowing to fight back against GOP attacks on his and other Democrats' patriotism. Kerry's aggressive attitude is also aimed at wooing liberal voters for a potential presidential bid in 2008.
Beginning last fall, Kerry has advocated setting a timeline for the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq. Recently, he said that if an Iraqi government is not formed by May 15, the United States should immediately withdraw its forces.
"If Iraqis aren't willing to build a unity government in the five months since the election, they're probably not willing to build one at all," Kerry said.
He referred to his 1971 testimony to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in asserting that the Bush administration has not learned the lessons of history.
"Once again, we are imprisoned in a failed policy," he said. "And once again, we are being told that admitting mistakes, not the mistakes themselves, will provide our enemies with an intolerable propaganda victory."
Although Kerry acknowledged that the wars in Vietnam and Iraq are not mirror images, he said that the conflicts are "now converging in too many tragic respects."
Among the similarities, according to Kerry: The justification for each war was "based on official deception"; the attempt to cast the struggles as part of a larger global conflict was a "misperception"; and, in Iraq as in Vietnam, "we have stayed and fought and died, even though it is time for us to go."
By drawing heavily on his experiences as a veteran-turned-dissenter, Kerry seemed to be daring Republicans to question his military credentials, which groups such as the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth did during the 2004 contest.
Many Democrats had criticized Kerry for not responding more quickly to those attacks, and he has vowed that he will strike back more aggressively should he run in 2008 -- a strategy he previewed yesterday.
"How dare those who never wore the uniform in battle attack those who wore it all their lives -- and who, retired or not, did not resign their citizenship to serve their country," Kerry said. "That is cheap and shameful."
Tracey Schmitt, a spokeswoman for the Republican National Committee, said her party has "never questioned Democrats' patriotism," but she added: "We do question John Kerry's motives, considering his eagerness to engage in political theatrics as he ponders a presidential run."