Setting John Kerry's voting record straight.

Military analysis.
Feb. 25 2004 6:41 PM

John Kerry's Defense Defense

Setting his voting record straight.

Against defense? Not Kerry
Against defense? Not Kerry

Before George W. Bush's political operatives started pounding on John Kerry for voting against certain weapons systems during his years in the Senate, they should have taken a look at this quotation:

Fred Kaplan Fred Kaplan

Fred Kaplan is the author of The Insurgents and the Edward R. Murrow press fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations.

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.

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The speaker was President George H.W. Bush, the current president's father, in his State of the Union address on Jan. 28, 1992.

They should also have looked up some testimony by Dick Cheney, the first President Bush's secretary of defense (and now vice president), three days later, boasting of similar slashings before the Senate Armed Services Committee:

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.

Cheney proceeded to lay into the then-Democratically controlled Congress for refusing to cut more weapons systems.

Congress has let me cancel a few programs. But 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.

The Republican operatives might also have noticed Gen. Colin Powell, then chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, at the same hearings, testifying about plans to cut Army divisions by one-third, Navy aircraft carriers by one-fifth, and active armed forces by half a million men and women, to say noting of "major reductions" in fighter wings and strategic bombers.

Granted, these reductions were made in the wake of the Soviet Union's dissolution and the Cold War's demise. But that's just the point: Proposed cuts must be examined in context. A vote against a particular weapons system doesn't necessarily indicate indifference toward national defense.

Looking at the weapons that the RNC says Kerry voted to cut, a good case could be made, certainly at the time, that some of them (the B-2 bomber and President Reagan's "Star Wars" missile-defense program) should have been cut. As for the others (the M-1 tank and the F-14, F-15, and F-16 fighter planes, among others), Kerry didn't really vote to cut them.