Thursday, February 05, 2004

Talkin' AWOL

Eric Boehlert's piece in Salon about George W. Bush's military record is as thorough and definitive a piece as has been written yet. He really nails the core of the matter quite well:
If Bush wanted to resolve the questions about his National Guard service, he could do so very easily. If he simply agreed to release the contents of his military personnel records jacket, the Guard could make public all his discharge papers, including pay records and total retirement points, which experts say would shed the best light on where Bush was, or was not, during the time in question between 1972 and 1973. (Many of Bush's documents are available through Freedom of Information requests, but certain items deemed personal or private cannot be released without Bush's permission.)

Releasing military records has become a time-honored tradition of presidential campaigns. During the 1992 presidential election, Bush's father, George H.W. Bush, called on his Democratic opponent, Bill Clinton, to make public all personal documents relating his draft status during the Vietnam War, including any correspondences with "Clinton's draft board, the Selective Service System, the Reserve Officer Training Corps, the Army, the Navy, the Air Force, the Marines, the Coast Guard, the United States departments of State and Justice, any U.S. foreign embassy or consulate." That, according to a Bush-Quayle Oct. 15, 1992, press release.

There's a lot more there. An outstanding piece.

Meanwhile, Walter Robinson of the Boston Globe, whose 2000 reportage forms the basis of much of what we do know about the case, recaps it today, but there isn't a lot of new information there.

The most revealing interview of the day, meanwhile, came courtesy of Aaron Brown of CNN last night, talking to James Webb, the former Secretary of the Navy under Ronald Reagan:
BROWN: Don't you hate when ancient history is in your lifetime? So, how should we think about all of this if indeed we should think about it at all? Is Kerry's service relevant to today? Are his anti-war activities when he came home fair game?

And what about the president, he managed to find one of those coveted spots in the National Guard at a time, different from today, when that was very much a safe haven from Vietnam, does that matter? Does his attendance record, a matter of much debate, matter? Does all of it or any of it matter?

We're joined tonight by James Webb. Mr. Webb served as secretary of the Navy in the Reagan administration, a graduate of the Naval Academy and a decorated Marine. He is also an author of some note. We're pleased to have him with us. Is it fair game all of this stuff, Senator Kerry and the president's time 30 years ago?

JAMES WEBB, FORMER SECRETARY OF THE NAVY: I think it's not only fair game but I think there are considerations that are at play here that because they illuminate larger issues of credibility could really make this kind of nasty in a surprising way.

You have John Kerry who by all accounts served very well when he was in Vietnam. When he came home he, as you mentioned, was involved in the anti-war movement, Vietnam Veterans Against the War, which was a very small group of maybe 7,000 veterans at the most, Vietnam veterans and gained a lot of antipathy from people who served in Vietnam because of his role as a spokesman in what was called the winter soldiers or the winter crimes tribunal, which was involved in laying out a long list of allegations against the people that really hurt, stigmatized the people who served.

He also was one of the architects of the (unintelligible) [probably "rapprochement"] with communist Vietnam which, on the one hand, was good but on the other he gained the anger of a lot of the Vietnamese American community leaders because he never consulted them when he was dealing with the communists, so John...

BROWN: And -- I'm sorry, and the president?

WEBB: And George Bush did none of those things, George W. In fact, he did nothing. I mean he apparently was able to get his father's political influence in order to get him in to the Texas National Guard in 1968 at the height of the war at a time when being in the National Guard virtually guaranteed that you wouldn't have to go into combat.

He later transferred over into the Alabama National Guard. As you mentioned there is some question about his attendance records. The White House has responded in a rather confusing way by saying that these records have been lost.

I can tell you having spent three years as assistant secretary of defense for reserve affairs in charge of the guard and the reserve programs it would be very unusual to lose these records.

They are important for monitoring pay, also for the credit that you get for drill that goes against satisfactory performance in the guard and these sorts of things, so there are a lot of questions out there.

And, at the same time, this is taking place against the backdrop of a war that a lot of the people who served in have sons and daughters serving in now and view as unnecessary.

BROWN: Let me -- let me ask the question this way. Whatever each of them did back then or didn't do back then they were a little bit more but not much more than kids. I mean they were, you know, 20, 21, 22, 23 years old. What does that tell us really about who they are today and how they would deal with the issues of today?

WEBB: Well, I think that's a really good question first of all and a valid question because first of all we make decisions all through our lives that we have to live with for the rest of our lives. And, second, the most important question really is who is the least dangerous in terms of the situation that we're in right now?

I say that because there's an enormous amount of concern about what the Bush administration has done in terms of the Iraq War and I personally would never even have thought that large numbers of Vietnam veterans would be moving toward John Kerry because of the anger toward him from before, but you're seeing this happen now largely just because of concern over the management of the Iraq War.

BROWN: Do you think that, you know, some day our kids are going to be sitting around talking about his that this will never go away or is there something about the moment that we're in, this kind of odd moment we're in where this may be the moment where we really do as a country come to terms with Vietnam?

WEBB: Well, you know, first of all I think that all historical events that are major events in a life of a country become assimilated. They don't go away. They become a part of the national dialogue forever and that's going to happen with Vietnam.

I had two ancestors die fighting for the Confederacy in the Civil War. That's something that still resonates through the communities and the families. But the situation now is different, as you said.

The issue of Vietnam when Bill Clinton was running was different because it was sort of intergenerational. He was running against World War II veterans. This issue the last time around with Al Gore I personally think that both sides were sort of holding back heavy artillery.

They didn't want to throw it out there but there is some volatility in both -- on both sides. Both of these people have some negatives that could hurt them and since Kerry's record is already out there, he's got a long record, everybody knows what he did in the anti-war movement and this sort of thing that it's natural for the Kerry campaign strategically to go after what George W. Bush did because their guy's stuff is already out there.

It's the issue that Republicans are wishing would just go away.

And guess what? It isn't. At least not until Bush actually releases his records.

And the fact that he's not actually indicates that doing so would just confirm the worst -- and maybe more.

Finally, a quote worth remembering, for all those Republicans out there claiming Bush joined the Guard out of love of country and honor and all those good American things, and who are Democrats to question his service? Why, you're smearing everyone who served in the Guard! Well, here's Bush's own characterization of his choice, from an interview he gave the Houston Chronicle 1994:
"I was not prepared to shoot my eardrum out with a shotgun in order to get a deferment. Nor was I willing to go to Canada. So I chose to better myself by learning how to fly airplanes."

And of course, no day would be complete without checking in on Bob Somerby's incomparable Daily Howler, which yet again carries a searing and incisive account of the press' continuing and gross mishandling of this story. You know what to do. Just click here.

No comments: