THE WORD FOR WEDNESDAY at the Democratic National Convention was "unprecedented." A dozen retired generals and admirals, all of high rank, are endorsing John Kerry for president. And this is "unprecedented" for a Democratic presidential candidate, said Rand Beers, Kerry's top national security adviser. James Rubin, also a Kerry adviser, said the same, noting that "this is unprecedented in the recent history of the Democratic party." He compared the endorsements to 1992 when Bill Clinton was thrilled in 1992 to have the backing of a single former member of the Pentagon's top brass, Admiral William Crowe.
The emphasis on the military endorsements underscores a major effort of the Kerry campaign: to show that the Democratic nominee is not a wimp on foreign and defense policy. Kerry is eager not only to capitalize on his experience as a naval officer in Vietnam, but to blunt criticism of his Senate record of favoring whopping cuts in defense and intelligence spending.
Kerry wants to be seen as a 9/12 person, not a 9/10 person. What's the difference? A 9/10 person thinks the world is pretty much the same as it was before the attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon on September 11, 2001, and thus thinks the war on terrorism should be toned down to appeal to a large group of allies. But a 9/12 person believes the world has fundamentally changed and that the threat posed by radical Islamic terrorists must be met aggressively by all means, including military.
To hear Beers and Rubin tell it--they met reporters over breakfast here--Kerry is a hawk among hawks. He is "better able" than President Bush to fight terrorism and lure allies and protect Americans against weapons of mass destruction, said Rubin. Why? Because he won't simply rely on military power. He'll also use economic power, diplomacy, intelligence, and the power of ideas to defeat the terrorist threat.
Kerry and Bush share the same goals, Rubin said. But Kerry's means are better. And Kerry will eliminate the "political cost" that foreign leaders face if they cooperate with Bush. A decade ago, said Rubin, it was a "political plus" for leaders to join sides with the United States.
Rubin suggested Kerry would get more help from allies in the war on terrorism, though he didn't cite an example of allies who have been holding back from, say, sharing intelligence. What's needed is "enthusiastic cooperation" by foreign leaders who will push their bureaucracies to aid the war even more, according to Rubin.
The Kerry advisers were short on specifics of what Kerry would do to achieve his four goals of "rebuilding alliances," strengthening the military, increasing the "arsenal" to be used in the war on terror, and reducing American dependence on Middle Eastern oil. They did repeat his vow to add 40,000 more troops to the military.
Asked how Kerry would deal with Iran and the matter of its nuclear program, Beers said Kerry would engage in "hardheaded discussions" with Iranian leaders. This would leave him in a position to make it clear to these leaders than any move to produce nuclear weapons would "unacceptable" to the United States.
Neither Beers nor Rubin mentioned Joe Wilson, the now discredited former diplomat who is also a Kerry adviser, in their opening remarks. Wilson's claim that Bush lied when he said Iraq had sought uranium in Africa was refuted by the Senate Intelligence Committee and the Butler report in Great Britain. After the session with reporters, Beers was asked about Wilson. "We are proud to have him on the team," Beers said.