Politics & Policy

Missile-Defense Contortions

John Kerry runs from his record, again.

On Tuesday morning, John Kerry woke up to the threat of nuclear terrorism and stated the obvious, in a speech delivered in West Palm Beach, Florida: “We have to do everything we can to stop a nuclear weapon from ever reaching our shore and that mission begins far away.”

But, as with what seems like near every other issue in this campaign, Kerry was against doing everything to stop a nuclear weapon from reaching our shores before he was for it.

The Kerry campaign hopes their candidate’s long record of opposing a robust national missile defense will be forgotten. But it shouldn’t be.

Recall that before September 11, the Senate Democrats, with John Kerry taking a strong leading position, were doing everything they could to kill President Bush’s initiative on national missile defense. In May 2001 the Boston Herald’s Woodlief wrote that John Kerry “wants to croak the hugely costly nuclear missile defense system.” And just one day before the 9/11 attacks Joe Biden (D., Del.) gave a National Press Club speech outlining Democrat opposition to national missile defense.

Back then the Democrats simply could not attack missile defense frontally, so they attacked it obliquely as (a) a threat to the ABM treaty with the now defunct Soviet Union; (b) a program that might lead to an arms race; (c) a program that might threaten or anger our allies; (d) too costly; (e) too scientifically difficult; and (f) not able to stop a wider threat of a smuggled nuclear device.

In May 2001, John Kerry himself outlined some of these arguments on Meet the Press by saying that he wanted “a very limited…highly verifiable and mutually agreed-upon (missile) defense system.” And he complained about the cost. “We’ve already spent $68 billion and have almost nothing to show for it,” noted Kerry.

On May 3, 2001, John Kerry called national missile defense a “mythology” on Don Imus’s radio show.

On June 14, 2001, John Kerry told Hardball’s Chris Matthews that a “missile shield that could defend the United States against any incoming missile is a fantasy, it is too expensive, it won’t work, and that’s what people believe will drive an arms race.”

In other words, the Kerry Democrats were for protecting you from the risk of a nuclear missile attack if they could find a missile-defense system that didn’t risk any Cold War treaties, didn’t hurt Vladimir Putin’s feelings, made all other countries feel good, was cheap, and was technically simple.

And they wonder why they have problems with voters on defense issues?

Is it any wonder that Chris Matthews asked John Kerry on Hardball on May 1, 2001: “What would it take for the president to get the Democratic liberals like yourself to support strategic defense, as he’s proposed it today?”

The answer, evidently: A tight election during a time of war.

Robert Moran is a vice president at Republican polling firm Fabrizio, McLaughlin & Associates. He is an NRO contributor.


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