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More Bush Distortions of Kerry Defense Record

Latest barrage of ads repeats misleading claims that Kerry "repeatedly opposed" mainstream weapons.

April 26, 2004

Modified: April 30, 2004

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Bush ads released April 26 recycle some distortions of Kerry's voting record on military hardware. We've de-bunked these half-truths before but the Bush campaign persists.

The ads -- many targeted to specific states -- repeat the claim that Kerry opposed a list of mainstream weapons including Bradley Fighting Vehicles and Apache helicopters, and also repeat the claim that he voted against body armor for frontline troops in Iraq. In fact, Kerry voted against a few large Pentagon money bills, of which Bradleys, Apaches and body armor were small parts, but not against those items specifically.



On April 26 the Bush campaign released a total of 10 ads, all repeating claims that Kerry opposed a list of mainstream military hardware "vital to winning the war on terror."

Bush Ad: National Version


Bush: I’m George W. Bush and I approve this message.

Announcer: As our troops defend America in the War on Terror, they must have what it takes to win. Yet, John Kerry has repeatedly opposed weapons vital to winning the War on Terror: Bradley Fighting Vehicles, Patriot Missiles, B-2 Stealth Bombers, F-18 Fighter Jets and more.

Kerry even voted against body armor for our troops on the front line of the War on Terror. John Kerry’s record on national security: Troubling.

Misleading Claims

The claims are misleading, as we've pointed out before in articles we posted on Feb. 26 and March 16. The Bush campaign bases its claim mainly on Kerry's votes against overall Pentagon money bills in 1990, 1995 and 1996, but these were not votes against specific weapons. And in fact, Kerry voted for Pentagon authorization bills in 16 of the 19 years he's been in the Senate. So even by the Bush campaign's twisted logic, Kerry should -- on balance -- be called a supporter of the "vital" weapons, more so than an opponent.

The claim that Kerry voted against body armor is based similarly on Kerry's vote last year against an $87 billion emergency supplemental appropriation bill to finance military operations and reconstruction efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan. It included $300 million for the latest, ceramic-plate type of body armor for troops who had been sent to war without it. The body-armor funds amounted to about 1/3 of one percent of the total.

Missing Context

It is true that when Kerry first ran for the Senate in 1984 he did call specifically for canceling the AH-64 Apache helicopter, but once elected he opposed mainly such strategic weapons as Trident nuclear missiles and space-based anti-ballistic systems. And Richard Cheney himself, who is now Vice President but who then was Secretary of Defense, also proposed canceling the Apache helicopter program five years after Kerry did. As Cheney told the House Armed Services Committee on Aug. 13, 1989:

Cheney: The Army, as I indicated in my earlier testimony, recommended to me that we keep a robust Apache helicopter program going forward, AH-64; . . . I forced the Army to make choices. I said, "You can't have all three. We don't have the money for all three." So I recommended that we cancel the AH-64 program two years out. That would save $1.6 billion in procurement and $200 million in spares over the next five years.

Two years later Cheney's Pentagon budget also proposed elimination of further production of the Bradley Fighting Vehicle as well. It was among 81 Pentagon programs targeted for termination, including the F-14 and F-16 aircraft. "Cheney decided the military already has enough of these weapons," the Boston Globe reported at the time.

Does that make Cheney an opponent of "weapons vital to winning the war on terror?" Of course not. But by the Bush campaign's logic, Cheney himself would be vulnerable to just such a charge, and so would Bush's father, who was president at the time.

McCain Defends Kerry, Criticizes "Bitter" Rhetoric

Kerry's voting record on military spending was defended March 18 by Republican Sen. John McCain. He said on CBS's "The Early Show:"

McCain: No, I do not believe that he is, quote, weak on defense. He's responsible for his voting record, as we are all responsible for our records, and he'll have to explain it. But, no, I do not believe that he is necessarily weak on defense.

McCain also criticized "bitter and partisan" attacks by both sides, saying,  " This kind of rhetoric, I think, is not helpful in educating and helping the American people make a choice."

  Bush Ad: State Version

"Arizona Weapons"

Bush:  I’m George W. Bush and I approve this message.

Announcer: As our troops defend

America in the War on Terror, they must have what it takes to win. Yet, John Kerry has repeatedly opposed weapons vital to winning the War on Terror:  Apache Helicopters, Tomahawk Cruise Missiles, and components of F-18 Fighter Jets all built here in Arizona.

Kerry even voted against body armor for our troops on the front line of the War on Terror. John Kerry’s record on national security:  Troubling.

McCain is heading Bush's re-election efforts in Arizona. And speaking of Arizona, it was among nine states targeted by different versions of the same Bush ad.

Targeting Arizona

The state ads made mention of specific weapons -- supposedly opposed by Kerry -- manufactured in those states. The Arizona version mentioned Apache helicopters, Tomahawk cruise missiles and F-18 aircraft "all built here in Arizona."

The other ads were aimed at Arkansas, Florida, Maine, Michigan, Missouri, New Hampshire, Ohio and Pennsylvania. All added  a similar pork-barrel appeal to the basic attack on Kerry for  undermining the "war on terror." And all gave an equally false impression of Kerry's actual voting record.



Richard Cheney "Hearings of the House Armed Services Committee, Fiscal 1990 Defense Budget" 13 July 1989

Fred Kaplan "Bush's 1992 Budget: Plan includes a $ 3.7b military cut" Boston Globe, 5 Feb 1991.

Nancy Benac, "McCain Says Kerry Not Weak on Defense," The Associated Press 18 March 2004.

National Journal's Congress Daily, "McCain, Differing From GOP Leaders, Defends Kerry On Defense," 18 March 2004.

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