Former Mates Allege Kerry ‘Unfit’

Via something called the Cybercast News Service: Kerry ‘Unfit to be Commander-in-Chief’, Say Former Military Colleagues

Hundreds of former commanders and military colleagues of presumptive Democratic nominee John Kerry are set to declare in a signed letter that he is “unfit to be commander-in-chief.” They will do so at a press conference in Washington on Tuesday.

“What is going to happen on Tuesday is an event that is really historical in dimension,” John O’Neill, a Vietnam veteran who served in the Navy as a PCF (Patrol Craft Fast) boat commander, told . The event, which is expected to draw about 25 of the letter-signers, is being organized by a newly formed group called Swift Boat Veterans for Truth.

“We have 19 of 23 officers who served with [Kerry]. We have every commanding officer he ever had in Vietnam. They all signed a letter that says he is unfit to be commander-in-chief,” O’Neill said.


“In the military, loyalty between commanders and the troops serving them is a two-way street. We have here a guy (Kerry) that with all of us in the field [in Vietnam] — actually fighting the North Vietnamese — came home and then falsely accused all of us of war crimes at a time when the people in uniform couldn’t even respond,” O’Neill said.

“And he did that knowing that was a lie,” he added.

This is interesting but I’m not as excited about this as Paul. There’s nothing new here, just a renewal of the debate over the Winter Soldiers hearing and Kerry’s anti-war activities. Presumably, these things have been factored into voters’ minds at this point, to the extent anyone much cares thirty-odd years later. Further, this is in some sense the mirror image of the chicken hawk argument. Since all they’re doing is assessing purely political matters, I’m not sure why the opinion of Kerry’s former Navy mates should have any special weight.

What is relevant to the question of Kerry’s fitness to serve as commander-in-chief is his present maturity on defense matters. Given the advantage of thirty-odd years additional seasoning and reflection, what are Kerry’s views on Vietnam now? More importantly, what is his vision for the war on terror and our future in Iraq? It’s still very early in this campaign but Kerry will need to give a much more coherent view on those issues than he has so far.

Hat tip: Kevin Aylward

FILED UNDER: Campaign 2004, , , , , , , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Jane Galt says:

    I disagree with you. IF this makes front page news (debatable, of course), I think this is going to really hurt Kerry. Remember, you and I know about Winter Soldier and so forth, but the people who haven’t made up their minds yet don’t, necessarily. Many of those are the people the Dems are relying on Kerry’s war record to woo. A large number of his former colleagues arguing that his record makes him unfit to be commander in chief will be a big blow.

  2. James Joyner says:

    Could be. It’s easy to forget that most people are largely oblivious to what’s been in the news and, of course, presentation and timing are everything. I suspect this will make front page news IF it’s the sexiest thing happening tomorrow. If there are several people killed in Iraq or something else that might generate more controversy, that’ll steal the thunder.

    From what I can gather from this story, though, the only reason they argue Kerry is unfit are because of his activities AFTER they knew him, though.

  3. rkb says:

    This letter will force into more visibility the fact that Kerry has never clearly embraced OR repudiated his actions when he got back from Vietnam.

    This is a bind of his own making and frankly I think he deserves it — not to rehash VN war issues, although he himself continually brings his service up, but as an insight into his current character and beliefs. If any.

  4. Dodd says:

    Considering the piece on Instapundit today that suggested – almost unbelievably – that a great many voters don’t yet even know Kerry was a vet, I think this matters more than you suggest. Besides, it was Kerry himself who ran a TV ad touting his shipmates’ support. He even takes them around to campaign events at times. If he himself says their opinions are relevant, then the opinion of others who served with – and above – him is at least as relevant.

  5. Paul says:

    Dodd pretty well covers it but the reason I thought it was so big was because this man has based his whole campaign on the fact he spent 4 months driving a boat in southeast Asia 30 years ago.

    If that gets pulled out from under him what exactly does he run on?

    Kerry, foolishly, has all of his campaign eggs in one basket.

    When EVERY commanding officer you had say you are unfit to be Commander in Chief, that will kill your campaign instantly. (assuming the media spends 1/100th the time on this they did the kooky “Bush was AWOL” fantasy.)

  6. James Joyner says:

    My understanding of the letter is that it will say Kerry is unfit because of what he did when he got home, not his actions in Vietnam. Indeed, his Silver Star and performance reports would seem to indicate he was held in very high regard by these folks before he grew his hair long and started talking about war crimes and such.

  7. Paul says:

    At any given moment less than 30% of the electorate can name the Vice President.

    Do you think those people are going to make that distinction?

    When every CO the man had goes against him it will be lethal. (media coverage dependent)

  8. Rodney Dill says:

    I like Paul’s sentiments, but I tend to agree more with James reservations. I don’t think this will sway any of Kerry’s core support. They will just write it off as another unwarranted attack.

    It may sway a few of the on the fence voters, (maybe .5 to 1 percent). This may not have a big impact on the Polls or overall view of the race at this point, but of course, it could have a big impact as to the outcome of the election. We just won’t know until November. I would be please to see a big swing in the polls because of this, I just don’t see it happening.

  9. pennywit says:

    I’m going to give this a big “eh.” I’m not a big fan of various veterans hashing, rehashing, and re-re-hashing politicians’ actions in a war that ended 30 years ago. James is right to point out that Kerry’s attitudes today are far more relevant than his various statements and actions in Vietnam.

  10. Tom says:

    It will also blunt the 25 million Kerry is rolling out in advertising this week. Kerry is/was expecting to rest on his war record, and let the advertising reinforce the message. Now, he will have to counteract his peers in the media, and I think that will significantly dilute the power of his spending.

    Also, if the spending is ineffective, it will hurt further fundraising in the future.

  11. Boyd says:

    I’m not enamored of the “huge impact” theory, but at the very least, it’s one more log on the pile, and each one helps a bit.

  12. O’Neil is a well established Nixon Stooge.

    Here’s the long ugly story:

  13. Sorry! Here’s the link (for those of you who have yet to master the cut & paste):

  14. Norbizness says:

    Somewhere in hell, Haldemann is finally laughing his ass off.

  15. McGehee says:

    I agree with Boyd — no single revelation has ever, to my knowledge, derailed a real-life (as opposed to in a movie) political campaign absent recent criminal wrongdoing by the candidate.

    But if a continuing sequence of revelations creates a consistent image that a candidate is unfit to be elected, the effect is just as sure and even more permanent.

    Clinton isn’t being judged adversely by history just because of Monica — but because of all the things before and after that made the Monica story so believable (in politics, the fact it was true was inciddental).

    Kerry is suffering the death of a thousand cuts, the vast majority of them self-inflicted. Most of the rest are poetic justice, IMO.

  16. Paul says:

    I agree with Boyd — no single revelation has ever, to my knowledge, derailed a … political campaign absent recent criminal wrongdoing by the candidate.

    You obvious forgot Gary Heart

    Al Gore Lost by 535 votes.

    He claimed he invented the internet which pegged him as a serial exaggerator. That cost him the election.


    I’m not saying Kerry will have to leave the ticket. I am saying that if the media goes after this with half the effort they put in the AWOL non-story it will take enough shine off his Vietnam message to hurt him badly and very likely cost him the win.

  17. McGehee says:

    Paul, one doesn’t get pegged as a “serial” exaggerator by only saying one thing.

    As for Gary Hart, I’m sorry. That was never a real-life campaign. He was 1984’s John Edwards.

  18. James, Kerry has said, “I’m not going to back down one inch on what I’ve fought for and what I’ve stood for all of these years.” Sounds like his views on Vietnam haven’t changed at all. But I don’t know if a debate over the efficacy of the Vietnam War is what’s needed in this Presidential campaign.