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John Kerry Versus Oliver North

Senator and presidential candidate John Kerry has received some media scrutiny for his claim that when he voted for the war in Iraq, he only approved the threat of force. That waffling has made some question whether he can be trusted to protect the national security interests of the United States. But the media have failed to challenge some of his other foreign policy claims.

One of the ironies in Senator John Kerry’s campaign for president is that he is a Vietnam veteran who has made another Vietnam veteran, Oliver North, an issue. On NBC’s Meet the Press, he told host Tim Russert: “I’ve stood up and fought against Richard Nixon’s war in Vietnam. I stood up and fought against Ronald Reagan’s illegal war in Central America…I blew the whistle on Oliver North and his illegal aid network.” On his website, Kerry declares that he worked at “holding Oliver North accountable…”

Actually, Kerry fought in the Vietnam War and turned against it later, accusing his fellow soldiers of committing “genocide.” Kerry now says that he was “angry” when he said that. The group, Vietnam Veterans Against John Kerry, accuses Kerry of a “betrayal of American prisoners of war” and “blatant disrespect for Vietnam veterans and the military…” The genocide occurred when the U.S. was forced to withdraw from Vietnam and the Communists took over Vietnam and Cambodia, resulting in hundreds of thousands of boat people trying to escape and the slaughter of millions who remained behind. That occurred when the Democratic Congress cut off funds for the war effort.

The best book on this subject is Betrayal in Vietnam by Lewis Fanning, who says, “…it was not the Hanoi communists who won the war, but rather the American Congress that lost it.” Going through the provisions of various bills, he presents the case that “A Democratic caucus of the Congress of the United States, aided and abetted by a few liberal Republicans, cast the South Vietnamese people into Communist slavery.”

Oliver North’s awareness of how Congress abandoned the people of Southeast Asia to communism was a factor in the Iran-Contra affair that Senator Kerry is so concerned about. That was primarily an effort by North and his colleagues to funnel assistance to Nicaraguan freedom fighters, or Contras, when Congress, once again under the grip of liberal Democrats, tried to cut them off and solidify in power the regime of the Communist Sandinistas. Former National Security adviser Robert McFarlane explained that North’s support of the Contras was shaped by his experience of watching the people of Vietnam betrayed by the Congress to the communists. He didn’t want to see it happen again.

Kerry calls it Oliver North’s “illegal aid network.” But North, then a staffer on the National Security Council under President Reagan, had received legal advice from the President’s Intelligence Oversight Board that congressional restrictions on aid to the Contras didn’t cover the NSC staff. Thanks to North but not Kerry, the Contras survived, the Sandinistas were voted out of office, and Nicaragua has a democratic government today.