TCU Daily Skiff Tuesday, February 17, 2004
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Military records attempt to save Bush

White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan held another awkward, standoffish press briefing last Tuesday to try to bring an end to the controversy surrounding President Bush’s military record. Armed with copies of military documents more than 30 years old pertaining to Bush’s Texas Air National Guard service, McClellan came just short of suggesting what Democrats and other critics of Bush can do with the documents when they were done reading them.

At issue is a one-year span, beginning in May 1972, when Bush was granted permission to transfer to an Alabama unit to work on a senatorial campaign. Until Tuesday, there was no evidence in his file that he ever reported to the Alabama unit to perform monthly drills.

The documents released last Tuesday, prepared by the Defense Financing Accounting Service, show that Bush was paid for dates in October and November 1972 and in January and April 1973. Those dates span the time — from May 1972 to May 1973 — that had been the focus of Democratic critics.

The officer to whom Bush was told to report in Alabama has said in interviews that he has no recollection that Bush reported.

Granted this was more than three decades ago, not recalling a congressman’s kid reporting for duty isn’t likely the fault of a bad memory — more likely, it’s because the event never happened.

The Democrats need to be careful entering into the military-records fray. The military paper trail is a twisting and confusing dimension in which time and space have no meaning. Neither civilian nor soldier understands how the system works. Only the clerks do, and in the end, they have more power than any officer in their company because of that knowledge. An adept Republican working with a military clerk may be able to find some very strange, yet official documents proving Kerry is in fact a 9-year-old female Laotian spy.

Republicans can dig up many 30-year-old documents to defend Bush, but it won’t do any good. The recent, more telling documentation is Bush’s attempts to cut combat pay last August, a move Washington journalists call a “Friday night special” because it was done after the regular news cycle just before the weekend to avoid making any headlines. His new budget also cuts $1.8 billion from the veterans-benefit budget.
During the annual Harkin Steak Fry outside Indianola last fall, a soldier I know, who had recently returned from Iraq, confronted as many candidates as he could find about how each of them planned to bring his fellow soldiers home from Iraq. After giving my friend an answer in full view of the press and public, Kerry pulled him aside, put his arm around him, and leaned in close so the microphones wouldn’t pick up their conversation.

What Kerry said was combat veteran to combat veteran, not for public ears and not staged for publicity. What they said will stay between them. Repeating the conversation would add little to this column. Most people wouldn’t have the frame of reference to understand the brief exchange anyway — especially our commander in chief, honorable discharge or not.

John Molseed is a columnist for The Daily Iowan at the University of Iowa.
This column was distributed by U-Wire.

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