Defense & National Security

Will Swift Boat Veterans reunite to protest a Kerry nomination?

Will Swift Boat Veterans reunite to protest a Kerry nomination?

In popular wisdom, one-time presidential runner-up Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) is likely to be nominated by President Barack Obama for Secretary of Defense or Secretary of State. But if Kerry does get the nod, a group credited with helping to thwart his presidential bid could re-organize to take him down once again.

The Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, a group formed of military veterans who served alongside Kerry, worked to bring attention to the senator’s anti-war activities following his military service and to raise doubts about the truth of Kerry’s own accounts of his conduct during the war and his overall portrayal of events in Vietnam.

Dozens of vets who, like Kerry, served aboard swift boats in Vietnam, prodded the then-presidential candidate to release his complete military records. And they castigated him for giving testimony to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in 1971 about American war crimes in Vietnam–“glorification of body counts,” destruction of villages, and numerous atrocities–all of which, the veterans said, were exaggerated or falsified.

While the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth officially disbanded as a political organization in 2008, former members say they’re furious at the prospect of Kerry as Defense Secretary. But if they have a plan to take Kerry on again, they’re playing it close to the vest.

Last month, the organization co-founder and spokesman John O’Neill, a swift boat veteran who authored the bestselling Kerry expose Unfit for Command, hedged at questions on the subject from Sean Hannity of Fox News.

“To make (Kerry) secretary of Defense or secretary of State would be a disaster to our national security,” O’Neill said on the Nov. 15 show. “It really would be a total forfeiture of the loyalty that we owe the troops in the field.”

When Hannity asked if the Swift Boat Veterans would reunite, O’Neill said simply, “we will do the very best that we can.”
Weymouth Symmes, former national treasurer for the group and biographer of its founder, Rear Adm. Roy Hoffmann, told Human Events that any political activity was still in the planning stages.

“There’s nothing formal,” he said. “There’s been a lot of discussions. But nothing official, nothing as a group.”

It’s not clear what a Kerry swiftboating sequel would even look like. With the advent of new media, advocacy is more complex and varied than it was in 2004. Moreover, the veterans’ task this time would not be so much to inform the American electorate as to strategically lobby the senators voting to confirm Kerry. And that is an uphill task to begin with: most conservative senators are more concerned with preventing U.S. Amb. Susan Rice from ascending to the top spot in the State Department than with a Kerry nomination, and codes of collegiality generally dictate that senators confirm the nomination of one of their own.

Nevertheless, at least one veteran connected to the Swift Boat efforts is advocating the use of tactics employed in the recent election, from TV ads to SuperPACs.

Larry Bailey, a former Navy captain who led adjunct group Vietnam Vets for Truth in 2004 and organized anti-Obama SuperPAC Special Operations Speaks this year, said members of his group were ready for action.

“We’re just waiting for Obama to nominate Kerry to be Secretary of Defense,” Bailey said. “We’ve got a SuperPAC structure set up and we’re ready to roll. We’re just going to go hogwild.”

O’Neill did not return Human Events requests for comment.

Whether or not they take action and whether or not it makes a difference, Symmes said the veterans he knew were genuinely troubled at the prospect of Kerry as head of the Defense Department.

“I can tell you I am personally appalled at the thought of John Kerry as secretary of defense,” Symmes said. “I suspect that will be the position of the vast majority of the Swifties and POWs who were involved with (Swift Boat Veterans for the Truth) in 2004 and after.”

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