WASHINGTON - Two high-ranking retired military supporters of John Kerry on Tuesday denounced President Bush's plan to withdraw up to 70,000 U.S. soldiers from Europe and Asia.
One of them, retired Gen. Wesley Clark, called the action "pure politics" and "a shell game."
Clark, who ran for the Democratic presidential nomination, said the troop withdrawals from Europe would only exacerbate strained relations with such allies as Germany, while withdrawals from South Korea make no strategic sense.
"Withdrawing these 70,000 troops won't improve our national security. It will harm our national security," Clark said at a news conference. "These moves weaken our foreign alliances. It is a shell game. They are using troops withdrawn from South Korea to feed the war in Iraq."
The former NATO commander added that Europe was a better place than Fort Riley, Kan., for responding swiftly to crises in Africa and the Middle East. And he said there would be no short-term savings from the European drawdown. "Our bases in Germany are already paid for and Germany contributes to the operation," he said.
He called the plan, which Bush announced at a Veterans of Foreign Wars convention on Monday, "a strategic mistake" and said he would keep American forces in Korea and soldiers and their families in Europe "where they are ideally situated."
Later Tuesday, Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, defended Bush's plan, saying the redeployment "reflects the new realities our nation now faces."
"Our forces will become even more flexible, powerful and lethal," Cornyn said, "and our families and communities will have more stability."
Sen. Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga., added that the plan would save taxpayer money, help military recruiting and "make sure America is as well positioned as possible in fighting the war on terror."
During the news conference, Clark and retired Adm. Stansfield Turner, a former CIA director, also defended Kerry's service and actions in Vietnam. Clark called attacks on Kerry's service record "the lowest form of politics" and said it was time to talk about the issues and end the personal attacks.
Turner said: "It is ironic we are up here comparing the military records of George W. Bush and John Kerry. Who is the better commander in chief? Somebody who has been there in combat or somebody who has misled us into two wars?"
Turner added that the United States was "mired, stuck" in Afghanistan and locked in an indefinite struggle in Iraq "because the commander in chief doesn't understand the basic purpose of war." He charged that Bush hadn't had the foresight to provide "enough soldiers, money, resources" to win the wars after winning the battles.
"We lost three years in Afghanistan and one year in Iraq. The people who once welcomed us no longer are with us," Turner said. "The commander in chief squandered the advantages we had.
"I would be terrified to have to serve under George W. Bush."
Two Navy veterans who served aboard Swift boats with Kerry in Vietnam and a former Army Special Forces veteran who was rescued by Kerry also appeared at the news conference to help defend Kerry against attacks on his record during and after the Vietnam War.
Retired Chief Petty Officer Del Sandusky, 60, of Clearwater, Fla., later told Knight Ridder that he was puzzled by the attacks on Kerry by an organization called Swift Boat Veterans for Truth. "Last year many of them were on board with us. Now they are telling outrageous lies. ... They are getting desperate."
Sandusky and Navy veteran Fred Short, who also served briefly on Kerry's Swift boat, said the veterans' attack on Kerry was funded to the tune of $100,000 by a wealthy Texas Republican, Houston home builder Bob Perry, and run by "a Nixon administration trickster and a right-wing hatemonger." They said the two were, respectively, John O'Neill and Jerome Corsi, co-authors of a book titled "Unfit for Command."
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