August 25, 2004
Are we back in Cambodia for Christmas or not?
Posted by McQ
Well it seems Christmas in Cambodia is back on the table ... either that or Tad Devine didn’t get the DNC memo.
First let me set this up for you as outlined in the Washington Post. You all know the story of Kerry’s claim on the floor of the Senate that his supposed “Christmas in Cambodia” was seared in his memory. He only spent one Christmas there, so that was the Christmas of ‘68. When that was roundly questioned by the Swift Boat Vets as well as his crew, things started to come apart:
However seared he was, Kerry's spokesmen now say his memory was faulty. When the Swift boat veterans who oppose Kerry presented statements from his commanders and members of his unit denying that his boat entered Cambodia, none of Kerry's shipmates came forward, as they had on other issues, to corroborate his account. Two weeks ago Kerry's spokesmen began to backtrack. First, one campaign aide explained that Kerry had patrolled the Mekong Delta somewhere "between" Cambodia and Vietnam. But there is no between; there is a border. Then another spokesman told reporters that Kerry had been "near Cambodia."
So around August 8th, they’re beginning to “backtrack” with him somewhere in the area of Cambodia. Apparently backing off didn’t sit well with the Kerry campaign. So next they trot out Brinkley on or about the 16th of August.
Next, the campaign leaked a new version through the medium of historian Douglas Brinkley, author of "Tour of Duty," a laudatory book on Kerry's military service. Last week Brinkley told the London Telegraph that while Kerry had been 50 miles from the border on Christmas, he "went into Cambodian waters three or four times in January and February 1969 on clandestine missions." Oddly, though, while Brinkley devotes nearly 100 pages of his book to Kerry's activities that January and February, pinpointing the locations of various battles and often placing Kerry near Cambodia, he nowhere mentions Kerry's crossing into Cambodia, an inconceivable omission if it were true.
Obviously, based on the Post’s analysis, it didn’t really do Kerry or Brinkley’s credibility any good. Brinkley's been in hiding ever since.
Back to the drawing board.
The new position, per the post of August 24th was this:
Now a new official statement from the campaign undercuts Brinkley. It offers a minimal (thus harder to impeach) claim: that Kerry "on one occasion crossed into Cambodia," on an unspecified date. But at least two of the shipmates who are supporting Kerry's campaign (and one who is not) deny their boat ever crossed the border, and their testimony on this score is corroborated by Kerry's own journal, kept while on duty. One passage reproduced in Brinkley's book says: "The banks of the [Rach Giang Thanh River] whistled by as we churned out mile after mile at full speed. On my left were occasional open fields that allowed us a clear view into Cambodia. At some points, the border was only fifty yards away and it then would meander out to several hundred or even as much as a thousand yards away, always making one wonder what lay on the other side." His curiosity was never satisfied, because this entry was from Kerry's final mission.
Another conflicting and unexplainable position. The campaign says he went there on an unspecified date. However, based on Kerry’s own recollections as featured in Brinkley’s book, “his curiosity was never satisfied” which, per the context of the sentence, means he was never in Cambodia ... ever.
Except, well, not quite. You see, two days before, on Meet the Press, Tad Devine, a Kerry advisor, put him back in Cambodia on Christmas.
MR. RUSSERT: The New York Daily News intervened on this yesterday with an editorial and said this: "As for Kerry, he might ask why the Swifties' attacks have been effective. The answer is his propensity to exaggerate. Kerry exaggerated about 'atrocities' in testimony before Congress. And it's looking more likely that he exaggerated, if not worse, when he claimed through the years that he was in Cambodia on Christmas Eve 1968. He has said the memory was 'seared' into him, but it's now clear Kerry was elsewhere, at least at that time. He has yet to explain. Until he does, the Swifties will have a powerful weapon in their arsenal." And this is...
MR. DEVINE: Sure.
MR. RUSSERT: ...so we--be clear and give you a chance to respond. Senator Kerry in '86 on the floor of the Senate: "I remember Christmas of 1968 sitting on a gunboat in Cambodia. I remember what it was like to be shot at by Vietnamese and Khmer Rouge and Cambodians, and have the president of the United States telling the American people that I was not there, the troops were not in Cambodia. ...I have that memory which is seared--seared--in me."
In '79 in the Boston Herald: "I remember Christmas Eve of 1968 five miles across the Cambodian border being shot at by our South Vietnamese allies who were drunk and celebrating Christmas. The absurdity of almost being killed by our own allies in a country which President Nixon claimed there were no American troops was very real."
First of all, Nixon was not president...
MR. DEVINE: Right.
MR. RUSSERT: ...in December of '68.
MR. DEVINE: Sure.
MR. RUSSERT: He didn't take office until January '69. Does Senator Kerry stand by that statement that on Christmas Eve of '68 he was physically in Cambodia?
MR. DEVINE: Right. Well, his memory, Tim, is being there, around there. And
I'll tell you what happened on December 25th...
MR. RUSSERT: No--being there or around there?
MR. DEVINE: No, being right at the Cambodian border, over the Cambodian border. That's what he remembers. That's his clear memory. Now, Tim...
MR. RUSSERT: Five miles across the border.
MR. DEVINE: Now, Tim, obviously, as those records demonstrate, particularly in respect to President Nixon, you know, there's some difference between some of the records. Let me tell you what happened on December 24, 1968. John Kerry started that morning 50 miles away from the Cambodian border and they headed towards Cambodia, deep behind enemy lines. First, they were ambushed once. Second, they were fired upon, again in a separate incident. And that night they encountered friendly fire. Three times in one day he was fired upon deep behind enemy lines. And that certainly was seared into his memory.
Is this the gang who couldn’t shoot straight or what?
Clearly Devine is trying to give some credibility to the Cambodian Christmas story as its dismissal is otherwise very detrimental to Kerry’s credibility. Yet two days later, after Devine is on MTP, the campaign says it was on an “unspecified date”ruling out the 25th of December, 1968.
Hello? Mr. Devine? Did you miss that meeting?
Oh and never mind about the Kerry recollection, via Brinkley, of never having his curiosity about Cambodia satisfied right up through his last mission in Vietnam. Instead, let’s pretend that was never written. Move along, nothing to see here... move along (or perhaps I should say MoveOn).
This is amazing stuff. Usually spin is subtle, nuanced and hidden as well as possible. In this case it is so poorly done, so contradictory and so blatantly obvious as to almost be laughable if this subject wasn’t such a serious reflection on Kerry’s character.
Its also having other effects. As found on Instapundit, Editor and Publisher notes that candidate Kerry has been reported to be much less accessible to the press:
Some of the reporters covering Kerry said that the candidate had become less accessible on the campaign plane in recent weeks, with a few speculating that it might be because he did not want to face questions about the swift boat issue. But among them, different views arose over the swift boat story, with some saying it had gone on too long and others believing it was news that had to be covered.
"What I've heard from colleagues is that people feel it probably has had too long a life," said Frank James, a Chicago Tribune reporter. "We wish someone would put a stake in this vampire."
James also said some wondered why Kerry did not take on the issue himself earlier on. "He should have knocked it down early, but the campaign clearly thought it would go away."
Its not going to go away, especially if it is ignored, especially if continuing conflicting statements are made about events such as “Christmas in Cambodia”. And as the Kerry campaign knows, this is resonating with a lot of veterans, despite the main stream medias valliant attempts to first ignore it and then to spin it in Kerry's favor.
Interestingly the entity doing the worst damage to the Democrat nominee’s campaign is not the Swift Boat Vets, the media, bloggers or talk show hosts.
It is the Kerry Campaign.
(Huge hat tip to Kendall Harmon for the links and idea.)