Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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August 10, 2004
By: Kevin Drum

KERRY IN CAMBODIA....I finally got interested in the "Christmas in Cambodia" story that the right wing blogosphere has been in such a tizzy about for the past few days. It was Michael Ledeen who did it:

...the "Cambodia" episode is all about Kerry today. It comes from his own contemporary mouth and is posted on his own website. And it's pure fantasy. So the reason that Instapundit and Rogerlsimon and Powerline and the rest of the precious and wonderful bloggers are so agitated...is that it strongly suggests that Kerry is nuts. Today. Because he is inventing his own past. And that business about carrying the little cap around in his briefcase. Wow.

Michael Ledeen calling John Kerry nuts! That sounds like a cage match I might pay to see. And anyway, what's this about a little cap and a briefcase?

So I did some trawling in darkest blogistan and here's the story. I hope I get it right. In 1979 Kerry wrote a letter to the Boston Herald in which he said, "I remember spending Christmas Eve of 1968 five miles across the Cambodian border being shot at by our South Vietnamese allies who were drunk and celebrating Christmas."

In 1986 Kerry gave a speech in the Senate in which he said he spent Christmas Day of 1968 "sitting on a gunboat in Cambodia."

In 1992, an AP story about missing POWs filled in further details: "One of the missions, which Kerry, at the time, was ordered not to discuss, involved taking CIA operatives into Cambodia to search for enemy enclaves."

In 2000, US News & World Report ran a brief piece that said Kerry "made his first forays into Cambodia during the Vietnam War as a Navy lieutenant on clandestine missions to deliver weapons to anticommunist forces."

In 2003, the Washington Post ran a story about Kerry in which he explained that he carries around an old hat in his briefcase:

"My good luck hat," Kerry said, happy to see it. "Given to me by a CIA guy as we went in for a special mission in Cambodia."

Now, it's not immediately clear to me why any of this is "pure fantasy." Kerry certainly operated in the area of the Cambodian border in late 1968, Americans were definitely making border incursions at the time, and the CIA certainly had a lot of people in Vietnam in 1968. That doesn't mean Kerry's story is true, but it's certainly plausible.

The serious evidence against Kerry seems to consist of two things. First, the Swift Vets group claims that "All the living commanders in Kerrys chain of command . . . deny that Kerry was ever ordered to Cambodia." Second, both Douglas Brinkley's biography of Kerry and Kerry's war journal mention only that he was near the Cambodian border on Christmas Eve, not across it. (Although the journal entry ends with a sarcastic message to his superiors: "Merry Christmas from the most inland Market Time unit" at a minimum a reference to being right on top of the Cambodian border. Then: "You hope that they'll court marshal you or something because that would make sense" possibly a reference to crossing the border.)

Conclusions? Beats me. Kerry has mentioned this story several times, so it's not a slip of the tongue. And it's plausible on its surface. Contrariwise, the evidence against him is pretty thin: not much more than the fact that no one else has verified it and keep in mind that the Swift Vets guys are not exactly disinterested witnesses in this matter. What's more, since there is exactly zero in the way of documentary evidence one way or the other, it seems unlikely that this little teapot-sized tempest will ever be conclusively resolved. Which, I suppose, suits Kerry's detractors just fine.

But stay tuned. You never know when something will pop up.

Kevin Drum 8:42 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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