San Diego Union Tribune

July 29, 2004

Former Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman endorses Kerry for president

Dana Wilkie
Copley News Service

BOSTON Retired Army Gen. John M. Shalikashvili, the former Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman, told the Democratic National Convention on Wednesday that John Kerry is the man who can "bring friends and allies to our side both for the fight" against terrorism and "the long hard work of reconstruction."

Shalikashvili is among several retired generals and admirals who are publicly backing Kerry and expressing their concern with the current state of the military.

"John Kerry has made it crystal clear that no matter how strong we might be, success in the war on terror ... will likely elude us unless we bring friends and allies to our side," Shalikashvili told convention delegates. "We must do this not because we need anyone's approval when we act to protect our security, but because we are more effective when friends and allies stand by our side. ..."

Shalikashvili's speech underscored the Democrats' claim during their four-day convention here that President Bush alienated many U.S. allies by going to war in Iraq. Kerry, the Massachusetts senator who will accept his party's nomination Thursday, has said Bush failed to consider war as a last resort.

"I know about the horror of war and thus join with others, like John Kerry, in believing that we must go to war only when all other efforts to resolve the threat to us have been exhausted," said Shalikashvili, who lived as a boy in occupied Poland during World War II, and who served in Vietnam and in a refugee-saving operation at the end of Operation Desert Storm.

Shalikashvili is among several retired military people - including crewmates who fought alongside Kerry in Vietnam's Mekong Delta - who are at the convention to testify that Kerry is an accomplished wartime leader.

"I do not stand here as a political figure," Shalikashvili told convention delegates. "Rather, I am here as an old soldier and a new Democrat. I am a new Democrat because I believe that John Kerry and John Edwards are the right choice for America's security."

When it came time to pick a new man for the prestigious and powerful position of chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, former President Bill Clinton was said to have chosen Shalikashvili in part because of the former refugee's engaging life story.

The son of a retired Russian Army officer, "Shali" - as he was known - was born in Warsaw, Poland, as World War II was erupting in 1936. Forced to flee his home at age 16, he immigrated to the United States, settled in Peoria, Ill., in 1952 and learned how to speak English by watching John Wayne movies at the local theater.

Shortly after graduating from Bradley University in 1958, he received his military draft notice in the mail.

In the Army, he applied for officer candidate school and earned a commission in 1959. He worked his way up the officer ranks, saw combat in Vietnam and as a three-star general in 1991, commanded a multinational force in Operation Provide Comfort that saved thousands of Kurdish refugees fleeing Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein. As a four-star general, he was commander of U.S. Forces in Europe and Supreme Allied Commander, the top NATO post.

Clinton nominated him in 1993 to assume the Joint Chiefs of Staff chairmanship, the nation's top military job. Shalikashvili retired in 1997, after 38 years of service. He is a visiting professor at the Institute for International Studies at Stanford University.

Shalikashvili told convention delegates that he supports Kerry in part because of the senator's belief that "these worldwide military deployments are dangerously overstretching our military and particularly our Army."

"Unless we appreciably increase the size of the Army and restructure it to give it new capabilities needed in the new war against terrorism, we are in real danger of returning to day of a hollow Army," he said.

Copley News Service correspondent Otto Kreisher contributed to this report.