Dean defends position on military

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(Host) Former Vermont Governor Howard Dean says he’s ready to rebut charges from a prime rival that he would tolerate a weaker U.S. military.

Dean, who is running for president, was criticized this week by the campaign of Massachusetts senator John Kerry, for saying the United States may not always have the strongest military forces. Kerry aide Chris Lehane said the comment calls into question Dean’s ability to serve as commander in chief.

Dean, who was headed for a debate in South Carolina, said in an airport interview that he plans to address the issue in the debate.

(Dean) “Well, mostly that’s spin. I’m going to talk about that some in the debate. When those stories appeared in the paper, every reporter in the country knows how those stories get in the paper. It’s the other campaigns calling them up and getting them to write the story. Unfortunately some write without bothering to call us, and most call us. So I generally don’t respond to people like Chris Lehane because I know what they’re about. But if John decides to make those charges himself, then I’ll respond to them.”

(Host) Kerry is Dean’s closest rival in the all-important New Hampshire primary early next year.

In the last few days, some campaign coverage has focused on the Massachusetts senator’s Vietnam war record. Some accounts have contrasted that record with Dean’s medical deferment from the wartime draft. Dean says Kerry is a war hero, but that there are other issues in the campaign:

(Dean) “Look, Senator Kerry is a war hero, a genuine war hero. And he’s been talking about that all over the country. And he’s entitled to talk about that all over the country. I was turned down by the U.S. army and did other things. The question is not what happened 30 years ago. The question is, who would be the best commander in chief? Who is most able to stand up to this up to this president, to reverse the enormous budget deficits, to bring in health insurance, who has the record of talking about that and who has record of actually delivering? That’s what the issue is.”

(Host) The debate between the nine Democratic candidates will be televised on ABC Saturday evening.

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