Unwitting Drudge indicts Bush

A 1968 document from the president's military file, posted on the Internet, merely reminds us of how far short he fell in fulfilling his service commitments.

Published September 14, 2004 1:42PM (EDT)

Attempting to bolster President Bush as he continues to stonewall questions about his Texas Air National Guard service, Internet gossip Matt Drudge posted a 1968 document from Bush's military personnel file Monday afternoon that purports to buttress a long-ago claim by Bush that he served not only in the Texas Air National Guard but in the Air Force as well. Although this "exclusive" Drudge posting is a trivial sidebar to the larger story of Bush's absence from two years of military service, the document itself -- presumably provided to Drudge by a Republican operative -- turns out to be an incriminating piece of evidence against Bush's case.

The Air Force claim arose in 1978, when Bush ran unsuccessfully for the House of Representatives from west Texas. During the campaign he produced literature in which he said he had served in the Air Force as well as the Texas Air National Guard. Pressed by the Associated Press about the claim two decades later in 1999, Bush's spokeswoman, handler and biographer, Karen Hughes, insisted the assertion was accurate. Her explanation: As part of his 1968 training to become a Guard pilot, Bush served 120 days of active duty; therefore he served in the Air Force.

The signed document Drudge posted is titled "Statement of Understanding" and dated May 27, 1968, the day Bush joined the Guard. Among the stipulations Bush agreed to was entering "active duty for training for 120 days," bolstering Bush's later assertion about the Air Force. But a Pentagon spokesperson told the A.P. in 1999 that despite their four-month training, Air National Guard members are not counted as members of the active-duty Air Force.

Bush's 1978 assertion that he served in the Air Force is "an embellishment, but not a lie," one former Air Force pilot says. Yet the story soon disappeared from Bush's official biography -- perhaps the best indication of his camp's recognition that the Air Force claim stretched credulity. (Not that the story of his military life then grew more accurate: During the 2000 campaign, Bush's official bio, scrubbed and rewritten by Hughes, said he flew F-102 planes in the Guard until 1973. Of course, that's untrue: Bush walked away from flying in 1972 never to return, an event he has yet to explain.)

Like the White House aides who in February released a portion of Bush's military payroll records under media pressure without fully understanding the incriminating evidence embedded in their military coding -- information that has come back to haunt Bush -- Drudge, by posting Bush's 1968 signed statement, merely reminds people how far short of fulfilling his military requirement the president fell.

For example, in his 1968 statement, Bush pledged to maintain "satisfactory participation" with his Guard unit, which meant fulfilling "satisfactory performance of assigned duties at 48 scheduled inactive duty training period days and 15 days filed training annually." Failure to do so meant being transferred to active duty, and the possibility of being sent to Vietnam. But in both 1972 and 1973, Bush failed to meet that participation standard.

White House aides have pointed out that while Bush may have missed some mandatory drill dates, he made them up later, earning enough annual points for a satisfactory rating. But the makeup points he earned -- some of which appear to be highly dubious -- counted only toward his retirement benefits, not his participation ratings.

What's more, those points were based on a calendar year, from January to December, while the "satisfactory participation" requirement was based on the military's fiscal year, from July to June. And according to the Bush records released by the White House, he failed to meet the required "48 scheduled inactive duty training period days" in both 1972 and 1973. Bush showed up for duty so infrequently during those two years that his commanders couldn't complete mandatory annual ratings of his service. Yet the son of a prominent political father faced no disciplinary action.

Also interesting is that on the same day Bush enlisted, May 27, 1968, he also signed a statement listing the penalties for poor attendance and unsatisfactory participation, such as "subject to active duty for a period not to exceed a total of 24 months." His commitment, however, did not stop Bush from failing to attend months of required drills in 1972 and 1973. The document is publicly available. Republicans just haven't given it to Drudge to post.

By Eric Boehlert

Eric Boehlert, a former senior writer for Salon, is the author of "Lapdogs: How the Press Rolled Over for Bush."

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