By Tim Grieve

Published February 8, 2005 2:54PM (EST)

During the presidential race, Republicans laid into John Kerry again and again for voting against some weapons systems in the early 1990s. A pro-Bush group called Progress for America Voter Fund ran a TV ad charging that Kerry had "voted against 13 weapons systems our troops depend on." And at the Republican National Convention in September, the Bush-Cheney campaign had Democratic turncoat and duel master Zell Miller say that Kerry was so opposed to spending money on weapons systems that he must want to arm U.S. soldiers with "spitballs."

So could it be that George W. Bush now wants to cut ... weapons systems?

Yes, it could be. The president's budget calls for the Pentagon to purchase fewer F/A-22 fighters, fewer destroyers, fewer amphibious ships, fewer submarines and fewer V-22 tilt-rotor aircraft than projected just a year before.

Does this mean that George W. Bush is weak on defense, that he would leave the country at the mercy of terrorists, that he would arm the troops with "spitballs"? No, of course not. Bush is seeking a 5 percent increase in defense spending overall -- not including the costs of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq -- and his cuts in defense spending are likely driven more by his passion for keeping his tax cuts than by any desire to cut back on weapons systems.

But Bush's budget does underscore once again the fundamentally dishonest nature of his 2004 campaign. When the Republicans attacked Kerry for voting against weapons systems, they conveniently omitted the fact that Bush's father and Bush's vice president both advocated for cutting some of those same systems themselves. If that's the game Republicans want to play with defense, then members of Congress on both sides of the aisle will want to be wary when they consider the cuts that Bush has proposed. Voting with the president may come back to haunt them.

Tim Grieve

Tim Grieve is a senior writer and the author of Salon's War Room blog.

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