KANSAS CITY, Mo. – Democratic presidential challenger John Kerry (search) said Thursday that the Bush administration has instituted a "backdoor draft" by requiring thousands of soldiers to stay in the military if their units are ordered to Iraq or Afghanistan.
Kerry said the Pentagon's announcement of the "stop-loss" program Wednesday may have increased the forces by 30,000 troops. "But this has happened on the backs of the men and women who've already fulfilled their obligation to the armed forces and to our country — and it runs counter to the traditions of an all-volunteer Army," he said during a speech on modernizing the military at the Truman Presidential Library (search).
"They have effectively used a stop-loss policy as a backdoor draft," he said.
Kerry says the Bush administration is relying on outdated techniques to fight a new kind of war and has stretched the U.S. military too thin, complicating the mission to create a stable Iraq. He said the country is in danger of returning to the low point of the Vietnam War in the late 1970s by creating "another hollow Army," with too few ready to fight.
"From day one, this administration has been obsessed with threats from other states instead of opening their eyes to the perils of the new century — terrorist organizations with or without ties to rogue nations and failed states," he said.
Bush campaign spokesman Steve Schmidt said Kerry has failed to support the troops financially in the Senate, voting against weapons systems and military benefits. He cited the Massachusetts senator's vote last year against the $87 billion to fund military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan and his failure to appear in the Senate Wednesday to vote for Bush's request for $25 billion for this fall's military operations in the two countries.
The Senate voted 95-0 to provide the money. Kerry was campaigning in Florida.
"His speech is filled with empty promises and campaign rhetoric that is completely disconnected with his 20-year record in the United States Senate," Schmidt said.
Kerry said his first priority as commander in chief would be to increase the activity duty force by 40,000 new soldiers who would be ready for possible conflicts outside of Iraq. Half of the new force would be combat troops, the other half civil affairs personnel trained for reconstruction.
The campaign said adding the troops would cost $5 billion to $7 billion a year once all 40,000 are added to the force.
Kerry said he would also:
— double the number of Special Forces.
— provide troops with the best training and most modern equipment and technology.
— modernize the National Guard for a primary responsibility of security in the United States.
— accelerate development of non-lethal weapons that can stop an enemy without killing innocent bystanders.
"We cannot afford to spend billions to deploy rapidly an unproven missile defense system," Kerry said. "Not only is it not ready, but it's the wrong priority for a war on terror where the enemy strikes with a bomb in the back of a truck, or a vial of anthrax in a suitcase."
Kerry also announced a senior military advisory group that will advise his campaign on defense and national security. Members include primary rival and retired Army Gen. Wesley Clark and two former chairmen of the Joint Chiefs of Staff — retired Army Gen. John Shalikashvili and retired Navy Admiral William Crowe.
On Thursday, Kerry unveiled a 30-second ad meant to subtly contrast his health care proposals with Bush's record. The ad, which doesn't mention Bush, claims the country is headed in "the wrong direction," particularly on the issue of health care.
"It ought to be a right that we make accessible and affordable to every single American," Kerry says in the ad, which will run in 14 of the 20 states where Kerry is on the air.