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National Security Experts Push for Kerry in Boston

Amid all the hoopla of past party conventions, it was almost unheard of to find diplomats and military officers lobbying delegates, raising funds and buttonholing reporters. But that was before George W. Bush was elected president.

In Boston, at least two groups of retired diplomatic and national security officials are making the rounds, hoping to fire up the troops and boot Bush out of office.

On Wednesday morning, members of a group called Diplomats & Military Commanders for Change, launched earlier this year, held a breakfast to explain why they believe the Bush administration’s handling of foreign policy — especially the war in Iraq — was damaging America’s national security prospects.

Introducing a briefing by five veteran diplomats at the fog-shrouded, 33rd-floor home of the Harvard Club, William Harrop, who served as President George H.W. Bush’s ambassador to Israel, acknowledged that his group’s 27 career diplomats and four-star generals and admirals have spent their careers “keeping out of domestic politics.”

But Harrop added that he and his colleagues have come to deplore “the sense of arrogance that decisions can be made by one superpower, without having to consult with their allies and friends overseas.” Michael Sterner, who served as ambassador to the United Arab Emirates and negotiator for Israeli-Palestinian negotiations under President Richard Nixon, told the audience that Bush’s Middle East policy “has succeeded in marrying Arab nationalism with Islamic extremism — a remarkable achievement that is creating a swamp that is breeding terrorism.”

The group explicitly calls for Bush’s defeat, but has kept itself separate from the Kerry campaign and the Democratic Party. While the group has raised some money for Kerry, Harrop said its main goal is to do public outreach.

Harrop said members of Diplomats & Military Commanders for Change will provide diplomatic and military heft for Kerry’s policies in battleground states this fall. The group’s executive director is Connie Coopersmith, a veteran Democratic insider.

“Never before has there been a more stark choice for Americans in an election year,” career diplomat George Moose told the audience.

In the meantime, another group called Americans for Strong National Security has come to Boston to boost Kerry.

This group has attracted the support of 150 intelligence and homeland security professionals, including such advisory committee members as Sen. Joseph Biden (D-Del.), ranking member of the Foreign Relations Committee, and Reps. Silvestre Reyes (D-Texas) and Dutch Ruppersberger (D-Md.) both members of the Armed Services and Intelligence committees.

The organization, which unlike DMCC is affiliated with the Kerry campaign, has raised $200,000 for Kerry so far, said A. Martin Erim, the group’s chairman.

Erim, who said he voted for Bush in 2000, added that he wants to reverse the assumption that Democrats are weak on national security.

“Our simple goal is to show people that national security is not an exclusive area for George W. Bush,” he said. “There’s no way to quickly change the stereotype, but each member hopes they can add another drop to the bucket.”

On Wednesday, Kerry, who has played up his military service in Vietnam while campaigning, announced that he has been endorsed by 12 generals and admirals.