Saturday, May 15, 2004

Swift Ties

From Joe Conason in

When the “Swift Boat Veterans for Truth” launched its campaign against John Kerry 10 days ago, leadership and guidance were provided by Republican activists and presidential friends from Texas — notably Houston attorney John E. O’Neill and corporate media consultant Merrie Spaeth. Indeed, although the group made its debut at a press conference in Washington, it looked and sounded like a Texas GOP operation.

On closer inspection, the ostensibly nonpartisan “Swift Boat Vets” seem to have another pair of significant sponsors with deep and long-standing Republican connections in Missouri. Both are officers of Gannon International, a St. Louis conglomerate that does lots of overseas business in, of all places, the Socialist Republic of Vietnam.

Ties to Gannon can be traced via the Swift Boat Vets Web site (as an alert reader advised me last week). On April 14, the site was registered under the name of Lewis Waterman, Gannon’s information technology manager, at 11301 Olive Boulevard in St. Louis, the firm’s headquarters address. Although Waterman wouldn’t discuss why he had set up the Web site, he didn’t deny that his boss, Gannon president and CEO William Franke, had asked him to do so.

“The information about my client is confidential,” said Waterman. He acknowledged knowing, however, that his boss Franke is a Navy veteran who served in Vietnam on swift boats. Gannon vice president Stephen Hayes, who oversees the company’s office in Alexandria, Va., is likewise a swift boat veteran who first met Franke when they served together in the Mekong Delta.


None of Gannon’s profitable activities in the communist republic would be possible, of course, without the approval of the Hanoi government, which Franke has described as “strong” and “stable.” Nor would Gannon be conducting business in Vietnam without the Clinton administration diplomacy, assisted by Sen. Kerry, that established diplomatic and trade ties with the United States in 1994. Franke first began traveling to Vietnam on behalf of Operation Smile, an American charity that provides plastic surgery to children abroad. The relationships he established during those humanitarian missions provided a considerable advantage in doing business under government auspices.

It was also during those early visits to Vietnam, as he told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, that Franke reached a clearer understanding of the war he had once fought as a young Navy lieutenant.

“As I looked back 20 years, I saw that it was a very imperial relationship we had with these people,” said Franke in 1989. “We were young. We were there because we were told to be there and that they were the enemy. This time I saw them as human beings who had fears and hopes the same as we.”

Yet he evidently cannot forgive John Kerry for reaching the same conclusion about that war and its victims, so many years before he finally did.

The trouble with flagrant irony is that the folks who are doing their best to demonstrate it have no idea they’re doing it.