Neil Abercrombie‘s voting record on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan show that his opposition to U.S. military involvement in controversial foreign wars is not all that different than when he protested the Vietnam War 40 years ago.

But Abercrombie also took a leading role in Congress as an advocate for military housing, defense spending and veterans affairs, especially as those issues applied to Hawaii.

Abercrombie’s record on the military during his 20 years in Congress might best be summed up as supporting the troops and military presence in Hawaii, but not supporting their deployment in controversial circumstances.

Abercrombie told Civil Beat that critics who see a contradiction in being a war protester and a supporter of military matters haven’t been “paying attention. It’s superficial. They forget — or they never knew — because they have their own stereotype categories.”

Abercrombie notes that when he ran for the U.S. Senate in 1970, he made his announcement at the gates of Punchbowl Cemetery.

“It was specifically to symbolize as graphically as I could that this was a pro-peace, anti-U.S. imperialist policy,” he explained. “In other words, I thought, ‘The last country on Earth that should be taking an imperial path was the United States of America.'”

“My point is that, right from the very beginning, we never intended to be anti-military,” said Abercrombie. “I thought that was foolish.”

Let’s look at his record:

Veterans and Military Affairs

After labor unions, Abercrombie’s second-biggest source of congressional campaign donations has been the defense sector, including aerospace contractors such as Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman and General Dynamics.

For a bearded guy who used to sport a long ponytail and who actively protested the Vietnam War, it is difficult for some to reconcile the Abercrombie of the late 1960s and early ’70s with the Abercrombie of today.

The 72-year-old former congressman has spent the past two decades cultivating his relationships with the U.S. military.

To be sure, support for the military is not the same as support for foreign intervention. Abercrombie opposes the current wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Nor is support for military personnel and programs necessarily an issue owned by Republicans. Case in point: Sen. Daniel K. Inouye.

Finally, given that Hawaii is home to more than two dozen military facilities, the United States Pacific Command and tens of thousands of military personnel, their dependents and retirees, it would be wise for a Hawaii politician to understand a critical element of their constituency.

But while in Congress, Abercrombie was in deep with the armed forces.

From Barking Sands to Baghdad

Abercrombie served as chairman of the Subcommittee on Air and Land Forces of the Committee on Armed Forces, where he had oversight of Army and Air Force operations, budget and weapon systems procurement.

Nearly one-third of a 15-page handout detailing his accomplishments during 20 years in Congress chronicles veterans and military affairs.

Among the accomplishments Abercrombie cites are the following:

• Pushing the Department of Defense to accelerate funding of mine-resistant, armor-protected vehicles to shield Marines from IEDs.

• “Retargeting” more than $800 million in the defense budget to equip National Guard and Reserve units serving overseas.

• Persuading the Navy to designate the Pacific Missile Range Facility in Barking Sands on Kauai the “primary” Pacific test range and securing funds to upgrade the facility.

• Winning approval for more than $234 million in federal funding to expand the defense technology industry in Hawaii.

• Sponsoring legislation authorizing awarding of the Purple Heart Medal to those injured or killed from “friendly fire.”

• Introducing the War Profiteering Prevention Act to “crack down” on U.S. contractors in Iraq and Afghanistan (it passed the House but not the Senate).

Abercrombie also fought for compensation for Filipino veterans of World War II, an expanded GI Bill and medical care for newer veterans, renovating the military Hale Koa Hotel in Waikiki, protecting Pearl Harbor Naval Shipyard from closure and supporting military historical preservation in the islands.

His biggest accomplishment is upgrading military housing in Hawaii, something Abercrombie frequently mentions when asked how the federal government can help create jobs (in this case, construction work).

In 2000 Abercrombie supported the interests of the Non Commissioned Officers Association 100 percent of the time, as he did for the Military Association of America in 2009.

Not Pro-War

But Abercrombie very much remains an opponent of America’s involvement in foreign entanglements.

He voted against the 2002 congressional resolution that authorized use of force in Iraq.

He has called for “near-immediate” removal of troops from the country and voted for a non-binding resolution in 2007 opposing a troop increase.

The war, he said during floor debate on the resolution, “is a catastrophe conceived in ideological zeal, cloaked in misinformation and administered with breathtaking incompetence. It is an outrage that we have not had a single policy in Iraq worthy of our men and women in uniform.”

Abercrombie continued: “We owe it to all the brave men and women who have already sacrificed so much — over 3,000 of them who made the ultimate sacrifice — to steer our country on a course that will bring our troops home safely, take care of them and their families when they return and end this war.”

That same year, Abercrombie assailed the Pentagon for requesting emergency funds he felt were unnecessary for the war, such as “replacing two Air Force fighter aircraft with Joint Strike Fighters that would not be operational for at least three years, $14 billion for new armored vehicles, and $131 million to buy 90,880 pairs of night-vision goggles.”

One exception to his war votes: Abercrombie, in 1993, voted for authorizing the use of U.S. armed forces in Somalia.

But in 1995 he voted against the Troop Deployment in Bosnia Bill as well as against funding it.

And in 2006, he voted no on a resolution “honoring all Americans who have played an active role in the ‘Global War on Terror,'” stating that it is not in the security interest of the U.S. to set an arbitrary date for the withdrawal of troops from Iraq and committing the U.S. to the “completion of the mission to create a sovereign, free, secure and united Iraq.”

In 2008 he voted against funding for operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Abercrombie believes he has been consistent in supporting the troops and opposing foreign policy that is not in the country’s best interest.

“The military is constitutionally under the jurisdiction of the Congress in terms of provision for it and all the rest,” he told Civil Beat. “And I never wanted to see the support for troops who, after all, are under the command of the president and the jurisdiction of the Congress, suffer for political policy. I never wanted to let political implications and ramifications interfere with support either in the field or in preparation for carrying out their duties.”

Learn about Abercrombie’s Shades of Red, on topics such as the estate tax and same-sex marriage and also about how he stood alone on a controversial vote on aid for the Palestinian government.

Learn about Aiona’s Shades of Blue, on topics such as the Akaka Bill, the homeless, clean energy and sustainability and healthy lifestyles.

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