Ex-Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman endorses Clinton

September 20, 1992|By John Fairhall | John Fairhall,Staff Writer

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. -- Dismissing the controversy over Bil Clinton's draft record, retired Adm. William J. Crowe Jr. endorsed him yesterday as the best qualified candidate to lead the nation in the future.

Mr. Crowe, who was chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff under Presidents Reagan and Bush, termed the draft issue "divisive and peripheral."

"There is no doubt in my mind that the national security of this nation depends first and foremost on its domestic strength -- economic, industrial, social and educational," Mr. Crowe said at a press conference with Mr. Clinton. "Gov. Clinton's approach to addressing these issues makes eminently good sense to me."

Mr. Crowe contested statements made by retired Gen. H. Norman Schwarzkopf, who questioned how Mr. Clinton could send people into war when he chose to avoid service in a conflict, the Vietnam War, he didn't agree with.

In an interview with AP network news and Newsweek, the Persian Gulf war commander said: "How does a person who admits that he . . . did not agree with the war, and therefore did not want to go to that war, how does he handle it when he has to send other people to war?"

But, said Mr. Crowe, who retired in 1989, "I think General Schwarzkopf's overdone it somewhat.

"He implied that people without military service could not commit people to war, that it would be difficult for them," Mr. Crowe said. "And we of course have had some very successful wartime presidents in this century: Woodrow Wilson, Franklin Roosevelt," who did not have military experience.

Mr. Clinton responded briefly to a New York Times report yesterday that he discussed options to the draft with Arkansas Sen. J. William Fulbright's office in 1969. He reiterated his long-standing denial that he had sought or received special treatment.

"When I had to make arrangements about the service, I talked to a lot of people, including them," Mr. Clinton said.

"I never asked them for any special treatment. I tried to find out what my options were."

Asked whether he thought he had gotten special treatment, he said: "In the way that you mean it, I don't."

Elaborating, he referred to a statement Nebraska Sen. Bob Kerrey made on Mr. Clinton's behalf on the Senate floor recently:

"And he said, you know, the problem is when people ask you about special treatment they meant that you leveraged money or power or something to get something that other people wouldn't have gotten. And the answer to that is 'no.' "

"But the truth is that the rules themselves almost wrote in special treatment," Mr. Clinton added.

"And I have to say that's right. And if you go back to look at who got deferments -- and why and how they worked and how people with educations were favored over people without -- there was a system I think that plainly favored people who were well-educated and that had options that they could pursue that others couldn't."

After graduating from Georgetown University, Mr. Clinton received a Rhodes scholarship to study in Oxford, England. He applied to an ROTC program in a successful effort to retain a deferment to continue his studies abroad. But he never actually joined the program.

"I think the facts of the draft issue are known," Mr. Clinton said yesterday, repeating his long-held position.

"People know that I opposed the war, that facing the draft I entered an ROTC program, I gave that up, got back in the draft, got a high lottery number and didn't serve."

Several news accounts, however, have raised questions about his explanation, giving Republicans ammunition to attack his credibility.

Although Mr. Crowe praised President Bush for his "substantial accomplishments" in national security matters, he questioned his overall record in the White House.

"We've had a lot of years in office, and many of the things I want to see done haven't been done," Mr. Crowe said. "And all of a sudden they're going to get done after having been in office, the party for 12 years.

"I just think it's time for change and new leadership."

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