General to be disciplined over remarks about Clinton, officials say

June 16, 1993|By Eric Schmitt | Eric Schmitt,New York Times News Service

WASHINGTON -- An Air Force inquiry has concluded that a two-star general made disparaging remarks about President Clinton and he now faces disciplinary action that will effectively end his career, senior Air Force officials said yesterday.

The Air Force inquiry found that Maj. Gen. Harold N. Campbell called Mr. Clinton a "dope-smoking," "skirt-chasing," "draft-dodging" commander-in-chief, in a speech last month in the Netherlands.

Senior military officers are frequently asked at congressional hearings to give their personal opinions on military policies, but it is extremely rare for an officer to ridicule his commander openly, especially the president. It is a violation of military law for officers to express public contempt for civilian leaders.

General Campbell's superior, Gen. Ronald W. Yates, head of the Air Force Materiel Command, is expected to meet with the general tomorrow and give him one of two types of written reprimands: either a written reprimand or a more serious written rebuke that typically includes forfeiting pay. General Yates has ruled out a court-martial, Air Force officials said.

Given the fierce competition for advancement in today's shrinking military, any professional blemish virtually dooms an officer's chances for promotion. And if a senior officer is passed over for promotion, his military career is considered finished.

General Campbell, a decorated former fighter pilot who served two tours of duty in Vietnam, declined to to comment yesterday, an Air Force spokesman said.

The general's remarks, which one official familiar with the inquiry said were probably meant to be "an ice breaker" at the beginning of the speech, were the harshest public rebuke of Mr. Clinton by a military official.

Despite efforts by the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the White House to patch up their differences, many military officers still harbor animosity toward Mr. Clinton for his plans to reduce military spending and allow homosexuals to serve openly in the armed forces, and for his avoiding the draft during the Vietnam War.

Responding to questions from reporters yesterday, Mr. Clinton said he had not seen the final report and would not intervene while the Air Force is handling the inquiry. "For me, personally, I didn't care," the president said.

The president added: "But for a general officer to say that about the commander in chief, if that happened, is a very bad thing."

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