WASHINGTON -- President Clinton's nomination of Morton H. Halperin, a former official in the Johnson and Nixon administrations, to a Pentagon post has stirred up ideological animosities dating from the Vietnam War.
A conservative advocacy group and a growing number of Republican senators are leading the charge against Mr. Halperin, who used to direct the Washington office of the American Civil Liberties Union and who is Mr. Clinton's choice to become
assistant secretary of defense for democracy and peacekeeping, a newly created position for overseeing the policies on the use of international peacekeeping forces.
Unlike critics of some of Mr. Clinton's other controversial choices, like Lani Guinier, whose nomination to be the Justice Department's top civil rights official was withdrawn, or Dr. Joycelyn Elders, who overcame opposition on Capitol Hill to become surgeon general, Mr. Halperin's opponents seem to have no quarrel with the nominee's views on contemporary issues.
Instead, they contend that Mr. Halperin's past writings on such Cold War topics as arms control, covert operations and the Vietnam War make him unfit to work at the Pentagon. Mr. Halperin reversed his initial support for the Vietnam War, advocated deep cuts in nuclear weapons and criticized many clandestine intelligence operations.
"He has a long history of extreme views on national security which put him well outside the acceptable mainstream of xTC defense policy, even among Democrats," Sen. Strom Thurmond of South Carolina, the ranking Republican on the Armed Services Committee, said in a letter sent Tuesday to Republicans on the panel urging them to oppose the nomination.
L Sen. John W. Warner, R-Va., has also expressed reservations.
A bipartisan group of supporters have begun a counterattack, asserting that Mr. Halperin, perhaps best-known for his long legal battle with Henry A. Kissinger over the wiretapping of Mr. Halperin's home telephone in 1969, is the victim of an orchestrated smear campaign intended to settle old scores.
The Senate is set to hold hearings on Mr. Halperin's nomination ** in the next two weeks. Administration officials expect him to be confirmed, but some Republicans are predicting a bloody fight.
The nomination could well hinge on how Sen. Sam Nunn, the Georgia Democrat who heads the committee, votes.
Mr. Nunn is not saying how he will vote, but he has shown a taste for combat with the White House, opposing Mr. Clinton's pledge to allow homosexuals in the military and most recently expressing reservations about the U.S. military involvement in Somalia.
Opposition to Mr. Halperin's nomination stems largely from the Center for Security Policy, a conservative advocacy group here, and its director, Frank J. Gaffney Jr., a Pentagon official in the Reagan administration.