Bob Dole questions Clinton's Iraq policy He says 'second-guessing' has begun, but on stump he sticks to domestic issues

Campaign 1996

September 10, 1996|By Paul West | Paul West,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- After a one-week hiatus, Bob Dole resumed his attack on President Clinton's foreign policy yesterday, charging that reports of continued unrest in northern Iraq "raise questions" about the administration's strategy in the region and threaten to undermine U.S. credibility.

In a written statement released through his presidential campaign, Dole questioned whether Clinton's strategy "has advanced U.S. interests in the region." But in campaign appearances in Georgia and Florida, Dole barely referred to Iraq, instead concentrating on domestic issues.

Dole, who initially criticized Clinton's "weak leadership" in the Persian Gulf, had supported the president's decision to launch a missile strike against Iraq last Monday after Saddam Hussein's troops overran a Kurdish faction in the city of Erbil.

He noted that Iraqi troops do not appear to be withdrawing from the north, and that Iraqis connected with a CIA effort to undermine Hussein's regime fear reprisals from his secret police.

"In Iraq, as in Bosnia, the Clinton administration should be careful about making claims of success that events on the ground may not substantiate, and about giving assurances that it is unable or unwilling to fulfill, because the credibility of the United States is at stake," Dole warned.

During a campaign stop in Georgia, Dole made only a brief reference to Iraq, noting in passing that the "second-guessing" had begun over Clinton's policy. He did not elaborate.

Dole stuck instead to domestic issues -- and to the plan laid out by his campaign advisers, who want him to avoid harsh personal attacks on the president.

At one point, during a question-and-answer session with supporters, Dole was asked by a fellow military veteran to "contrast" his World War II record with the "character" of the administration.

Some Republicans believe Dole must sharpen his attacks on Clinton and exploit the public's doubts about the president's character and integrity, if he is to overtake him.

Dole is reportedly gearing up for a negative ad attack on Clinton over the "sleaze factor." But for now, his campaign advisers believe voters still need to learn more about Dole the man.

So rather than launching an assault on his rival's draft avoidance, Dole ducked. Instead, he talked about himself, and about how having been wounded in the war had awakened him to the existence of a large community of disabled people around the country.

"Hopefully," the GOP candidate said, "I might be an inspiration of sorts to young people who have disabilities, and say, 'In America, if you work hard and get a few breaks you can make it.' And that's going to be my pitch to the American people."

At the moment, it is Dole who needs a break. With less than two months until Election Day, Dole trails the president by as much as 17 percentage points in the latest polls.

His itinerary this week underscores the challenge Dole faces. Dole is being forced to defend his southern flank, with a two-day swing through Florida, Georgia, Louisiana and Tennessee.

Last week, the president spent two days crisscrossing Florida, a state he narrowly lost in 1992, and Vice President Al Gore campaigned over the weekend in Georgia, which Clinton carried by the slimmest of margins four years ago. Dole running-mate Jack Kemp also was in Georgia over the weekend and plans to return tomorrow.

Dole broke little fresh ground during his question-and-answer session with a hand-picked audience of 70 at a residential construction site in Fayetteville, Ga., south of Atlanta.

Defending his economic plan against Democratic charges that it would widen the federal budget deficit, Dole noted that long-term interest rates had jumped by 1.5 percentage points since Clinton and Congress failed to reach a budget agreement last winter.

Dole maintained that he could finance his $548 billion tax reduction plan without cutting spending for Medicare, Social Security, education, veterans benefits and environmental cleanup. He has yet to offer a detailed blueprint, and the only spending cuts he mentioned yesterday were relatively minor savings from his plan to shutter the education department and most of the federal housing department.

At the same time, in an appeal aimed at military-minded southern voters, Dole promised to boost defense spending, if elected.

"If I make a mistake on defense, I'm going to spend too much, not too little," he declared.

Later, Dole addressed a crowd of about 200 in the back yard of a waterside home in St. Petersburg. Dole urged Florida residents to ignore what he said were scare tactics by the Democrats on issues such as Medicare.

Pub Date: 9/10/96

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