Dole Suggests Clinton Defense Policies Could Leave U.S. Vulnerable
DALLAS (AP) _ In a speech nostalgic for his own military days, Bob Dole suggested Saturday that President Clinton’s defense policies had ``turned off the porch light″ and left Americans vulnerable to terrorist attacks like last week’s bombing in Saudi Arabia.
The Republican presidential challenger also contended that the bombing proved the need for beefed-up military spending and a missile defense.
In side-by-side national radio broadcasts, both Dole and Clinton condemned the ``cowardly″ bombing of a U.S. military housing complex in Saudi Arabia that killed 19 Americans. And both took the tragedy as an opportunity to make some political points.
Clinton, who was headed to memorial services in Florida for the victims, said he has ``directed our senior officials to come together as soon as possible to discuss additional steps to intensify the worldwide fight against terrorism.″
Clinton, speaking in Lyon, France, at the end of an economic summit of world leaders, cited his administration’s record in fighting terrorism and building a strong economy. When he came into office, Clinton said, ``the United States was not in a strong position to lead.″
Now, he said, the worldwide fight ``against terrorist, international crime, drug trafficking and the spread of weapons of mass destruction are part of a campaign America has been leading for three years now. Without our leadership, the job will not get done.″
Dole, confined to the campaign trail, called for a united American front against terrorism, saying that ``when tragedies like this occur we’re not Democrats, we’re not Republicans _ we’re Americans.″
Yet, both his brief radio broadcast _ which was aired as the GOP response to the president’s address _ and a speech to the Texas state convention of Veterans of Foreign Wars echoed earlier criticism of Clinton as weak and naive in foreign policy.
``While the Cold War is over, the painful reminder of this week is that the world remains a very dangerous place,″ Dole said. ``We can’t just turn off the porch light, lock our doors, cross our fingers and hope everyone behaves.″
Dole said earlier he didn’t begrudge Clinton the positive news coverage that comes as a president helps his nation mourn. But he noted that Clinton had recently attended an international summit on terrorism and ``then this happened. You never know ... how the American people view it. But it’s not a partisan thing, in my view.″
Dole never referred overtly to Clinton, but his remarks were loaded with references to their differences _ especially their respective military records.
``I would say to those ... who sort of look down on the military, who say we spend too much on defense, it takes maybe a tragedy like this for those people to understand what liberty and freedom and duty and honor, god and country are all about,″ Dole, with his own VFW cap tilted across his forehead, told the veterans’ convention.
Recalling his first day in the Army at Camp Barkley, Texas, where he said he learned his first swear words, the World War II veteran did not explicitly impugn Clinton for avoiding service in Vietnam and protesting that war. But Dole did say that Vietnam veterans were treated like ``second-class citizens.″
Veterans in the audience sharpened the political point.
``It bothers me bad,″ Oscar Sutton, of Dennison, said of Clinton. ``And of all people who avoided service, I have no use for them.″
Ernest Mudd, of San Antonio, said Dole’s military background gave him greater credibility as a candidate for the White House. ``As president, it would make a difference in how he handled other foreign nations,″ Mudd told a reporter.
Dole also reiterated his call, frequently voiced on the campaign trail, for a ballistic missile defense system. Clinton opposes the deployment of a missile defense on the grounds that there is insufficient threat to justify its $5-billion price tag.
``Our goal is not just to be strong enough to turn back a threat,″ Dole said. ``Our goal must always be strength to guarantee that no one ever again is tempted to threaten us at all.″
The Clinton-Gore campaign responded quickly, issuing a statement that ``President Clinton supports the strong and sensible national missile defense program that will protect Americans from real threats. Bob Dole wants to return to the old days of boondoggle defense spending. ...″
Later Saturday, Dole headed to a campaign rally in Knoxville, Tenn.