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Is Clinton Trying to Have It Both Ways on Gulf War?

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TO apply Bette Davis's warning to the current political campaign: We better tighten our seat belts because we're in for a bumpy ride - particularly the candidates and, most particularly, Bill Clinton.

Mr. Clinton's tribulations in trying to respond to allegations about extramarital relations, dodging the Vietnam war, and land-deal improprieties will not go away. He may think so. But they won't. Now to that add something new: Clinton's Gulf war problem.

An Evans and Novak column brought this to the surface a few days ago, first referring to a Monitor breakfast of last September when Clinton "unequivocally described himself as a Desert Storm supporter."

The column then goes on to further comment: "Clinton's self-portrayal cannot be minimized. It helped him win the 'politicians primary' as the one candidate able to confront President Bush on what then seemed a transcendent issue. His stand was so pleasing to pro-Israel contributors that it enabled him to become the easy and early winner of the 'money primary.' "

The columnists then cite quotes from the Associated Press which they contend indicate Clinton was really ambivalent in his support of the Gulf war - certainly not the kind of position he now alleges and "not the kind of record to permit him to wrap himself in the laurels of Desert Storm."

In listening to the tape of the Clinton breakfast I find that the Arkansas governor began by making a short statement about himself in which he asserted flatly and without any further embroidery: "I supported the president's policy in the Persian Gulf."

That was his position - volunteered, not offered in response to any question. And he would have left it there. Indeed, Clinton's hawkishness on the Gulf war has, up to now, become a part of the conventional wisdom surrounding the campaign.

Put that up against a Clinton quote in the Arkansas Gazette of Jan. 15, which has the governor saying he agreed with Arkansas' two Democratic senators, who wanted to wait for sanctions to work and voted against war. This account goes on to quote Clinton saying: "I guess I would have voted with the majority if it was a close vote, but I agree with the arguments the minority made."

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