Tough Sell in Ohio

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COLUMBUS: This was supposed to be just a prewar formality for the poll-sensitive Clinton administration: an interactive town hall meeting in Ohio intended to sell the nation -- and the world -- on military action against Iraq. But the President's three foreign-policy salesmen nearly got the door slammed in their faces. Madeleine Albright's opening statement was interrupted by chants of "One, two, three, four, we don't want your racist war!" from a handful of protesters. Bill Cohen and Sandy Berger both got a scream or two of "Murderer!" One man angrily denounced the entire forum as "a staged media event."

Crisis in IraqThe protests would die down, with the help of a stern Bernard Shaw and some menacing security guards. But the reasoned questions, too, reflected something that will surely trouble Clinton in the coming days: This time around, America is getting gun-shy. Many wondered whether a military strike would accomplish any final objective; others considered the U.S.' record on U.N. resolutions to be spotty at best. A veteran wanted to be assured that the U.S. would "not be half-assed" this time and finish the job, whatever it took. And from Cohen, Albright and Berger, the answers were not always convincing. Berger did manage a stirring final line: "Some things are worth fighting for." But if Saddam was watching from some Baghdad bunker, he was probably smiling.