Dole Walks The Line

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WASHINGTON, D.C.: With U.S. troops on alert after the cruise missile attack on Iraq, Bob Dole is struggling to keep the political heat on President Clinton without undermining the tradition of uniting behind the nation's Commander-in-Chief. Rather than risk appearing unpatriotic if he criticized Clinton's confrontation with Saddam Hussein, Dole chose the safest stance: "I stand foursquare behind our men and women in uniform." Yet the GOP candidate still managed to take a shot at Clinton. Implying that the Administration policy so far had been weak and indecisive, Dole said he hoped the mission marked the beginning of serious action to curtail Saddam Hussein's power and end his defiance of the international community. Neither Dole nor his foreign affairs adviser, Senator John McCain, have backed away from their earlier denunciations of Administration Middle East policy. At a GOP rally over the weekend, McCain accused the White House of squandering the prestige won by the United States during the Gulf War with a meaningless "feckless, photo-op foreign policy. " As the conflict unfolds, Clinton can count on the Dole camp to capitalize on any foreign policy debacle. U.S. policy goals in the region, says Dole, should be to force Iraqi troops to leave Northern Iraq, release Kurdish prisoners, and end their interference in the area. U.N. weapons inspections should begin again, while Saddam's support of international terrorism should cease. If the White House falters on any one of these goals between now and Election Day, Clinton can expect to hear a lot more about it from GOP headquarters. -- Terence Nelan