Campaigning With Powell, Dole Blasts Defense Policies

LOUISVILLE, Kentucky -- Campaigning for the first time with retired Army general Colin Powell by his side, Bob Dole told the Veterans of Foreign Wars that the Clinton administration has "squandered'' America's defense budget, and he vowed to increase military spending and modernize the armed forces.

The Republican presidential nominee also chastised the administration Tuesday for not dealing more harshly with nations known to sponsor terrorism. And on the domestic front, Dole said that as president, he would declare war on drugs, citing new government surveys showing the percentage of teenagers using drugs has risen sharply since 1992.

As a starting point, Dole said, he would convene a White House conference on the "national tragedy'' and not rest until attaining "absolute victory.''

Such policy pronouncements notwithstanding, it was the surprise presence of Powell on the campaign trail with Dole and running mate Jack Kemp that aroused great enthusiasm from the thousands of Veterans of Foreign Wars, or VFW, conventioneers here.

Speaking to reporters upon arriving in Louisville, Powell denied rumors that Dole has offered him the post of secretary of state in a Republican administration. "We haven't had any such discussions,'' Powell said.

In a comment likely to keep such talk alive, however, he said: "Anything's open. But right now, the important thing is to get the team elected.''

Powell clearly enjoyed special status at the VFW annual convention. Indeed, the Dole campaign broke with protocol by having Kemp introduce Powell, who received a loud ovation from the audience of about 6,000.

Powell, who in turn introduced Dole, lavished praise on both the former Senate majority leader and his vice presidential pick.

Dole, as he did during his acceptance speech in San Diego on Thursday night, revisited the Vietnam War, noting that he and the VFW had "stood together'' to fight against a move in Congress to cut off funds to U.S. forces there.

"I will never commit the armed forces, not one single soldier, without the prospect of victory,'' Dole said.

Dole was strongly critical of recent defense spending reductions and suggested that the cuts Clinton pressed through Congress, about 11 percent, might have been deeper were it not for the Republican-dominated Congress that drew "a line in the sand.''