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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Clinton Sends Signal to Dole, Iraq

WASHINGTON -- By launching military strikes against Iraq, President Bill Clinton is sending messages to two prominent opponents: Iraqi President Saddam Hussein and Republican presidential candidate Bob Dole.

The message to Saddam is straightforward: Violate United Nations resolutions or use force against your neighbors or your own people, and the United States will retaliate.

The message to Dole is equally straightforward, administration officials and Clinton campaign operatives said: Your criticism of Clinton as a weak leader, soft on dictators, is unjustified.

They also said Dole's criticism of U.S. policy toward Iraq was simplistic and ill-informed.

Administration officials and campaign aides said Saddam's military incursion into the "safe haven'' Kurdish area of northern Iraq presented the president with a complicated situation involving the interests of key U.S. allies, the credibility of U.S. pledges and murky developments on the ground.

The United States was obliged to respond to Saddam's moves to demonstrate the credibility of its pledge to protect the Kurds, they said.

But the military response had to be acceptable to U.S. partners and to friendly Arab countries concerned about the impact of the confrontation on Iraq's long-suffering civilians.

When Iraq invaded Kuwait in 1990, the administration and campaign sources said, the United States had a clear, unequivocal national interest in reversing an action that threatened the West's oil supplies and represented an indisputable violation of the United Nations charter.

In the Kurdish region of Iraq, they said, U.S. interests are considerably less compelling, especially since one Kurdish faction was apparently aligned with the Iraqi forces that seized the Kurdish administrative capital, Arbil, on Saturday.

Dole said Sunday that the fighting between Kurdish factions in Northern Iraq that prompted Iraq's military incursion into the protected area was itself the result of a "failure of American leadership.''

Earlier, he had said U.S. support for a United Nations arrangement that would have allowed Iraq to export limited amounts of crude oil to raise money for food and medicine for Iraq's hard-pressed citizenry was "premature and ill-advised.''

Stung by what they saw as Dole's violation of the longstanding political principle that politics stops at the water's edge, officials of the administration and the Clinton campaign labored over the weekend to lob the criticism back at the president's GOP rival.

They said Clinton has repeatedly demonstrated his resolve to deal firmly with Saddam.

They recalled that the president ordered cruise missile strikes against Baghdad in 1993 to retaliate for an Iraqi-sponsored effort to assassinate former president George Bush, and sent troops and aircraft to the Persian Gulf in October 1994 in response to what appeared to be another Iraqi military threat to Kuwait.

They said Clinton was following the course marked by Bush and that policy toward Iraq had been firmly bipartisan until Dole sought to politicize it.