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Dole Pledges to Use Military To Stop Illegal Drug Flow

By Edward Walsh
The Washington Post
PALOS PARK, Ill.

Republican presidential candidate Bob Dole tried to crash the Democrats' party in nearby Chicago Sunday with a tough rebuke of President Clinton's drug policies and a promise to use U.S. military forces to halt the flow of illegal drugs into the country.

Dole chose a GOP picnic in this suburb southwest of Chicago, where the Democratic National Convention begins Monday, to deliver his most extensive statement to date on drugs and to accuse Clinton of adopting a policy of "surrender" in a battle against "the moral equivalent of terrorism."

"This president has been known not for his eloquence but for his silence" on the drug issue, Dole told a modest but enthusiastic crowd here on a sunny, pleasant late summer day. "This administration has replaced the message of just say no' with the message of just say nothing.' "

Clinton spokesman Joe Lockhart responded saying Dole had voted to take money from Clinton's preventive "Safe and Drug-Free Schools" program and had voted against the 1994 crime bill, which included stiffer penalties for playground drug dealers. "Bob Dole attempted to dismantle initiatives that would help young people at risk of falling prey to drug use and crime," Lockhart said in a statement. "When it comes to taking action against drug use, Bob Dole comes up empty."

The tough, anti-drug campaign theme, building on the release of a report last week that showed a sharp increase in drug use among young people since Clinton took office, was aimed at worried suburban parents, a crucial swing bloc in the November election. The suburbs around Chicago, critical to GOP chances of carrying Illinois, have grown increasingly Republican, although Clinton appears to have made inroads with his message about individual responsibility.

Dole provided few details about his proposed use of the military in drug interdiction efforts. He promised, within 45 days of taking office, to devise a plan "to use our military power - particularly our technological capabilities - to fight the war on drugs"; to enlist intelligence agencies, including the Central Intelligence Agency, in the anti-drug effort; and to develop a contingency plan for the use of military units to stop the movement of drugs across the U.S. border with Mexico.

The former Senate majority leader said he respected the country's traditional reluctance to involve the military in domestic concerns. But asserting that "our drug problem is more than a domestic security matter" and that "the threat comes from abroad," he said, "No prevention program, no treatment effort, can work effectively if we continue to allow the supply of cheap, illegal drugs to continue to reach our streets and to reach our children."

For the Dole campaign, the decision to spotlight the drug issue on the outskirts of Chicago, where a four-day celebration of the Clinton presidency is about to begin, came after what appeared to be several days of indecision over whether even to try to blunt the Democrats' convention message. Illinois Gov. Jim Edgar (R) said state party officials did not learn until Friday that Dole would stop here on his way to Portland, Ore., and later this week to Santa Barbara, Calif., for a brief vacation.

Dole made only one joking reference to the Democratic convention. "I hear there's a party happening somewhere in the area," he said. But he clearly had decided, at least for one day this week, not to cede the territory or the message to Clinton and his thousands of Democratic supporters who have flocked to Chicago. The subtext of the Dole message Sunday, which is likely to be repeated as the campaign heats up, was that Clinton had failed in the exercise of "presidential leadership."

Indirectly accusing the president of responsibility for the rise in drug use among young people, Dole said, "The terrible truth is this new drug epidemic never had to happen. The lives lost need not have been lost." After a decline in drug use during Republican administrations, he said, "the Clinton administration surrendered, they raised the white flag in the war on drugs."

"And unlike this president," Dole added, "I will not be afraid to use the power of persuasion to talk about right and wrong. It is wrong for America to abandon its young people to the ravages of drugs. It's wrong, it's wrong, it's wrong, and everybody knows it."