- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 25, 2000

U.S. Sen. Charles S. Robb yesterday said the nation's armed forces are "stretched too thin" but the solution isn't to withdraw from conflicts around the world but to spend more to effectively support military missions.

In a luncheon meeting with editors and reporters at The Washington Times, Mr. Robb questioned some of commitments of the Clinton administration, specifically Haiti.

However, he said, the United States could have played a nonmilitary role in Rwanda and recalled that he urged involvement in Bosnia and Kosovo far earlier than the administration did.

"I don't think anybody would quarrel with the fact that we're stretched too thin. The question is, how do you extricate yourself from this situation? And we're doing the best we can."

The two-term Democratic senator, locked in a tight re-election bid with former Gov. George F. Allen, the Republican candidate, acknowledged that his focuses on issues like fiscal responsibility and military readiness have left him open to the charge that he is an "invisible" senator to Virginians.

However, he said, education as his prime campaign issue. To the Allen challenge of his record, he cites projects around the state to which he has funneled federal money.

"There are some that make a difference, when you get down in southside, when you get particularly over in the coal fields, where some of those water projects are they're all small potatoes, but they make a major difference," he said.

Mr. Robb said his low profile is a consciously taken decision that has made him an effective senator.

"I developed a very high profile 33 years ago [after he married President Johnson's daughter Lynda], so I haven't had to go out and push as hard to get attention. So I've been very comfortable in a very low-key way, and I think it's fair to say my colleagues are comfortable with me," he said.

"It isn't just a numbers game. A number of them, they really want me to win, and it's because I'm someone they can work with. But I won't always be trying to get to a microphone before they do."

Mr. Robb led troops in combat in Vietnam as a Marine Corps captain and has been a staunch defender of Virginia's military installations. He served terms as Virginia's lieutenant governor and governor, and was elected to the U.S. Senate in 1988. In 1994, he survived a bruising election challenge by Iran-Contra figure Oliver North. He was one of the few Democrats who supported President George Bush's the use of force against Iraq in the Gulf War in 1991.

He said the Clinton administration's "don't ask, don't tell" policy, which allows homosexuals to serve in the military so long as their sexual orientation isn't made known and bars military officials from asking about sexual preferences isn't working. "It can't work," he said.

"I argued against it, voted against it. It's in effect requiring individuals to live a lie. My own sense is that we ought to use criteria that are objective and we can prohibit, preclude any conduct we want to but we ought to apply it evenly."

Mr. Robb said he supports enabling women to perform military service as long as they meet the same physical and mental standards as men. "Culturally, I have difficulty with that," he said. "But I also have difficulty with the fact that, particularly since we're a volunteer force, if a woman wants to do that and can meet whatever criteria … then it's hard for me to rationalize why we should deny her that."

Whether to allow women to participate in actual combat should be left up to the services, he said.

Asked whether, with the passage of time, he regrets having voted to confirm the nomination of Clarence Thomas to the Supreme Court, he said he disagrees with several Thomas decisions, but "trying to revisit those questions, you just open up a can of worms."

He doesn't support the effort to revoke the Boy Scouts' federal charter in the wake of last summer's Supreme Court decision upholding the Boy Scouts rule against homosexuals as Scout leaders. But he is "disappointed" that the Scouts do so.

Mr. Robb opposes Mr. Allen's education tax credit plan because, he said, the money it would cost could be better used by the federal government to buy computers, hire teachers and modernize schools.

The senator declined to say whether, if re-elected, this would be his final term in the Senate. "I don't want to answer that too directly because I don't want to be viewed in a lame-duck status, but I made it very clear I have no intention of dying in the Senate," Mr. Robb said.

• Gerald Mizejewski contributed to this report.

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