- The Washington Times - Saturday, August 3, 2002

Former President Bill Clinton says that during his presidency, he would have been ready to "grab a rifle" and fight in the trenches if Iraq or Iran had invaded Israel.
"The Israelis know that if the Iraqi or the Iranian army came across the Jordan River, I would personally grab a rifle, get in a ditch, and fight and die," Mr. Clinton told the crowd at a fund-raising event for a Toronto Jewish charity Monday.
The fighting words surprised veterans groups and prompted chuckles among Republicans, who saw a stark contrast with his behavior during the Vietnam War, when he avoided military service on behalf of the United States.
"Many veterans are going to react with outrage, and they're going to be mystified as to where this gung-ho attitude emerged," said Steve Thomas, spokesman for the American Legion.
During Mr. Clinton's successful presidential campaigns in 1992 and 1996, he was dogged by charges that he dodged the draft for Vietnam. In September 1992, the head of the ROTC unit at the University of Arkansas said Mr. Clinton lied in 1969 and used political pressure to dodge the Vietnam War draft by saying he intended to enroll in the ROTC unit.
Lt. Col. Eugene Holmes said he was pressured by draft board officials in Mr. Clinton's hometown, Hot Springs, Ark., to ensure Mr. Clinton was enrolled in the program, thus avoiding induction into the Army. Mr. Clinton never joined the unit, and he has never explained how he avoided two induction notices to report to active duty.
A spokeswoman in Mr. Clinton's New York City office could not be reached for comment yesterday about his remarks, and a spokeswoman for the Democratic National Committee didn't return phone calls on the matter.
The 350 attendees at the reception for the Canadian Hadassah-WIZO charity, held in a private home in Toronto, paid $1,000 each to hear the ex-president, who according to Canadian press reports signed autographs and played saxophone with the band before he spoke.
The Toronto Star reported that an unnamed benefactor paid Mr. Clinton's speaking fee, which is said to run as much as $125,000 an appearance.
His remarks have been circulating on the Internet and garnered a front-page display in yesterday's New York Post, but his speech went beyond that. He said the United States must remain engaged in the Middle East because "Israelis believe that America is the only big country that cares if they live or die."
And he criticized Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat for not accepting peace plans Mr. Clinton tried to broker during his presidency, but he disagreed with President Bush's insistence that Palestinians install a new leader before peace can proceed.
Mr. Clinton tried to broker a Middle East peace accord in the waning days of his presidency. His wife, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, New York Democrat, courted Jewish voters aggressively during her successful Senate bid in New York.
Jim Dyke, a spokesman for the Republican National Committee, said Mr. Clinton's appearance was out of step with the tradition of former presidents.
"President Clinton has always been someone who enjoys the spotlight. He seems reluctant to play the more constructive role that other former presidents have played," Mr. Dyke said.
As for the president's remarks about joining the soldiers in the trenches, Mr. Dyke refused to comment directly, saying, "We've always known he had lots of fight in him."
The story drew laughs elsewhere on Capitol Hill, though.
"He just wants to be loved, is that so wrong?" quipped one Republican aide, who said it sounded as if the former president was going to say what it took to get applause from the group. "It's almost a Gore-ish thing to say to go so far in an effort to ingratiate yourself."

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