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U.S. Role in Persian Gulf Is 'Absurd,' Babbitt Says

September 23, 1987|CLAUDIA LUTHER and JOHN BALZAR | Times Political Writers

Democratic presidential contender Bruce Babbitt, winding up a day of campaigning in Southern California with Orange County Democrats, Tuesday called President Reagan's Persian Gulf policy "absurd and reactive."

In an interview before meeting with the Democratic Associates and Foundation, the former Arizona governor also offered sympathies to beleaguered fellow candidate Joseph R. Biden, who has acknowledged plagiarizing speeches, overstating his achievements and fabricating his heritage during his presidential campaign.

"I'm just not a very objective observer," Babbitt said of the senator from Delaware, who he said had become a friend during the course of the campaign for the Democratic nomination. "I like the guy. I feel friendly toward him." He said he called Biden and urged him not to withdraw from the race.

'Sympathies' for Biden

"It's a rough, tough game," Babbitt said of the campaign. "My sympathies go to him."

Babbitt is among a string of presidential candidates who have appeared before the Democratic Associates and Foundation of Orange County in a pitch for support.

Down near the obscure bottom of the Democratic presidential pack, reaching for the next rung up, Babbitt is preparing to focus his campaign presentations on foreign policy in the coming days. Tuesday's sampler showed a candidate without qualms at hitting hard at a still popular incumbent's international strategy in the tangled war between Iran and Iraq.

'Reactive Foreign Policy'

"He sees a world in which America is under siege . . . in which every sparrow that falls from the tree anywhere in this world is evidence of a communist conspiracy at the United States," Babbitt said of Reagan. "It leads us to an absurd and reactive foreign policy."

Babbitt called Reagan's strategy in the Iran-Iraq war "a morass . . . where the President is itching to take sides" because he fears a communist conspiracy.

Describing Reagan's actions in the Persian Gulf, Babbitt said, "Then he heard that Kuwaitis were on the phone to the Kremlin. So he rushed to put American flags on Kuwaiti ships carrying Kuwaiti oil to Japan. In the same gulf where the American-owned ships were carrying Panamanian flags carrying Iranian oil--to Japan."

Defends Attack on Ship

Babbitt, however, defended the U.S. attack Monday night on an Iranian mine-laying ship in the gulf.

"It seems to be a reasonable action to take," Babbitt told reporters before the Associates and Foundation meeting. "The President is beginning to move in the right direction now, which is to say our presence is directed at the safety of international waters."

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