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If you pretend it's a secret . . . // (. . . I'll pretend not to know it)

Hang on friends because it's that time again, that silly season when our trusted leaders try once more to fool all the people all the time _ or at least most of us for the next six months.

You know what I'm talking about _ the campaigning for November's presidential election. And you know as well or better than I do that for the next six months we'll all be hearing more phony promises, more glorious fabrications, outright lies and half-truths than we've heard over the past 3{ years.

It's part of the deal we get with democracy _ the obligation to endure great blasts of hot air and chicanery in exchange for being able to choose those sending it our way.

This time around, a lot of the hot air will be generated by Republicans trying to make a big deal out of the fact that the Clinton administration deliberately looked the other way when Iran smuggled weapons to the Bosnian Muslims.

But before getting into the details of this Iran-Bosnia business, let's put it in context _ the context being that it's only the latest bit of posturing, preening and all-around hokum that goes into making a political campaign.

The Republicans aren't the only ones good at this. In fact, they almost certainly take second place to President Clinton and his Democratic Party strategists who outsmarted them in 1992 and look ready to do it again in November.

But on this particular issue _ slamming Clinton on the Iran-Bosnia link _ the Republicans are doing a pretty good job of creating a scandal where none existed. They've even got six _ count 'em, six _ congressional committees working on it.

And guess what? The committees have a mandate to investigate until November. Isn't that convenient?

Probably the most amusing part of all this, at least to me, is the outrage _ no, make that shocked outrage _ being expressed by Republican leader Bob Dole and others that a sitting American president could possibly countenance the violation of a United Nations arms embargo.

This reminds me a bit of the movie Casablanca, when Vichy French Capt. Louis Renault (deftly played by Claude Rains) says he's absolutely shocked and dismayed that gambling could possibly be taking place in Rick's Cafe and orders it shut down. One of Rick's waiters, meanwhile, is handing the straight-faced Frenchman his winnings from a previous card game.

So here's Dole saying he's shocked to learn in the newspapers last month that Clinton told his people in Bosnia two years ago not to protest when the Iranians smuggled in weapons right under their noses in violation of the U.N. embargo. Maybe Dole forgot that he himself was talking publicly about the Iranian arms shipments to Bosnia almost a year and a half ago.

And maybe he and the many other Republicans who were shocked had forgotten that Congress itself passed a resolution in the fall of 1994 specifically forbidding the Clinton administration from enforcing the Bosnia arms embargo or even reporting any nation that violated it.

Or maybe they didn't notice that reports of the administration turning a blind eye to the Iranian arms shipments were carried by most major newspapers around the country several times during 1995 and again earlier this year.

All I can figure is that this legion of the shocked must have decided that if the administration pretended the arms shipments were a secret, they'd pretend not to know it.

In any case, the Republicans _ like later-day Capt. Renaults _ are still professing to be shocked by all this and are going after the administration for doing what they themselves ordered done in that 1994 congressional resolution.

This is great theater, no doubt about it, greater even than the Democrats trying to make believe the president is doing something about high gasoline prices by selling off a few million barrels from our strategic petroleum reserve.

That any of these people can keep a straight face as they deliver all this hot air is nothing short of remarkable. Are we, the voters, even close to being worthy of such talent?

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