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Marines sent Hillary to the dogs

HER husband may have done his darnedest to stay out of the military, but not so Hillary Clinton. In an admission which will fuel doubts about who wears the trousers at the White House, the ever- surprising First Lady says she once tried to join the Marines.

The episode, as Mrs Clinton told a women's group lunch on Capitol Hill this week, happened back in 1975, the year the Clintons were married. For reasons she did not explain, she went into a recruiting office in Fayetteville, Arkansas, where the couple were living, and asked to sign up for the elite Marine Corps.

That was as far as her career under arms went. The recruiter behind the desk turned her down instantly: 'You're too old, you can't see (Mrs Clinton wore thick glasses then), and you're a woman.' Maybe, he added condescendingly, the 'dogs' would take her - 'dogs' being Marine slang for the regular army.

The story was meant to show how much a woman's horizons had widened since. But it will add to the mystery about the President's formidable spouse. Which is the real Hillary Clinton? The do-good liberal 'Saint Hillary' of New York Times fame, the crusader for health care, the cookie- baker manquee, the tough lawyer, the hot-shot cattle futures trader - or the would-be Marine?

If the last is right, she could not be more different from her husband, whose efforts to avoid the Vietnam draft and that 1969 letter proclaiming his 'loathing' for the military almost scuttled his presidential aspirations in 1992.

But the recruiting story doesn't quite add up. She too had protested about the Vietnam war, and worked on George McGovern's anti-war Democrat campaign in 1972. Had her views really changed overnight? Or was it, to borrow another Clintonism, something to do with 'maintaining political viability'? Maybe, though, it was just pure Hillary.

As her spokesman, Neal Lattimore, told the New York Times, 'She was just taking in her options, saying: 'This is where I am in my life, this is what fits into my life right now.' '