The Cardboard Clinton, MIA at the Pentagon

Alife-size cardboard cutout of Bill Clinton wielding a saxophone has mysteriously disappeared from a Pentagon office in an episode that further assures us that Washington is a very strange place.

Herewith, the details: About 8 a.m. on May 4, Russ Beland, deputy assistant secretary of the Navy for manpower analysis and assessment, put the Clinton cutout in a D-Ring office that already hosted a vigilant, life-size cutout of Clint Eastwood from the movie "High Plains Drifter." Despite his incredibly boring title, Beland is a fun-loving civilian career bureaucrat, and he'd won the Clinton prop for his many entries in The Post's Sunday Style Invitational contest. (The Eastwood standee, Beland hastens to point out, was part of the office culture even before he arrived on the job.)

"Clint has been up there for a couple of years without incident, but by noon, Bill was gone. Just gone," Beland tells us. "No one seems to know what happened, and Clint sure isn't talking. I assume it's just a coincidence, but the office space from which Bill vanished is almost exactly one floor above the old office space of one Monica Lewinsky."

Lewinsky, you may recall, once worked for Pentagon spokesman Kenneth Bacon. Now, according to lore, Clinton was never particularly well-liked by the military, but Beland isn't rushing to judgment. He told us yesterday that after a week, he still has no suspects and "not a clue."

No witnesses have come forward from among the 20 staffers in the office. "I don't think it could have gotten too far," Beland says of the cutout. "In any case, there has been no ransom note, no cardboard ear sent in the mail, nothing like that, so we're still hoping he'll just wander home."

Soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines: Please do your patriotic duty and be on the lookout for your missing former commander in chief.

Yeah? Well, My Agent Can Beat Up Your Agent

* Keith Olbermann, the offbeat sportscaster-turned-offbeat news anchor, goes gonzo in his criticism of a competitor in the June issue of FHM magazine, which hit the stands yesterday.

"The key thing that's left out of Bill O'Reilly's career is that he got to where he is by being an abject failure at every step. He was kind of the buffoon of local news in New York and in Boston," the host of MSNBC's "Countdown With Keith Olbermann" tells the mag. "Bill O'Reilly is not of this Earth. He has an exceptionally well-designed television show, but it is neither news nor truth. The number of factual errors on that show on a given night exceeds our audience."

Well, for those counting, Olbermann's show drew 309,000 nightly viewers in April, according to Nielson figures, and O'Reilly's "Factor" on the Fox News Channel drew more than 2.2 million.

O'Reilly is on vacation, but a Fox News spokesman was happy to respond in kind yesterday: "Since he stopped reading sports scores, Keith has attracted fewer viewers than a test pattern and his career has been nothing short of a train wreck. We pity his tortured soul and wish him all the best."


* The buzz on Rodrigo Rato, the Spaniard recently named to head the International Monetary Fund, is that he's much more of a politician than the financial technocrats who preceded him, and Rato showed his deft political hand yesterday at his first Washington news conference. A Brazilian reporter asked about her country's economic situation and followed with a less serious query: Had Rato ever enjoyed caipirinhas (a potent cocktail made with sugar-cane liquor) with Brazil's president, Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva? It's a touchy subject: Brazil is in an uproar over a Sunday New York Times article suggesting Lula may have a booze problem (discussing his "predilection for strong drink"); his government has denounced the report as "calumny and defamation." So, Rato's reply: "I have had cafe with President Lula. And caipirinhas by myself."

* The Watergate Hotel's days of booking burglars and other guests may soon be over. The D.C. zoning commission Monday tentatively approved the hotel's conversion to 133 co-op apartments, a proposal some residents of the Foggy Bottom complex bitterly opposed, saying the hotel deserved a place in history. The vote, 3 to 1 with one abstention, "allows us to move ahead with the plan for conversion," said Michael Darby of Monument Realty, which plans up to $40 million in renovations to create posh residences. Countered lawyer Jack Olender: "Our belief is that Monument will not be able to go ahead with conversion," as Watergate East residents will vote again on the issue next month.

With Anne Schroeder