The Aug. 8 debate in Iowa between Democratic presidential candidates Massachusetts Gov. Michael S. Dukakis and Missouri Rep. Richard A. Gephardt has caused Dukakis to take a little preemptive action.

"I know that a one-on-one debate may present some problems for those not participating," Dukakis wrote the five Democratic presidential candidates who will not be debating.

Dukakis said in the letter that he proposed the debate because of "the need {to} correct false and personal attacks . . . . I asked for this debate because . . . Rep. Gephardt attacked my record as governor of Massachusetts, stated incorrectly that my international trade policy was similar to Ronald Reagan's and accused me of pursuing 'a blame America first' line."

Dukakis political director Paul Tully said yesterday, "We don't want to be off on a track. We don't want to isolate or eliminate the other candidates." But at the same time, he said, "we aren't going to sit by and let {Gephardt's attack} go by." He said the question was how to do that "without setting off potentially negative charges from other campaigns." The answer, the Dukakis campaign decided, was "a quick, precise note explaining why we are participating." Tully said, "We are asking them to bear with us so we can correct the record this one time."

What does the Gephardt campaign think? "Gov. Dukakis seems to be confused," said Gephardt campaign manager Bill Carrick. "We have not made any personal attacks. We don't consider stating your differences on the issues to be a personal attack."