Buoyed by a cheering crowd at Harvard, George Bush took some jabs at his successor and a Washington climate he said had been soured by scandal.

Bush, who won a standing ovation when he was introduced at the John F. Kennedy School of Government on Thursday, nevertheless encouraged students to get involved in public service."More and more people are tuning Washington out," the former president said, blaming "reports of sleaze and scandal."

"I don't want a deficit of decency . . . to prevent people from entering public service," said Bush, who credited his own administration with improving the economy and declared that President Clinton had been mishandling the Middle East.

Revisiting a peak of his popularity in office, Bush referred to the Persian Gulf War as a valiant struggle.