- The Washington Times - Monday, November 1, 2004

The presidential campaign of Sen. John Kerry yesterday defended the senator’s remarks blaming President Bush for letting Osama bin Laden escape, while the candidate himself backed off some, saying his surrogates shouldn’t make political use of the al Qaeda leader’s latest videotape.

Senior Kerry adviser Tad Devine was asked on CNN’s “Inside Politics” whether it was “shameful” for Mr. Kerry to say, as he did Friday and Saturday, that “I regret that when George Bush had the opportunity in Afghanistan at Tora Bora, he didn’t choose to use American forces to hunt down and kill Osama bin Laden.”

“Well, that’s just a fact,” Mr. Devine said.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat, said on ABC, when asked about Mr. Kerry’s critique of administration military strategy at Tora Bora, that “the fact of the matter is that Osama bin Laden is still at large.”

“That is a failure of the Bush administration,” she said.

Bin Laden in his latest video — the first in months from the al Qaeda leader — aimed his remarks directly at a U.S. audience, saying “Bush is still deceiving you,” and declaring that the security of Americans “does not lie in the hands of Kerry, Bush or al Qaeda. Your security is in your own hands.”

Former Sen. Bob Kerrey, Nebraska Democrat, was asked on NBC’s “Meet the Press” whether it was “appropriate for John Kerry, on the day that this tape came out, to criticize George Bush?”

“Oh, I think it was,” said Mr. Kerrey, a surrogate for the Massachusetts senator. “Look, essential to John Kerry’s campaign has been the assertion that we took our eye off the ball. One thing we know about Osama bin Laden, his whereabouts, he’s not in Iraq.”

In addition, another Kerry surrogate, Gov.Edward G. Rendell of Pennsylvania, yesterday said bin Laden was trying to re-elect Mr. Bush.

But in a sit-down interview to be aired tonight, Mr. Kerry was reminded by Peter Jennings of ABC News yesterday that “some of your surrogates” were making the bin Laden tape into “a political issue.”

“Well, they shouldn’t,” replied Mr. Kerry, who concentrated his speeches yesterday on domestic issues.

“I don’t want them doing that. I think that’s wrong,” he told ABC. “I think that every American is outraged at the sight of Osama bin Laden and at anything that he says about the American electoral process.”

The Bush campaign was even harsher in its condemnation of some surrogates, and Vice President Dick Cheney opened a new line of attack, noting that the Kerry campaign took a poll in response to the bin Laden tape.

“The thing that I find amazing about it was that John Kerry’s first response was to go conduct a poll to find out what he should say about this tape from Osama bin Laden,” he told the audience at a stump speech yesterday in Fort Dodge, Iowa.

“It’s as though he didn’t know what he believed until he has to go and check the poll, stick his finger in the air to see which way the political winds are blowing, and then make a decision and take a position and articulate a point of view,” he said, repeating a constant Bush theme against Mr. Kerry on other issues — that he is indecisive and a flip-flopper.

“George Bush doesn’t need an opinion poll to know what he believes, especially about Osama bin Laden,” Mr. Cheney said.

Steve Schmidt, a Bush campaign spokesman, accused the Kerry team of playing politics with a gravely important issue of national security.

“For John Kerry’s surrogates to suggest that Osama bin Laden supports President Bush’s re-election is disgusting,” Mr. Schmidt said. “John Kerry politicized the tape by using it to attack the president, and now his campaign surrogates are taking those attacks to a new low, even as Kerry hypocritically says it would be ‘wrong’ to politicize the tape.

“This just demonstrates once again that for John Kerry, the war on terror is about political opportunity, not victory,” he added.

The debate about the bin Laden tape also extended yesterday to the question of who the al Qaeda leader wants to win.

Mr. Rendell said bin Laden was coming to the president’s aid by appearing in the new videotape, which surfaced Friday.

“It’s obvious to me that bin Laden is trying to help George Bush, because George Bush is the best recruiter that al Qaeda has,” Mr. Rendell said on “Fox News Sunday.”

“George Bush is so disliked in the Arab world that we’re creating terrorists every single day — more terrorists than we can even come close to killing,” he added.

“Wait a minute,” said host Chris Wallace. “You’re saying you think — not that it really matters — but that Osama bin Laden would like George W. Bush to be re-elected?”

“Oh, no question,” Mr. Rendell said. “George Bush is al Qaeda’s best recruiting tool, not only in Iraq, but all around the world.”

Mr. Rendell went on to say that by “timing” the videotape to be released “the Friday before the election,” bin Laden “meant to influence this election.”

Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, a Bush surrogate, expressed astonishment at the remarks.

“You’ve got to be kidding,” he said. “Ed, you’re sounding like Walter Cronkite, who blamed Karl Rove for creating the tape.”

Mr. Rendell shot back: “I don’t blame Karl Rove. But I know that bin Laden did it on purpose and with design.”

Yesterday, Bush surrogate and former New York Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani said bin Laden wants Mr. Kerry, not the president, to be elected tomorrow.

“He certainly wants George Bush out of the White House,” Mr. Giuliani said on NBC’s “Meet the Press.” “There’s no question that he very much opposes George Bush, and I think there’s a reason for that, because the man is on the run.”

As evidence, Mr. Giuliani cited a portion of the new videotape that features bin Laden mocking Mr. Bush for not reacting more quickly to the terrorist attacks of September 11. Bin Laden appeared to be parroting liberal filmmaker Michael Moore’s complaints in the film, “Fahrenheit 9/11.”

“He went on and repeated Michael Moore’s diatribe against President Bush, almost word-for-word, as if he had watched that movie and been influenced by it in some way,” Mr. Giuliani said.

He also accused Mr. Kerry of blaming U.S. troops of not only failing to nab bin Laden in Afghanistan, but also failing to protect a depot of explosives in Iraq.

“He consistently attacks our military now,” Mr. Giuliani said. “He does it in the guise of attacking the leadership, but in fact he’s attacking the military, the same way he did after Vietnam.”

Meanwhile, another Kerry surrogate, former U.N. Ambassador Richard Holbrooke, appeared to blame U.S. troops for the escape of bin Laden in the Tora Bora region of Afghanistan.

“It was a high mountain range,” he said on CNN’s “Late Edition.” “The American troops were not ready to go up the altitude — except for a handful of Special Forces.”

Mr. Holbrooke also fired back at retired Gen. Tommy Franks for saying on Thursday that Mr. Kerry insulted U.S. forces.

“His criticism of military conduct of our global war on terror denigrates, disrespects our troops,” said Gen. Franks, who led the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, during a campaign appearance with Mr. Bush.

Yesterday, Mr. Holbooke said: “I respect Tommy Franks, but when he says that John Kerry is disrespecting the troops, he’s misstating Kerry’s position.”

But senior Bush adviser Karen Hughes called it “shameful” for Mr. Kerry to grouse about the failure of U.S. forces to find bin Laden, especially after the Democrat praised the military’s search mission when it was under way.

“That he would try to use that to score political points, I think, was just beyond the pale,” she said on Fox News.

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