Thursday, October 25, 2001

Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle yesterday distanced himself from comments by the top Democratic foreign policy lawmaker that America risks looking like a “high-tech bully” in the bombing of Afghanistan.
Sen. Joseph R. Biden, Jr., chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, departed from the post-Sept. 11 spirit of bipartisanship in a speech to the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR), a nonpartisan group of foreign policy experts.
On Monday, Mr. Biden told the group in New York he did not know how much longer President Bush’s “honeymoon” or “unquestioning period of unabashed support for the president’s policy will continue.”
Mr. Daschle would not address Mr. Biden’s comments directly yesterday, but praised how the Bush administration is handling the military campaign.
“I don’t know that I’ve come to any conclusions about how long the bombing should take place. I think the president is doing exactly the right thing,” said Mr. Daschle, South Dakota Democrat.
“I support [Mr. Bushs] effort. I think it is important for us to do as much as possible from the air to avoid casualties on the ground. I think he’s doing that, for good reason,” Mr. Daschle said. “I think we over a period of time will be able to determine and calculate the degree to which this has been effective. But it’s far too early to come to any conclusions.”
Asked by The Washington Times yesterday if his comments were misconstrued or taken out of context, Mr. Biden would only say “the speech speaks for itself.”
Throughout most of the speech and questioning period Mr. Biden praised the administration’s efforts, going so far as to predict Mr. Bush will “go down as a great president.”
“I think he’s done well. But now we’re going to get into the tough calls,” Mr. Biden told the CFR.
But he said a long U.S. bombing campaign in Afghanistan “plays into every stereotypical criticism of us [that] we’re this high-tech bully that thinks from the air we can do whatever we want to do, and it builds the case for those who want to make the case against us that all we’re doing is indiscriminately bombing innocents, which is not the truth.”
The White House seemed unfazed by Mr. Biden’s comments and vowed to continue the bombing campaign until the mission is completed.
“The president is committed to winning the war against terrorism and our military will conduct this campaign to make sure the terrorists are brought to justice,” said White House Deputy Press Secretary Scott McClellan. “The American people are united.”
House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert called Mr. Biden’s comments “completely irresponsible.”
“The last thing our country needs right now is Senator Joe Biden calling our armed forces ‘a high-tech bully,’” said Mr. Hastert, Illinois Republican.
“The American people expect their representatives and senators to support these operations and to support our men and women in uniform,” Mr. Hastert said
“After losing close to 5,000 fellow citizens to terrorist attacks over the last month and a half, the American people want us to bring these terrorists to justice. They do not want comments that may bring comfort to our enemies,” Mr. Hastert said.
Rep. Thomas M. Davis III of Virginia, chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee, called Mr. Biden’s comments “outrageous and negligent.”
Using high-tech bombs and specifically targeted ground assaults has spared the lives of thousands of innocent civilians in Afghanistan, Mr. Davis said.
“I believe we should take full advantage of every piece of the technology at our disposal in order to bring the al Qaeda network to justice, and it is irresponsible for the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee to suggest to the world that our bipartisan resolve is waning,” Mr. Davis said.
“The Taliban strategy has consistently been to hide out and outwait the U.S. and our allies, hoping that our resolve will dissipate and that partisan squabbling will lead America to fold up its tent,” Mr. Davis said.
With Mr. Bush’s public approval rating going as high as 90 percent since the attack, Republicans and Democrats have presented a mostly unified and nonpartisan front in support of the administration’s military and domestic actions to fight terrorism.
But Mr. Biden also has been exerting his foreign policy expertise behind the scenes.
During a meeting last week Mr. Biden recommended to Mr. Bush that former President Bill Clinton be appointed as a special envoy to the Middle East.
The suggestion reportedly drew an incredulous response from others at the meeting.

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