- The Washington Times - Friday, March 1, 2002

Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle yesterday criticized the conduct of the war against terrorism, saying it lacked direction, was too open-ended and would not succeed unless Osama bin Laden is captured.
Asked whether he was "concerned there is an open-endedness to this," he agreed that "there is expansion without at least a clear direction today, but we will continue to ask the questions required to better understand that direction."
The South Dakota Democrat also set as the standard for success in the war against terrorism the capture of key individuals, a view President Bush and his administration have repudiated.
"Clearly, we've got to find Mohammed Omar, we've got to find Osama bin Laden, and we've got to find other key leaders of the al Qaeda network, or we will have failed," he said. "We're not safe until we have broken the back of al Qaeda, and we haven't done that yet."
In the past, Mr. Daschle also has attacked Mr. Bush's "axis of evil" language, although he quickly backed away from that criticism.
Yesterday, after a storm of Republican criticism accused his morning remarks of being part of a coordinated effort to undermine Mr. Bush and the war effort, Mr. Daschle's office released a memo to the media stating that the leader's remarks were not meant as a criticism of Mr. Bush or his campaign against terrorism.
In the memo, Mr. Daschle stated that he did not mention Mr. Bush by name during the news briefing and said the war to date has been successful. However, Mr. Daschle added that "continued success, I think, is still somewhat in doubt."
Republicans also said his remarks were an effort to deflate the president's high poll numbers.
A Harris poll released Tuesday showed Mr. Bush with a 79 percent favorable rating and 20 percent unfavorable rating. The poll was conducted Feb. 13-19 and has a margin of error of plus or minus 3 percentage points.
Senate Minority Leader Trent Lott, Mississippi Republican, fired off a written response shortly after Mr. Daschle made his original comments during a morning news briefing.
"How dare Sen. Daschle criticize President Bush while we are fighting our war on terrorism, especially when we have troops in the field. He should not be trying to divide our country while we are united," Mr. Lott said.
"Disgusting," was the one-word written statement issued from the office of House Majority Whip Tom DeLay, Texas Republican.
Mr. Daschle's specific criticism of open-endedness echoed complaints that Sen. Robert C. Byrd, West Virginia Democrat and chairman of the Appropriations Committee, directed Wednesday to Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz during a hearing on the war's cost.
"Instead of concentrating on completing our operations in Afghanistan, the Pentagon seems to be looking for opportunities to stay longer and expand our presence in the region," he said.
"We seem to be good at developing entrance strategies, but not on developing exit strategies. … There's no end in sight in our mission in Afghanistan," Mr. Byrd said.
The comments of Mr. Daschle and Mr. Byrd "really shocked me," Mr. Lott told The Washington Times.
By attacking Mr. Bush, Democrats make his job more difficult and send the wrong message that Congress has retreated into partisan bickering and is divided over the war, Mr. Lott said.
"I think it's a big mistake on the Democrats' part politically, because the president has got a job to do, and the people are obviously very happy about the way he is doing it," he said.
"It is unfortunate they might try and launch that attack, if in fact that is what is going on. I also think it could very well backfire on them."
In response to Mr. Daschle's comments, White House spokesman Ari Fleischer repeated the long-standing administration policy that the war against terrorism is "much more than any one person."
"Individuals are free to focus on any one person, if they think that's the best conduct of foreign policy," Mr. Fleischer said. "That's a different approach than the president has."
He also said the president has "no doubts" about the war's success. "The president believes the United States has been and will continue to be successful, thanks in good part to the bipartisan support he's had from members of Congress," Mr. Fleischer said.
As far back as November, Mr. Bush and other administration officials said the war was bigger than bin Laden.
"Afghanistan is just the beginning," Mr. Bush said then. The president also has warned the American people that the war against terrorism could take years.
This is not the first time Mr. Daschle publicly criticized Mr. Bush or the war effort and then quickly backed off.
Earlier this month, Mr. Daschle said Mr. Bush was wrong to label Iran, Iraq and North Korea as an "axis of evil," then retreated from his statement.
Mr. Daschle initially told Jim Lehrer of PBS, "We've got to be very careful with the rhetoric of that kind."
Mr. Daschle days later backpedaled by saying, "What I said was that I think it is important for us to stand united in our determination to reduce the tension and to deal directly with these three countries."
Other Democrats have been even more pointed in their attacks.
In October, Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr., chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, was the first to depart from the post-September 11 bipartisanship in a speech to the Council on Foreign Relations, a nonpartisan foreign-policy group.
Mr. Biden said America risked looking like a "high-tech bully" in the bombing of Afghanistan and questioned how long Mr. Bush's "honeymoon" or "unquestioning period of unabashed support" would continue.
Democratic Reps. Maxine Waters of California and Dennis J. Kucinich of Ohio attacked the administration during a Feb. 17 forum at the University of Southern California, according to FrontPageMagazine.com.
"Some of us, maybe foolishly, gave this president the authority to go after the terrorists. We didn't know that he, too, was going to go crazy with it," Mrs. Waters said.
Mr. Kucinich drew cheers and whistles and brought the crowd to its feet as he denounced the Patriot Act and accused Mr. Bush of "canceling, in effect, the First, Fourth, Fifth, Sixth and Eighth Amendments."
Mr. Kucinich excoriated "the patriot games, the lying games, the war games of an unelected president."
Rep. Thomas M. Davis III, Virginia Republican and chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee, said Mr. Daschle's comments yesterday are "divisive" and "have the effect of giving aid and comfort to our enemies by allowing them to exploit divisions in our country."
Stephen Dinan contributed to this report.


Copyright © 2018 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

The Washington Times Comment Policy

The Washington Times welcomes your comments on Spot.im, our third-party provider. Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.

 

Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide