- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 2, 2002

President Bush yesterday rebuffed Democratic criticism of his handling of the war on terrorism, while Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle called the Republican reaction to the criticism "hysterical."

Responding to Mr. Daschle's assertion on Thursday that the war is a failure without the capture of Osama bin Laden, Mr. Bush said the struggle against terrorism is about something "far greater than one person."

"I think most Americans understand that it's going to take a while to achieve all our objectives," the president told reporters during a visit to Des Moines, Iowa, to discuss retirement security.

"By far, the vast majority of Americans are patient," Mr. Bush added. "They know when you're looking for one person who may be hiding in a cave, it may take awhile."

Mr. Bush shrugged off Mr. Daschle's contention that the war "will have failed" if the United States does not capture bin Laden and other top al Qaeda leaders.

"Most Americans understand this, as well: That our war against terror is far greater than one person, that in order to defend freedom and protect our children and our children's children, that we must rout out terror wherever it tries to hide," the president said.

It was the president's first direct response to mounting Democratic criticism of his prosecution of the war. The attack began Wednesday, when Sen. Robert C. Byrd, West Virginia Democrat, complained: "There's no end in sight in our mission in Afghanistan."

The next day, Mr. Daschle contended that the war lacked direction and was too open-ended. The South Dakota Democrat's criticism triggered a furious response from Republicans.

"How dare Senator Daschle criticize President Bush while we are fighting our war on terrorism, especially when we have troops in the field," said Senate Minority Leader Trent Lott. "He should not be trying to divide our country while we are united."

House Majority Whip Tom DeLay was more blunt. The Texas Republican issued a written statement that consisted of one word: "Disgusting."

Yesterday, Mr. Daschle professed surprise at the forcefulness of the Republican response to his criticism. "I think the Republicans' reaction is nothing short of hysterical," he said with a grin at a news conference. "I'm amused, frankly.

"I'd ask them to look at what I said, because I stand by what I said: That Congress has a constitutional responsibility to ask questions," he added. "We are not a rubber stamp to this president or to anybody else."

The Democratic National Committee (DNC) also went on the defensive.

"Republicans are trying to twist Senator Tom Daschle's words and imply Democrats are not fully behind President Bush and our troops in the war on terrorism," the DNC said in a statement. "A look at what Senator Daschle actually said shows he was repeating the same sentiment that President Bush articulated when running for president."

The DNC then quoted Mr. Bush from his debate with then-Vice President Al Gore on Oct. 11, 2000.

"But I'm going to be judicious as to how to use the military," Mr. Bush said. "It needs to be in our vital interest. The mission needs to be clear and the exit strategy obvious."

The DNC pointed out that nearly a year earlier, Mr. Bush criticized President Clinton's foreign policy while the president was in China. The DNC also resurrected criticism of Mr. Clinton by a variety of other Republicans, including Mr. DeLay, Vice President Richard B. Cheney, Sen. Jesse Helms of North Carolina and Rep. F. James Sensenbrenner Jr. of Wisconsin.

The DNC even compared Mr. Daschle's criticism of the war on terrorism to Mr. Lott's skepticism in December 1998 of Mr. Clinton's decision to bomb Iraq on the day the House was scheduled to vote on his impeachment. The bombing was widely viewed as Mr. Clinton's attempt to "wag the dog," or create a military diversion to distract attention from a sex scandal.

Audrey Hudson contributed to this report.

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