I don’t know what to expect from tonight’s debate, but one thing we can reasonably anticipate is that Senator Kerry will repeat his charge that President Bush let Osama bin Laden escape at Tora Bora because he “outsourced” the job of capturing OBL to irresponsible and unreliable Afghan war lords. Kerry leveled that charge in the first debate, as did John Edwards. Neither Bush nor Cheney responded.
Rich Lowry explains just how unfair and opportunistic this charge is. First, Kerry is only speculating when he says that “we had Osama bin Laden cornered in the mountains of Tora Bora.” Tommy Franks disagrees. Second, U.S. forces were present. Third, the reason more U.S. forces weren’t involved is because we made a strategic decision not to flood Afghanistan, Soviet style, with troops, but to rely instead on special-forces troops, precision-guided bombs and indigenous forces. One can debate the merits of that decision, but it is unfair for Kerry to do so because he supported it. According to Lowry, Kerry told an interviewer in late 2001 that the United States could avoid making Afghanistan into another Vietnam, “as long as we make smart decisions, and we don’t go in and repeat what the British or the Russians tried to do.” Then, in mid-December 2001, during the battle of Tora Bora, he supported the administration’s strategy stating, “I think we have been smart. I think the administration leadership has done it well, and we are right on track.” Indeed, Lowry notes that Kerry cautioned against using too much force: “I am not for a prolonged bombing campaign.”
Key strategic decisions made by a president during war time are fair game for criticism during an election. But not when the criticism is based on false or unsubstantiated factual claims, and not when the critic is on record as supporting the strategic decision at issue.
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