Bush searches the Tora Bora hills for latest attack

Published October 25, 2004 9:16PM (EDT)

There he goes again. In a stump speech at a Colorado rally today, one of George W. Bush's most popular lines of attack against John Kerry was to "quote" the senator from December 2001 saying he thought the search for Osama bin Laden, underway at the time in Afghanistan, was being run "effectively." Kerry, of course, now criticizes the president for his handling of the search and bin Laden's escape. After reading off the Kerry quote, Bush looked up mischievously at his Colorado audience and said to loud cheers, "I am George W. Bush and I approve this message," as if he had really caught that flip-flopping John Kerry in another one.

But just what were the circumstances of Kerry's quote? Funny you asked. It appears that, and we know you'll be shocked by this, the Bush campaign has taken Kerry's remarks out of context. At the time Kerry spoke about the bin Laden search -- on the Larry King Live program on Dec. 14, 2001 -- the Pentagon believed bin Laden was hiding in the hills of Tora Bora, and the Washington Post that morning published a report stating that "highly trained commandos" had been dispatched there to find him. The strategy of sending special forces in is what Kerry promoted.

And so while a guest on Larry King Live, Kerry was asked to respond to this (no link, sorry):

"CALLER: Hello. Yes, I would like to ask the panel why they don't use napalm or flamethrowers on those tunnels and caves up there in Afghanistan?
KING: Senator Kerry?
CALLER: My golly, I think they could smoke him out.
KING: Senator Kerry?
KERRY: Well, I think it depends on where you are tactically. They may well be doing that at some point in time. But for the moment, what we are doing, I think, is having its impact and it is the best way to protect our troops and sort of minimalize the proximity, if you will. I think we have been doing this pretty effectively and we should continue to do it that way.
KING: Congressman Cunningham, what do you think of that question?
CUNNINGHAM: I think Senator Kerry is right on the mark. To use a flamethrower, you've got to get right into the area close in. And plus, it doesn't penetrate that deep in those tunnels. You've got to go in there after him. So I think you have to neutralize that threat. And then you can get him out in a lot of different, various ways including what the gentleman spoke about."

With his answer, Kerry was politely explaining to the caller that maybe it wasn't time to whip out the napalm. As far as Kerry knew then, the U.S. was actually doing what he supported, which was sending in special forces to get the job done. But we've learned alot since then about what went down. In this campaign, Kerry has criticized the president for having relied too heavily on Afghan forces, or in Kerry's words, "outsourcing the job." Kerry didn't change his position; but saying so fits into the tiresome Bush-Cheney flip-flopping meme, no matter how far the truth needs to be stretched.

By Geraldine Sealey

Geraldine Sealey is senior news editor at Salon.com.

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