McCain said his presidency would be Al Qaeda's 'worst nightmare'
(CNN) – Republican presidential contenders had different takes Friday on the significance of Osama bin Laden, as his first videotape in nearly 3 years was released.
Aboard his campaign bus in Iowa, former Senator Fred Thompson of Tennessee told CNN’s John King , “I think bin Laden is more of a symbolism than he is anything else.”
En route to an appearance in Mason City, Thompson said, “I think he shows and demonstrates to people, once again, that we're in a global war. Bin Laden being in the mountains of Afghanistan or Pakistan is not as important as the fact that there's probably al Qaeda operatives inside the United States of America.”
Asked if the United States should have waited to go to war in Iraq until bin Laden was caught or al Qaeda was further weakened, Thompson said, “It's not an either/or situation; sometimes you don't have a choice. Saddam Hussein was on the cusp as having defeated the United Nations and the free world and the United States. He had certainly had weapons of mass destruction and had the capability of reviving his nuclear program. In light of what Iran is doing today with their nuclear program, he certainly would have gotten back on the stick and gotten there again...you're not served up these issues one at a time. They come when they come and you have to deal with them. Some might say, ‘Stop efforts in other parts of the world and concentrate on Iraq.’ We don't have that luxury.”
In Florida, Rudy Giuliani said capturing or killing bin Laden should not be a “secondary” goal. He told reporters outside a police station in Largo, “The way Islamic terrorism works, individual figures are enormously important. There is a charismatic impact that they have. A perverse one, but a charismatic impact they have. So that if you could take them out, prosecute them, remove them, or take them out of circulation I think you'd have an impact on their ability to function particularly if you could take him out and take some of his lieutenants with him.”
Giuliani, New York City's mayor when the 9/11 attackers struck, said of bin Laden messages, “I have to separate myself from my own personal feelings about it, which are very strong.” He said he had not yet seen the videotape but “the good part that emerges from it is he is obviously in hiding. It obviously restricts what he can do. That's a good thing. The bad thing is we haven't caught him yet. We haven't brought him to justice....that is a very important thing to do.”
Senator John McCain, R-Arizona, campaigned Friday in the Los Angeles area. In a statement, McCain said, “Osama bin Laden and his henchmen must be hunted down - and as president, I will. Al Qaeda terrorists and the violent, aggressive ideology they propagandize must be defeated across the globe, in Afghanistan and in Iraq, which bin Laden's top lieutenant calls al Qaeda's central battlefront against the United States. My presidency will be al Qaeda's worst nightmare.”
In northern New Hampshire, former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney told an audience in Berlin: “We’re under attack by people who want to cause the collapse of civilization and draw us back to the eighth or ninth century.” He called the terrorist plots “a threat unlike what we’ve faced before” that will take a “different nature of effort on our part” to defeat.
- CNN Political Desk Managing Editor Steve Brusk