BLUFFTON, South Carolina (CNN) - At a campaign stop in South Carolina Wednesday, Fred Thompson said that the Iraqi insurgency is made up of "a bunch of kids with improvised explosive devices," and suggested that the appearance of losing to such an enemy would harm U.S. national security.
Thompson was confronted about Iraq by a Bluffton resident named Bernhard Steinhouse, who asked Thompson whether he would bring back U.S. forces from the country.
"We will not be a safer country, we will not be a safer America if the whole world watches us being defeated by a bunch of kids with improvised explosive devices," Thompson said.
Roadside bombs are one of the leading causes of U.S. casualties in Iraq.
Thompson's comments drew criticism from Joe Biden, the Democratic presidential candidate and senator from Delaware who has made funding mine-resistant combat vehicles a signature of his Senate efforts over the last year.
"If Sen. Thompson believes that we are fighting 'a bunch of kids,' he is totally divorced from reality," Biden said in a statement Thursday. "He should come back to Iraq with me and talk to our soldiers who are in the middle of a civil war between lethal militias or fighting the Bush-fulfilling prophecy of al Qaeda in Iraq or being blown up by IEDs."
Thompson did not say under what circumstances troops would be able to leave Iraq. He said that as of now, U.S. forces are succeeding in securing the country, a shared sentiment among all of the Republican presidential frontrunners, mainly by Sen. John McCain. He noted that things could change.
"As of right now, and circumstances will be different six months from now, a year from now, but as of right now, we're finally getting good news out of there, we're getting good news," said Thompson, who added that having a U.S.
presence in Iraq is crucial to freezing out the influence of Iran and Iranian-linked Hezbollah.
"They sent General Petraeus down there for a reason," he said. "They shouldn't have sent him down there if it was just a matter of saying, 'OK, you're doing a lot better, but we're going to declare defeat and bring you home.' I don't think that makes us safer."
Thompson told Steinhouse "we didn't know what we were facing" when we went into Iraq.
"Saddam lured everybody into believing he had weapons of mass destruction, which he had had previously, no question about it, he had used them against his own people," Thompson said.
Earlier this month in Iowa, Thompson raised eyebrows by telling a crowd that Saddam "clearly had had WMD" and that "he clearly had had the beginnings of a nuclear program." He later clarified that he was referring to Saddam's use of chemical weapons against the Kurds.
– CNN South Carolina Producer Peter Hamby