Thompson Calls bin Laden “Symbolic”; Draws GOP Fire

By Jennifer Parker

Sep 7, 2007 5:49pm

ABC News’ Bret Hovell and Jennifer Parker report: Former Sen. Fred Thompson, R-Tenn., has only been an official Republican presidential candidate for a day. But his comments are already drawing fire from his GOP rivals.

"Bin Laden is more symbolism than anything else," Thompson said while campaign in Iowa Friday. "I think it demonstrates to people once again that we’re in a global war."

Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., publicly disagreed with Thompson, arguing the al-Qaeda leader poses a significant threat to Americans.

"He’s more than a symbol," McCain told ABC News when asked about Thompson’s comments. "He’s motivating and recruiting using the internet as we speak. He’s a threat. He’s a threat."

McCain said bin Laden poses an enormous threat to Americans because of his ability to communicate, motivate and recruit people who are dedicated to the destruction of the U.S.

"It’s very important that we get him. I’ll get him," McCain said.

Another Thompson rival, former Gov. Mitt Romney, R-Mass., suggested the al-Qaeda leader is a real threat.

"Osama Bin Laden is the face of evil," Romney said in a statement reacting to the bin Laden tape. "His stated goal is conversion by compulsion, the surrender of liberty to terror and the abandonment of the foundations of a free society."

Earlier in the day Thompson attempted to frame bin Laden and the war in Iraq as part of the larger so-called war on terror.

"Bin Laden and people like him are heading up and we need to catch him and we surely need to deal with him, but if he disappeared tomorrow we still have this problem. If Iraq disappeared tomorrow, we’d still have this problem," Thompson said.

The former Tennessee Republican Senator said the U.S. is "finally on the right track in Iraq and we’re making progress."

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