When George W Bush launched his re-election campaign, his first commercial naturally highlighted his leadership in the aftermath of 9/11. The Democrats immediately attacked the commercial for supposedly politicizing 9/11, using an astroturf group of 9/11 victim’s families they had waiting for just that purpose. It was absurd. The response to 9/11 was President Bush’s finest hour and of course he was going to highlight it.
The operation that killed Bin Laden was President Obama’s finest hour (in the sense of being his only good hour). He too is entitled to highlight it in his re-election effort. And if his lack of accomplishment in any other area leads him to over-emphasize it, that’s fine too.
But no, Barack Obama can’t merely trumpet his achievement. No, this guy has to turn it into an attack ad against Mitt Romney.
Would George W Bush have run an attack ad against John Kerry, alleging that he wouldn’t have been a strong leader following 9/11? We needn’t speculate — history shows he didn’t, despite the likelihood that such an ad would have struck home. In fact, Bush didn’t even exploit Bin Laden’s endorsement of John Kerry.
The first thing that’s hard to take about the Bin Laden attack ad (here, if you want to see it) is the premise that it was even a hard decision. Of course you would go and get the guy. The striking thing is how this administration made an easy decision hard. (The hardest in “500 years”!)
The second thing that’s hard to take is Obama’s choice of messenger. In the entire world there is one man who really did fail to give the order to take out Bin Laden when he had the chance. That one guy, Bill Clinton, is the guy Obama selected to preach about decisive leadership in dealing with Bin Laden. Bizarre.
The third thing that’s hard to take about this is the fact that raid that took out Bin Laden exploited intelligence from terrorist detainees, the exact sort of intelligence that Obama has ensured we will not be able to gather any more. The next president (or — god forbid — Obama in a second term) is less likely to have such an opportunity, as a result of Obama’s policies.
Finally there’s the actual substance of the attack, and this I want to take a look at. The attack quoted two statements by Romney. The first was taken completely out of context:
Mitt Romney criticized Barack Obama for vowing to strike al-Qaeda targets inside Pakistan if necessary.
This statement was made in 2007 when presidential candidate Barack Obama was lurching around making jaw-droppingly bizarre foreign policy pronouncements. Obama was talking about launching a war against al Qaeda in Pakistan, not about a raid about Osama Bin Laden. This was at a time when the Pakistani regime was friendly but fragile, and there was concern that the regime could destabilize and leave us with something much worse. Obama was trying to look tough, but actually came off as simply unstable. All the other presidential candidates attacked him, not just Romney. For example, Hillary Clinton said:
[It was] a very big mistake to telegraph that and to destabilize the Musharraf regime, which is fighting for its life against the Islamist extremists who are in bed with al Qaeda and the Taliban.
The second quoted statement highlights an important policy difference between the Democrats and Republicans:
It’s not worth moving heaven and earth spending billions of dollars just trying to catch one person.
This is exactly right. The war on terror is not about vengeance (although Democrats have often been confused on this point). It’s not even about dealing with al Qaeda, per se. It’s about making America safe. Al Qaeda is one of many threats, and the Obama administration is making a dangerous mistake by limiting its efforts to Al Qaeda alone.
Our efforts need to be allocated rationally, according to the seriousness of the threat. I believe that’s what Romney was saying. Billions spent on one man would be billions not spent on more serious threats.
The raid against Bin Laden was worthwhile because it didn’t involve moving heaven and earth. We had the intelligence (no thanks to Obama) so we sent in the SEALs. That’s an entirely different proposition.
Nothing that Romney has said suggests that he would have any difficulty in making the easy decision to take out Bin Laden. On the contrary, the very remarks that the ad quotes make it clear that Romney has a much better grasp of what should and should not be done than Obama.
UPDATE: I missed this bit:
Suppose [the SEALs] had been captured or killed. The downside would have been horrible for him.
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