This article has been updated.
WASHINGTON -- Most reactions from Republican leaders to news of Osama bin Laden’s death emphasized the U.S. military’s role or praised former President George W. Bush, while downplaying President Obama’s role in the seismic event.
But Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee took a different route, issuing a statement with this blunt message to bin Laden: “Welcome to hell.”
After beginning his statement with a caveat: “It is unusual to celebrate a death,” Huckabee, a potential Republican presidential candidate, did exactly that.
“Today Americans and decent people the world over cheer the news that madman, murderer and terrorist Osama Bin Laden is dead,” he said in a statement posted on the website of his political action committee, HuckPAC.
Huckabee said that bin Laden was “responsible for the deaths of 3000 innocent citizens on September 11, 2001” and said it was bin Laden’s “maniacal hate” that was “responsible for the deaths of thousands of US servicemen and women,” presumably a reference to the bombing of the USS Cole in in 2000 and the two wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
“It has taken a long time for this monster to be brought to justice. Welcome to hell, bin Laden,” Huckabee’s statement concluded. “Let us all hope that his demise will serve notice to Islamic radicals the world over that the United States will be relentless in tracking down and terminating those who would inflict terror, mayhem and death on any of our citizens."
Huckabee’s response stood out from the host of comments from other Republican leaders and 2012 hopefuls. Like some others, he did not mention Obama except for to say the president had notified the nation of bin Laden's death, but compensated for that with vivid, somewhat controversial rhetoric.
Speculation already abounded Sunday night that bin Laden’s death by U.S. Navy SEALS in Pakistan would be a huge political boon for Obama. Republicans other than Huckabee tried to give the president just enough credit, without giving him too much.
Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney gave Obama credit without mentioning his name, thanking “our intelligence community, our military and the president.”
Former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty thanked Obama only after mentioning Bush first.
“In the hours after the 9/11 attacks, President Bush promised that America would bring Osama bin Laden to justice -- and we did. I want to congratulate America's armed forces and President Obama for a job well done,” Pawlenty said.
Former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum gave credit to “all those involved.”
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who has said he will not run in 2012 for the GOP nomination despite calls for him to do so, was conspicuous by his prominent mention of Obama early in his statement.
"I want to commend President Obama's Administration for its commitment and dedication to finally bringing Osama bin Laden to justice,” Christie said. “As the former U.S. Attorney and now Governor of New Jersey, I speak for all the families of this state who have courageously endured the unspeakable and devastating consequences of terrorism.”
“There is hardly a life that has gone untouched in New Jersey by the horrifying assault on American soil that took place on September 11th and today, after years of waiting, justice has finally been delivered,” he continued.
Similarly, former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani went out of his way to praise Obama.
"I feel a great deal of satisfaction that justice has been done, and I admire the courage of the president to make a decision like this because if something had gone wrong everyone would be blaming him," Giuliani told Politico.
Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.), another 2012 hopeful, was perhaps the most balanced in giving credit to both Bush and Obama.
"The killing of Osama bin Laden is a significant victory in the long struggle between radical Islamists and modern civilization," Gingrich said. "This victory is a tribute to the patient endurance of American justice. I commend both President George W. Bush who led the campaign against our enemies through seven long years and President Obama who continued and intensified the campaign in both Afghanistan and Pakistan."
Republican leaders in Congress varied in how they credited the president.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) did not mention the president, saying that America was “grateful for the heroic efforts of the many men and women around the world who have fought and who are still fighting to protect the world from terrorism. Though they may never make the headlines, we are ever mindful of their many sacrifices.”
House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) thanked Obama after the military and additionally thanked Bush.
“I want to congratulate -- and thank -- the hard-working men and women of our Armed Forces and intelligence community for their tireless efforts and perseverance that led to this success. I also want to commend President Obama and his team, as well as President Bush, for all of their efforts to bring Osama bin Laden to justice,” Boehner said.
House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) said Obama had “followed the vigilance of President Bush in bringing Bin Laden to justice.”
Bush himself said Obama had called him Sunday evening to share the news and that he had “congratulated him and the men and women of our military and intelligence communities who devoted their lives to this mission.”
Dick Cheney, Bush's former vice president, praised the U.S. military and intelligence community, but added: "I also want to congratulate President Obama and the members of his national security team."
Bush's first secretary of defense, Donald Rumsfeld, said on Facebook that "all of this was made possible by the relentless, sustained pressure on al Qaeda that the Bush administration initiated after 9/11 and that the Obama administration has wisely chosen to continue."
Obama, in his nine-minute speech from the White House Sunday evening, mentioned Bush only once, remarking that Bush had expressed after 9/11 that the U.S. war against al Qaeda was not a war against Islam.
UPDATE - 1:51 p.m. - Elliott Abrams became the first former Bush administration foreign policy adviser to openly criticize Obama's remarks on Sunday night, in a blog post posted on the Council on Foreign Relations' website. Here is the pertinent section:
President Obama will bask in the satisfaction of all Americans that justice has finally been done—and done through an assault that combined the best of intelligence work with a courageous and well planned military operation. It is entirely appropriate that Mr. Obama and the Administration get and take a fair amount of credit.
It is therefore unfortunate that Mr. Obama seems to want more than that fair share the American people will naturally and rightly give him. His remarks last night were far too much laced with words like “I met repeatedly,” “at my direction,” and “I determined,” trying to take personal credit for the years of painstaking work by our intelligence community. Mr. Obama might have noted that this work began under President Bush, but as usual he did not.
This article did not originally credit Navy SEALS with the killing of bin Laden and has since been corrected.
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