WASHINGTON -- President Barack Obama defended using the killing of Osama bin Laden in a campaign context on Monday while insisting that neither he nor his campaign were engaged in "excessive celebration."
Appearing at a press conference with Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda of Japan, the president noted that he had simply done what he had pledged to do, which was act on intelligence with respect to the former al Qaeda leader even if it meant going deep into Pakistan. Without naming names, he jabbed Mitt Romney for protesting a web ad that his campaign had put out highlighting the killing of bin Laden, and questioned whether the presumptive Republican nominee would have done the same.
"As far as my personal role and what other folks would do, I just recommend that everybody take a look at people's previous statements in terms of whether they thought it was appropriate to go into Pakistan and take out bin Laden," Obama said. "I assume that people meant what they said when they said it. That's been at least my practice. I said we would go after bin Laden if we had a clear shot at him. And I did. If there are others who have said one thing and now suggest they would do something else, then I would go ahead and let them explain it."
The remarks from Obama seemed likely to further thrust the political world into a déjà-vu-inducing squabble over the ethics of campaigning on national security. The debate over the extent to which terrorism could be used as a campaign cudgel was litigated extensively during the 2004 election. Eight years later, it has become clear that the matter has yet to be settled.
The facts are different between now and then. The threat of al Qaeda and the memories of 9/11 loomed over the Bush-Kerry contest. When then-president George W. Bush accused his opponent Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) of endangering the nation, Bush was foreshadowing a threat. Obama, by contrast, has turned the successful raid he ordered of bin Laden's compound into a tangible campaign-year triumph. There is nothing theoretical about the ad. The achievement happened and he took credit.
It was when the Obama campaign suggested that Romney would not have done the same that things grew testy. Romney has stated that he didn't believe it was worth devoting copious time or resources to capturing bin Laden. He also criticized Obama for publicly stating that he would go into Pakistan to attack al Qaeda. Romney insisted on Monday that he'd have signed off on the raid were he in the hot seat.
The ad and its undertones drew tough criticism on Monday. As the Huffington Post's founder Arianna Huffington said on CBS "This Morning": "There is no way to know whether Romney would've been as decisive. And to actually speculate that he wouldn't be is, to me, not the way to run campaigns on either side."
But if there is duplicity going on here, it is working both ways. Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) put out a blistering statement last Friday calling the president shameful for turning 9/11 and Osama bin Laden into "a cheap political attack ad." Left unmentioned or simply forgotten was the leading role McCain played in a Bush-Cheney web ad that centered on Bush's certitude in the face of attack from America's "depraved enemies."
UPDATE: Romney campaign spokesperson Andrea Saul emails over a response to the president.
It’s unfortunate that President Obama would prefer to use what was a good day for all Americans as a cheap political ploy. President Obama’s feckless foreign policy has emboldened our adversaries, weakened our allies, and threatens to break faith with our military. While the Obama administration has naively stated that ‘the war on terror is over,’ Gov. Romney has always understood we need a comprehensive plan to deal with the myriad of threats America faces.
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