WASHINGTON - Where is the "Mission Accomplished" banner?
There was no aircraft carrier in Kabul and President Barack Obama wasn't wearing a jumpsuit when he landed there in secret. But his drop-in on the one year anniversary of the death of Osama bin Laden was the most dramatically political photo-op by a president in a commander-in-chief role since President George W. Bush landed in a jet on the S.S. Abraham Lincoln in May 2003.
Obama's visit, to sign a deal with Afghan President Hamid Karzai, was coupled on the political calendar Tuesday with excerpts from a forthcoming NBC News special in which the president and his top aides recounted the dramatic narrative of the bin Laden takedown. The network also got unprecedented access to the Situation Room from which the president presided over the operation.
The two events, in Kabul and on TV, cap a nearly weeklong build-up during which the Obama White House and campaign team engineered a drumbeat of stories, ads and events in what amounted to Osama Week -- a time to celebrate the president's achievement and, where possible, to take knee-capping swipes at presumptive Republican nominee Mitt Romney. Romney, in a statement Tuesday night, said he supported Obama's trip -- further evidence that Obama has the political upper hand as commander-in-chief on defense and foreign policy.
It is easy to see why Team Obama went for the whole enchilada. He had campaigned in 2008 on focusing on Osama and the place where he turned out to be hiding, Pakistan. The president made the right call when the time came. Romney had expressed doubts about the wisdom of focusing on hunting for bin Laden, and on focusing on places such as Pakistan.
More to the point, politically, two of Obama's leading strengths are foreign policy in general and his performance as commander-in-chief, according to the polls.
A quick perusal is enough to make the point. In the most recent national CBS/New York Times poll, Obama has a positive rating of 46-36 for his handling of "foreign policy," his highest rating on any major issue or duty. A CNN recent poll gives the president a 52-36 lead over Romney on the question of who would be a better commander-in-chief. The CBS poll gives Obama a 30-13 lead over Romney on the question of which candidate voters have "very" strong confidence in to be commander-in-chief.
Obama's lead on these topics reverse, at least for now, a generation's worth of Democratic Party political weakness on defense and foreign policy -- a crushing burden on the Democrats ever since George McGovern ran on an anti-war platform in 1972 and lost 49 states to Richard Nixon.
So Team Obama is out to firm up an area of unaccustomed strength, as well as to carve a week out of Romney's early effort to attack the president on various economic weak spots, particularly unemployment and housing.
They are also out to show that they can out-Rove Karl Rove, who ran a 2004 Bush re-election campaign that was dedicated to depicting the Democratic nominee, Sen. John Kerry, as a Baby Boom reincarnation of McGovern.
But just because you CAN take things over the top -- and today's made-for-tv events are just that -- it doesn't mean that you should. Barack Obama promised to be a new and different kind of politician. If any further proof was needed that he isn't, this week -- with Bill Clinton's testimonial to his courage under fire, and with unsubtle attacks on Romney's manhood, not to mention common sense -- should finally be enough.
In another sense, Obama IS a a new and different kind of politician. He's a Democrat executing the GOP media playbook better than Bush did.
One other thing: the "mission" the Bush sign said was accomplished, wasn't. It took eight more years, and the durability of what was accomplished remains in doubt.
We may have signed a new deal with Karzai, and the American troops are on their way out, though perhaps 20,000 will stay for a decade or more.
What exactly have we accomplished there? That's a deeper question, but it'll have to wait until after Osama Week.