The capture and killing of Osama bin Laden presents Republicans with a big problem trying to cast President Obama as weak or indecisive or pro-muslim. They have, therefore, run trial balloons to diminish the event, advancing the notion that the operation was no big deal because any president would have done the same thing.
But, there are very strong reasons to believe that, if Mitt Romney had been president, he would almost certainly have not found, nor captured, nor killed Osama bin Laden.
Romney's foreign policy background equals zero. Romney has absolutely no foreign policy experience. None. Zero. President Obama had had only two years in the U.S. Senate but he was on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and that was two years more experience than Mitt Romney has. Moreover, while still an Illinois State Senator, Barack Obama delivered a very thoughtful speech about the Iraq War, taking what at the time was a distinctly minority position even among Democrats. Not only does Romney have no foreign policy experience whatsoever, he has also never demonstrated any independent thought about war and peace and foreign policy. Instead, desperate to gain the acceptance of the neoconistas, he has slavishly followed their mantra.
Unlike President Obama, Romney would not have made bin Laden a priority. When President Obama assumed office, he immediately issued a directive to focus national intelligence and security efforts on finding Osama bin Laden. The rationale animating that directive arose from the president's speech opposing the Iraq War and commitments during his presidential campaign that the U.S. should concentrate its efforts against bin Laden and al-Qaeda. As the then-State Senator Obama had correctly predicted, the Iraq War had drained intelligence resources from the Afghanistan/Pakistan theater. President Bush, on the other hand, had been snookered by bin Laden's statements that the major theater of what they called the "War on Terror" was in Iraq -- exactly what bin Laden wanted: directing the U.S. intelligence and firepower away from himself. Romney was not just a silent supporter, he was a big cheerleader for the Bush Administration's security and military strategy.
Absent Obama's clear directive and commitment, it is not likely that bin Laden would have been found or pursued.
Mitt Romney would not have issued that directive, nor focused the intelligence agencies on the bin Laden. He had no prior statements suggesting he would do that, and would have had Bush national security personnel as advisers who also did not make bin Laden's capture a priority. Romney, that is, would not have altered Bush policies. During his 2008 campaign, he supported Bush's priorities every chance he had. When asked about Osama bin Laden, Bush famously said that he did not even think about him anymore.
Romney would have had many of the same advisers as Bush President Bush had had a clear opportunity to get bin Laden at Tora Bora. He was asked to send 800 Army rangers to surround the area bin Laden had been located. For reasons that remain mysterious the Bush Administration refused. Romney would have many of the same neoconistas advising him.
Romney talks repeatedly about outsourcing military strategy decisions to "the generals". Let us assume, however, that despite lack of focus, despite not prioritizing bin Laden or al-Qaeda, fortune smiled and bin Laden's whereabouts magically had become known. Would Romney have ordered his capture and killing?
The answer, again, is "no." Neoconista mantra has been that the Commander-in-Chief follows exactly what the generals tell him. This position arose initially from the Vietnam War. They defended (but, of course, did not volunteer for) the Vietnam War, criticizing President Johnson for insisting on choosing targets himself (the Commander-in-Chief determining both the military and the political cost/benefit analysis of a target), and contend to this day that we could have "won" Vietnam but for LBJ's intervention. As Chris Matthews points out in his book, Jack Kennedy: Elusive Hero, LBJ's predecessor had felt deliberately misled about the Bay of Pigs, and thus did not trust the generals or the CIA to adhere to his directives without taking control himself.
President George W. Bush defended himself against changes in Iraq War policy, consistently hiding behind "the generals on the ground," and outsourced defending those policies in front of the Congress and the American people to General Petraeus. When asked about timetables for withdrawal from Iraq in 2008, and from Afghanistan now, Romney similarly skirts responsibility by admitting that he is going to do what the generals tell him to do.
By contrast, even before the raid that captured bin Laden, President Obama had listened to, but not slavishly followed, the generals advice on Afghanistan and, later, on Libya. Mitt Romney has shown not even a scintilla of independent thought about foreign policy or military strategy.
Almost all national security advisers were against the raid. According to insider accounts, the generals advised President Obama against the commando raid and favored, if anything, bombing bin Laden's presumed hideout in Abbottabad, Pakistan. Recall that Romney would have been surrounded by many of the same advisers that refused to act at Tora Bora, and the Bush Administration had criticized candidate Obama for his aggressive remarks about acting alone in Pakistan on intelligence.
With no evidence of an independent thought about such matters, and with repeated commitments to do what the generals tell him, it is thus highly unlikely that Romney would have acted at all.
Little to gain from Bombing the complex -- the lukewarm suggestion of the advisers. But, let us assume that the neoconista political types around Romney thought it would be very cool if he could say he, at least, had tried to get bin Laden, despite having downplayed its importance. Romney might have liked that since he could then show he was a "tough guy", not just a "marvelous" coddled wimp. Would he then have followed the lukewarm advice of the generals to bomb the complex?
Almost certainly not. There was not much to gain. Romney had never uttered any dissent from the Bush line that capturing bin Laden was not very important. The intelligence community was not even certain bin Laden was there. Bombing would have provided no military intelligence by destroying the complex. There would have been no way to verify that bin Laden had been killed... indeed, there would have been no means to verify that bin Laden had even been there. Moreover, bin Laden may well have survived. There was some concern there was a secure underground bunker that would have required a massive bomb. The Bush Administration had tried an air strike against al-Qaeda's No. 2, Ayman al-Zawahiri, and had tried to take out Saddam Hussein the same way at the outset of the Iraq War, and had failed.
Thus, if Mitt Romney had defeated John McCain for the nomination in 2008, and the Romney-Palin ticket had won the 2008 elections, there likely would be no closure on that chapter of American history that began with the neoconistas ignoring clear signs of the threatened 9/11 attack.
Under a Romney Administration, Osama bin Laden probably would be alive and free... and, the U.S. auto industry would be dead, playing directly into the hands of al-Qaeda on both scores.
It strains logic and credibility that Mitt Romney, with no foreign policy experience at all, no history of independent thought about it, would have had the conviction and the guts to make such a huge decision that departed so dramatically from what almost all of his advisers counseled.
One has to wonder if, deep in the recesses of their minds, Republicans really wishes that Osama bin Laden had not been captured and killed, because it robs them of one of their favorite fake story-lines.
If Mitt Romney had been president, their wish would have come true.