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Republicans Laud Obama for Bin Laden's Death

Republicans Laud Obama for Bin Laden's Death

By Erin McPike - May 2, 2011

In the wake of President Obama's announcement that the United States had disposed of al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, Republicans hoping to challenge the president in 2012 offered their congratulations to the military -- and, in some cases, to Obama himself.

Former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty perhaps put it best by noting that President George W. Bush had begun the mission nearly a decade ago, and President Obama completed it.

"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," he said in a statement.

He continued, "Let history show that the perseverance of the U.S. military and the American people never wavered. America will never shrink from the fight, and ultimately those who seek to harm us face only defeat. Today, justice is done, but the fight against radical Islamic terrorism is not yet over."

Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney said in a statement, "This is a great victory for lovers of freedom and justice everywhere. Congratulations to our intelligence community, our military and the president." He added, "My thoughts are with the families of Osama bin Laden's many thousands of victims, and the brave servicemen and women who have laid down their lives in pursuit of this murderous terrorist."

Romney's nod to the president is not insignificant for a couple of reasons. A week ago, Romney's staff was forced to say he had made a mistake in an opinion piece he authored for the New Hampshire Union Leader, in which he said President Obama has overseen the largest "peacetime spending binge" in modern history. But, reminded that the United States is involved in several large military entanglements, Romney's team offered that he meant to say, "since World War II." Sunday night's news, however, is a solid reminder of U.S. efforts in the war on terror.

But what might end up being a larger issue for Romney, who has little foreign policy experience to speak of (he oversaw security efforts when he ran the 2002 Salt Lake City Olympics), is that the way bin Laden was cornered may undermine Romney's message that Obama is a naïf, not a leader, on foreign policy -- and that he doesn't understand that there are groups abroad who want to kill Americans.

At an event before the Republican Jewish Coalition in early April in Las Vegas, Romney ripped into the president. He was discussing Obama's efforts in the Koreas and Syria, not the military campaigns in Afghanistan or Libya, but he offered this broad assessment: "It seems to me that he is following an unusual belief -- it's a sense that (and he said it in a speech or two) that we all have common interests. There's probably a sense in which that makes a certain degree of logic, but I don't think he understands that not all the leaders of the world have common interests or all of the people of the world have common interests. In fact, some people want to oppress other people and exploit other people and kill other people. We're not like them and we don't have common interests with them. We have interests with people who seek and love freedom."

While Romney is certain to continue questioning some of Obama's other maneuvers in the Middle East, the president largely diffused Romney's broadside simply by how he approached his remarks on Sunday night.

"And so shortly after taking office, I directed Leon Panetta, the director of the CIA, to make the killing or capture of bin Laden the top priority of our war against al-Qaeda, even as we continued our broader efforts to disrupt, dismantle, and defeat his network," Obama said. He delivered details about the last several months and the lead that directed the intelligence community to bin Laden's location.

Then, this: "And finally, last week, I determined that we had enough intelligence to take action, and authorized an operation to get Osama bin Laden and bring him to justice. Today, at my direction, the United States launched a targeted operation against that compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan. A small team of Americans carried out the operation with extraordinary courage and capability. No Americans were harmed. They took care to avoid civilian casualties. After a firefight, they killed Osama bin Laden and took custody of his body."

Although Romney will have to accept an Obama who will undoubtedly emerge from this stronger, some of his potential rivals for the GOP nomination stayed away from offering recognition of the president's efforts.

Former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin posted a statement on her Facebook page, but she mentioned neither President Bush nor President Obama.

Instead, she congratulated the military: "Americans tonight are united in celebration and gratitude. God bless all the brave men and women in our military and our intelligence services who contributed to carrying out the successful mission to bring Bin Laden to justice and who laid the groundwork over the years to make this victory possible. It's a testament to the hard work and dedication of these brave Americans who relentlessly hunted down our enemy," she said.

Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee offered his reaction on his Fox News show, "The Huckabee Report." After recounting the news, he said, "It has taken a long time for this monster to be brought to justice. Welcome to hell, bin Laden. Let us all hope that his demise will serve notice to Islamic radicals the world over that the United States will be relentless is tracking down and terminating those who would inflict terror, mayhem and death on any of our citizens."

Former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, who on Thursday gave a major foreign policy address in Washington without mentioning Afghanistan, offered a brief statement looking ahead. "While this is a very significant objective that cannot be minimized," he said, "the threat from Jihadism does not die with bin Laden. As we were vigilant in taking him out we need to demonstrate we will continue to be vigilant until the enemy has been subdued."

And Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann said, "Tonight's news does not bring back the lives of the thousands of innocent people who were killed that day by Osama bin Laden's horrific plan, and it does not end the threat posed by terrorists, but it is my hope that this is the beginning of the end of Sharia-compliant terrorism."

As of this writing, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels had not yet offered statements.

Erin McPike is a national political reporter for RealClearPolitics. She can be reached at emcpike@realclearpolitics.com. Follow her on Twitter @ErinMcPike.

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