Obama Defends Spotlighting Death of Bin Laden

Obama Defends Spotlighting Death of Bin Laden

By Alexis Simendinger - April 30, 2012

President Obama's latest campaign ad, released to supporters on Monday, runs more than halfway through its seven-minute account of the president's first-term accomplishments before Osama bin Laden gets a walk-on. The president appears in footage shot a year ago telling the world that the most hated terrorist on the planet had been discovered in Pakistan and killed by U.S. forces.

“Now, the war in Iraq is over,” a narrator intones as loaded military trucks drive across hard-packed earth somewhere desert-like and impossible to identify. “A promise kept,” the narrator says.

In the East Room of the White House a few hours before his campaign released the ad, the president dismissed complaints by GOP critics that he and his advisers are choreographing high-fives with exaggerated political zeal to mark the one-year anniversary of the daring nighttime raid on bin Laden’s secret compound.

“I hardly think that you’ve seen any excessive celebration taking place here,” Obama told a reporter. “I think that people -- the American people -- rightly remember what we as a country accomplished in bringing to justice somebody who killed over 3,000 of our citizens,” he added during a four-question news conference with visiting Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda of Japan.

“And it’s a mark of the excellence of our intelligence teams and our military teams; a political process that worked. And I think for us to use that time for some reflection to give thanks to those who participated is entirely appropriate, and that's what’s been taking place.”

NBC News plans to broadcast on Wednesday a reconstruction of the raid, which was supervised by the president from inside the White House Situation Room. Anchor Brian Williams interviewed Obama in the secure room in which the administration’s national security advisers huddled in suspense as Navy SEALs carried out their mission in Abbottabad to capture or kill the 9/11 mastermind.

Obama, reacting to Mitt Romney’s dismissive comment Monday that “of course” he would have ordered the bin Laden raid if he had been president, suggested that his de facto opponent used to feel differently. (On the campaign trail this week, Romney said with a dose of snark, “Even Jimmy Carter would have given that order.”)

To win re-election, Obama hopes to undercut the former Massachusetts governor as a flip-flopping, out-of-touch embodiment of wealth and worn-out GOP economic theories who has scant international experience. While Obama’s newest ad is titled “Forward,” the implicit suggestion is that Romney lives in the past.

Vice President Joe Biden and President Bill Clinton have said in recent ad testimonials that Obama was gutsy to risk his presidency and relations with Pakistan on uncertain intelligence to try to get bin Laden. When the mission succeeded and was disclosed to Americans, Obama captured a substantial but short-lived bump in his job approval numbers among Republicans. More than Democrats and independent voters, conservatives believed bin Laden’s death was an important achievement, according to Gallup.

Without naming Romney, the president on Monday suggested his all-but-certain challenger was revising comments he made during a 2008 presidential debate, in which he took a dim view of using unilateral power as commander-in-chief to enter Pakistan to target terrorists. But this past winter, in an interview with MSNBC, Romney said Obama’s order to raid the bin Laden compound was “entirely appropriate.”

Obama challenged Romney to explain his seemingly contradictory remarks. “I’d 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,” the president said. “I assume that people meant what they said when they said it. That's been at least my practice. I said that I’d go after bin Laden if we had a clear shot at him, and I did.”

In the annuls of celebratory presidential struts, President George W. Bush’s staged Lockheed S-3 Viking jet landing nine years ago on the deck of the USS Abraham Lincoln was memorable. Bush, a former Air National Guard pilot, alighted from the jet wearing an aviator flight suit, a helmet tucked under his arm, to shake hands with members of the carrier’s crew. The warship was returning to the California coast from the Persian Gulf.

After donning a suit and tie, Bush stood on the ship’s deck under a giant banner made by the White House that famously stated “Mission Accomplished.” He announced the end of major combat operations in Iraq, which proved premature. The president and his team, accused of staging an inaccurate and expensive bit of theater, later conceded the banner had been a mistake.

U.S. forces captured Saddam Hussein hiding in Tikrit in December 2003, and Bush delivered a prime-time address from the White House announcing that “the former dictator of Iraq will face the justice he denied to millions.” The Iraqi people executed Hussein by hanging three years later. U.S. military forces did not officially pull out of Iraq until 2011. 

Alexis Simendinger covers the White House for RealClearPolitics. She can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @ASimendinger.

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