The ad is designed to garner maximum credit forPresident Barack Obama for the death of Osama bin Laden. Any president is right to point with pride to such a grand moment under his watch. So what happens in the ensuing seconds of this ad that leads even liberal voices to condemn it?
Dependable Obama ally Arianna Huffington called it “despicable.” So let’s go frame by frame to see where, or if, things go wrong.
Clinton continues: “Suppose the Navy SEALs had gone in there and it hadn’t been bin Laden. Suppose they’d been captured or killed.”
This properly identifies the high stakes of the decision to green-light the operation. But then Clinton phrases something in a fashion that echoes precisely what critics say motivates Obama: “The downside would have been terrible for him.”
Bin Laden in our sights, American troops’ lives on the line, and we are asked to consider the downside for Obama’s political fate? How did someone at Obama headquarters let this go?
But then the ad moves to its singular moment of stunning insolence. A slide reads: “Which path would Mitt Romney have taken?” Surely Team Obama would not try to cobble together an argument that Romney would have balked.
But indeed they do, as the ad reminds us of two of Romney’s less brilliant foreign policy moments. In April 2007, he criticized candidate Obama for vowing to strike al-Qaeda in Pakistan if necessary. Four months later, he floated a quote we’re sure to hear again: “It’s not worth moving heaven and earth, spending billions of dollars just trying to catch one person.”
The first item was pure dumb opportunism, and any critic is right to identify it as such. The second quote echoed a point actually made by President George W. Bush, a view shared at various times by a wide range of war supporters, including me — that the overall war goals may or may not have been cost-effectively advanced by pouring inordinate resources into getting bin Laden’s head on a platter.
As things worked out, the war effort that was berated for years by candidate and President Obama succeeded in finding bin Laden. His decision to proceed bolsters Romney’s view, shared by millions, that any president would have done the same. To extrapolate from those Romney quotes that he would have somehow let bin Laden go is a tactic so low that portions of the president’s cheering section have recoiled.
When voters put Obama and Romney on the national security scales, they will rightly note that bin Laden was killed under Obama’s watch. But Romney should be ready to remind the nation that it was only within the context of Bush war policies that Obama found a way to tolerate only after his first briefings showed him the ill wisdom of carrying his campaign’s war derision into the actual presidency.
With whatever remaining time Romney chooses to devote to war issues, he should feature other highlights from this “decider-in-chief”: the decision to oppose interrogations that saved American lives, the decision to try Khalid Shaikh Mohammed in New York City, and the decision to focus on exit strategies rather than success strategies.
This is only the first taste of the tone the Obama campaign plans to strike in the coming months. The president’s more mannerly friends should stand ready to occasionally distance from it, and Romney had better be ready to effectively respond to it.