Would Mitt Romney have ordered the raid that killed Osama bin Laden? President Barack Obama's re-election campaign released a new video on Friday that strongly implies that he would not have, using the presumptive Republican nominee's own words against him.
Ever since Vice President Joe Biden boiled down Obama's 2012 slogan to "bin Laden is dead, GM is alive," it has been clear that the embattled incumbent would not hesitate to use the May 2, 2011, Navy SEAL strike as a political weapon.
Fighting over the political use of bin Laden is hardly new—as Obama's 2008 presidential campaign could tell you, since they complained about then-rival Hillary Clinton doing just that. Clinton's camp ran an ad that used Osama bin Laden and implied that Obama (the ad didn't use his name) didn't have the foreign policy chops to be president.
The video, taken from footage shot for Obama's 17-minute campaign commercial "The Road We've Traveled," opens with the message "The Commander-in-Chief gets one chance to make the right decision" and turns to former President Bill Clinton for validation. "That's one thing George Bush said that was right: The president is the decider in chief. Nobody can make that decision for you."
"Look, he knew what would happen," says Clinton. "Suppose the Navy SEALs had gone in there and it hadn't been bin Laden. Suppose they had been captured or killed. The downside would have been horrible for him, but he reasoned 'I cannot in good conscience do nothing.' He took the harder and the more honorable path and the one that produced in my opinion the best result," he says, amid images including a photograph of New York City firefighters cheering the news of bin Laden's death.
"Which path would Mitt Romney have taken?" asks the on-screen text. The video recalls Romney's contention, in an April 2007 interview with the Associated Press, that Americans will not be markedly safer if bin Laden were killed and that "it's not worth moving heaven and earth spending billions of dollars just trying to catch one person." (Days later, in a May 3, 2007, debate, Romney was asked about his words and responded, "We'll move everything to get him. ... This is a global effort we're going to have to lead to overcome this jihadist effort. It's more than Osama bin Laden. But he is going to pay, and he will die.") It also cites a Reuters report referring to an August 2007 Republican candidates debate: "Mitt Romney criticized Barack Obama for vowing to strike al-Qaeda targets inside Pakistan if necessary." (That's probably safer than directing viewers to the transcript of the debate: Romney criticized Obama for openly discussing the possibility of striking inside Pakistan, not for entertaining the idea. When moderator George Stephanopoulos asks whether it's fair to summarize his position as "keep this option on the table, but it is foolish to talk about it in public," Romney doesn't disagree.)
The Obama campaign video wraps up with Clinton saying: "He had to decide and that's what you hire a president to do. You hire the president to make the calls when no one else can do it."
Romney has taken pains to praise Obama for the raid. On Friday, Romney campaign spokeswoman Andrea Saul bristled at the video.
"It's now sad to see the Obama campaign seek to use an event that unified our country to once again divide us, in order to try to distract voters' attention from the failures of his administration. With 23 million Americans struggling for work, our national debt soaring, and household budgets being squeezed like never before, Mitt Romney is focused on strengthening America at home and abroad," she said.
The Obama video came one day after Vice President Biden, in a speech assailing Romney on foreign policy, declared: "On this gut issue, we know what President Obama did. We can't say for certain what Gov. Romney would have done."
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