Not really a fair cop — read Morgen’s post yesterday for essential context — but the White House wants to push both the “Romney is more conservative than Barry Goldwater” message and the “Romney stands for nothing” message this fall, no matter how incoherent that might be. So here’s O taking an easy shot at the latter.
Asked about Romney’s comments from earlier this morning belittling how difficult the decision to go after bin Laden may have been, the president said “As far as my personal role and what other folks would do, 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. I assume that people meant what they said when they said it. That’s been at least my practice.”
The president was alluding to Romney’s 2007 comments about bin Laden that “it’s not worth moving heaven and earth and spending billions of dollars just trying to catch one person.” The Obama campaign last Friday released a web ad suggestion that this sentence suggests he would not have been willing to take the risk and order Navy SEALs to cross into Pakistan and infiltrate bin Laden’s Abbotabad compound…
The Romney campaign argues that his 2007 comments about “not moving heaven and earth” to get bin Laden are being unfairly twisted by the president, that the full context indicates that he was saying the war against the extremist Islamist movement was bigger than just one man – not that he wouldn’t go after that one man. According to the Associated Press’s Liz Sidoti, Romney said capturing bin Laden would made the U.S. safer by only “a small percentage” resulting in “a very insignificant increase in safety” since someone else would take bin Laden’s place. Romney supported a broader strategy against.
I explained in the last post why Romney (and Jimmy Carter) would have given the order to go grab Bin Laden given the state of Pakistani treachery circa 2011, so go read that if you haven’t. All I’ll add here is that I’m surprised Obama’s passing on an opportunity to tout his broader record on counterterrorism for a cheap knock on Romney the flip-flopper. Romney’s point in context is that the war on terror is bigger than one man. Indeed, O could say, which is why over the past four years he’s ramped up drone strikes in Pakistan, resulting in the near-collapse of “core Al Qaeda.” WaPo reported within the past week that not only has the drone campaign been extended to Yemen, Obama’s given Petraeus and the CIA authority to fire without first confirming the identity of whom they’re firing at. Why forfeit an excuse to talk about all that? “Bin Laden week” at the White House should be an occasion to tout broader progress against AQ, not syrupy reminiscences about who said what to whom in the situation room once they got the news about “Geronimo.” By making it purely about OBL, he’s risking minimizing his own accomplishment in the minds of low-information voters.
Exit question via the Washington Free Beacon’s Andrew Stiles: When O says “I assume that people meant what they said when they said it,” does that also apply to the various nonsense he spouted on the trail in 2008? Opposing the mandate, ridding his administration of lobbyists, civilian trials for terrorists, etc etc. Back before he tore up the War Powers Act, he was a pretty peace-minded guy, you know. See Peter Kirsanow’s post at the Corner for more examples.
Update: Lefty Josh Marshall says the White House chatter about Bin Laden is less a matter of politics than meta-politics:
But as I first argued back in 2004, national political campaigns are only loosely about ‘issues’ as news obsessives construe them. Contemporary American campaigns are much more meta-battles over power, masculinity and dominance, what I once called “bitch-slap politics.” Not pretty perhaps but you’ll never understand campaigns without understanding things through this prism. And that’s very much what’s happening with the Obama campaign’s latest fusillade against Mitt Romney. This isn’t simply – maybe not even mainly — about the actual decision to risk so much to kill bin Laden. It’s a dance to – let’s not run away from what it really is – unman Romney in his contest with the president.
People don’t expect Democrats to make such brash moves on national security politics. It’s been a very long time since a Democratic president has been in a position to do it. Its aforementioned obviousness aside, it’s garnered a collective gasp from the pundit class. It was a smack right across the face of Mitt Romney right as he’s making a reasonably successful reintroduction of himself to the American people.