Robert Gibbs is the latest member of the President’s re-election team to distort comments Mitt Romney made about going after Bin Laden in 2007. Via Politico:
Obama campaign adviser Robert Gibbs on Sunday defended the suggestion by the president’s reelection campaign that Republican rival Mitt Romney might not have ordered the raid that killed Osama bin Laden in Pakistan.
“Look, just a few years ago, President Obama – then a candidate – said in a speech that if we had actionable intelligence of a high-value target in Pakistan, we’d go in and get that high value target,” Gibbs said on NBC’s “Meet the Press.” “Mitt Romney said that was foolish. He wouldn’t do such a thing. That he wouldn’t move heaven and earth to get Osama bin Laden.”
Gibbs and other Democrats have focused on comments made by Romney in April 2007, where he said “it’s not worth moving heaven and earth spending billions of dollars just trying to catch one person”. The full context of Romney’s remarks demonstrate that he was actually calling for a more strategic and expansive approach in the fight against Al Qaeda and Islamic extremism. And that the ongoing effort to capture or kill Bin Laden should not be to the detriment of the larger goals.
But there is no reason for Romney’s accusers in the Obama campaign to parse over his words from April 2007. It turns out Romney was asked directly about this very scenario in the first Republican presidential debate in August 2007. Now I wonder why they haven’t highlighted this?
It’s wrong for a person running for president of the United States to get on TV and say we’re going to go into your country unilaterally. Of course America always maintains our option to do whatever we think is in the best interest of America. But we don’t go out and say “ladies and gentleman of Germany, if ever there was a problem in your country [and] we didn’t think you were doing the right thing, we reserve the right to come in and get them out”. We don’t say those things, we keep our options quiet.
While many of us might cringe at Romney’s characterization of Pakistan as a ‘friend’, his criticism of Obama’s public support for striking targets within Pakistan was an opinion widely shared at the time, and not only within the GOP. Here’s what Chris Dodd had to say on this:
Frankly, I am not sure what Barack is calling for in his speech this morning. But it is dangerous and irresponsible to leave even the impression the United States would needlessly and publicly provoke a nuclear power,” said Sen. Chris Dodd, D-Conn.
And Hillary Clinton:
Well, I do not believe people running for president should engage in hypotheticals. And it may well be that the strategy we have to pursue on the basis of actionable intelligence…might lead to a certain action…But I think it is a very big mistake to telegraph that and to destabilize the Musharraf regime, which is fighting for its life against the Islamic extremists who are in bed with al-Qaeda and Taliban. And remember, Pakistan has nuclear weapons. The last thing we want is to have al-Qaeda-like followers in charge of Pakistan and having access to nuclear weapons. So you can think big, but remember, you shouldn’t always say everything you think if you’re running for president, because it has consequences across the world, and we don’t need that right now.
And who better to have the last word than the always reliable Joe Biden:
Sen. Joe Biden of Delaware responded later in the debate, noting that the strategy Obama outlined was already U.S. policy.
“Everyone’s entitled to their own opinion, but not their own facts,” Biden said. “It’s already the policy of the United States — has been for four years — that there’s actionable intelligence, we would go into Pakistan.”
This is the bottom line of course. As Biden revealed this was already the policy under the Bush Administration, even if it was not publicly discussed due to sensitivities with Pakistan. And there wasn’t a viable candidate on either side of the aisle in 2008 who would have been likely to change this. It’s also pretty likely that any one of them would have ultimately made the same “gutsy call” to raid Abbottabad that the President did, but I suppose a debate over this hypothetical is fair game. But what isn’t fair game is to misrepresent Romney’s comments from 2007. It’s clear he wasn’t ruling out going into Pakistan to get Bin Laden or other high value targets. The only thing he was opposed to was the same thing Hillary Clinton was opposed to which was Obama’s grandstanding over this issue at the expense of valid national security concerns. The fact that history now reflects more favorably on Obama’s position in 2007 does not change this. Nor does it change the fact that his campaign is blatantly misrepresenting Romney’s record.
Update: Added additional text to Hillary’s quote above. Note how closely Obama’s eventual choice for Secretary of State mirrored Romney on this question. (Romney’s comments were made on August 5th in Iowa and Clinton’s on August 7th in Chicago.)