The Bin Laden Flap

The two distinct but interrelated flaps about the killing of Osama bin Laden that are consuming much oxygen today are: (1) Can the president take credit for an operation planned and executed by military and intelligence personnel? and (2) Is it fair for the Obama campaign to quote Mitt Romney’s 2007 statements suggesing the pursuit of bin Laden was a poor allocation of resources to suggest he would not have pulled the trigger on the operation?

On the first point, the one thing that should be abundantly clear is that Romney and his supporters have no standing to complain about Obama taking credit for anything until such time as they stop holding him responsible for every sparrow that has fallen to the ground from the moment he took the oath of office (or even before then, if you listen to the bizarre claims that employers stopped hiring on Election Day of 2008 because they were fearful of the socialism headed their way). If the November election is indeed to become, as conservatives keep telling us, a national temperature reading on American life in general, then any development that warms the body politic should be fair game for Obama.

On the second point, Romney said something he shouldn’t have about Osama bin Laden in 2007, and as Josh Marshall pointed out today, he was really just aping the Bush administration’s line aimed at tamping down criticism that it hadn’t managed to take out Osama even as it was so abundantly squandering lives and treasure in Iraq. Still, he said it, and no one held a gun to his head to make sure he did. Sure, that’s not the same as knowing that Romney would have cancelled any effort to pursue Osama, much less canceled an operation to kill him. But again: is the Romney campaign going to foreswear attack ads that don’t go out of their way to offer pros and cons to this or that available critique of the incumbent? Of course not. Romney supplied the Obama campaign with the raw material for an attack line; it’s Mitt’s job to defend himself, and not to whine about having to do so.

All in all, Romney may regret carrying on an extended debate on this subject, which just reminds people who was president when the opportunity came to capture or kill America’s Most Wanted Man.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.