Osama bin Laden is dead, but that won't stop the 9/11 mastermind from playing a role in the 2012 presidential election.
Nearly a year after U.S. forces killed bin Laden in Pakistan, President Obama's re-election team has rolled out a strategy to paint the Democratic incumbent as the stronger candidate on foreign policy issues, particularly when it comes to dealing with Islamic extremists.
His latest campaign ad features former President Bill Clinton praising Mr. Obama for making the difficult decision to order Navy SEALs into bin Laden's compound on May 2, 2011. It then asks whether Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney would have made the same choice.
Vice President Joseph R. Biden has taken that same line of attack to the campaign trail, seeking to cut into the GOP's traditional edge among voters on homeland security and defense matters.
"Thanks to President Obama, bin Laden is dead and General Motors is alive," the vice president said in a Thursday stump speech. "You have to ask yourself, had Gov. Romney been president, could he have used the same slogan in reverse?"
Republicans are beating back those talking points.
Sen. John McCain, Arizona Republican and Mr. Obama's challenger in the 2008 presidential race, called the Democrats' strategy "shameless" and blasted the campaign video as "a cheap political attack ad."
"This is the same president who said, after bin Laden was dead, that we shouldn't 'spike the ball' after the touchdown. And now Barack Obama is not only trying to score political points by invoking Osama bin Laden, he is doing a shameless end-zone dance to help himself get re-elected," Mr. McCain said. "No one disputes that the president deserves credit for ordering the raid, but to politicize it in this way is the height of hypocrisy."
Democrats, however, show no signs of letting up and appear intent on using the death of bin Laden as a political weapon in the months to come.
Former White House press secretary and current Obama campaign strategist Robert Gibbs said Sunday that the attacks on Mr. Romney are "certainly not over the line," and bluntly argued that the American people can legitimately doubt whether a President Romney would have ordered the bin Laden raid.
"I don't think it's clear that he would," Mr. Gibbs said on NBC's "Meet the Press." "He criticized Barack Obama a few years ago when Barack Obama said [he would act] if we have actionable intelligence about a high-value target — and let's be clear, nobody was bigger, nobody was a more high-value target than Osama bin Laden."
Mr. Gibbs based his assertion on a 2007 Romney quote, in which he said, "It's not worth moving heaven and earth, spending billions of dollars, just trying to catch one person." Offered when he was a candidate for the 2008 Republican nomination, Mr. Romney's words drew criticism from other GOP candidates.
He later backed away from his comments, explaining that while it was vitally important to capture or kill bin Laden, Americans should reject the notion that the fight against terrorism would end if the al Qaeda leader was taken out of play.
"After we get him, there's going to be another, and another," Mr. Romney said during a subsequent Republican primary debate.
Mr. Romney's supporters also took to the airwaves Sunday to blast Mr. Obama and his campaign team, alleging that they are using bin Laden's death, a triumphant moment for all Americans, as pure political fodder.
Romney adviser Ed Gillespie called the Obama ad "divisive," and said he thinks most Americans will view it "as a sign of a desperate campaign."
"I can't envision, having served in the White House, any president having been told 'we have him, he's here, should we go in,' saying, 'no we shouldn't,'" Mr. Gillespie said. "This is an attack on something that might have not happened. It's a bridge too far."
Appearing on several Sunday shows, White House Chief Counterterrorism Adviser John Brennan flatly refused to answer questions about whether the Obama video unfairly capitalizes on bin Laden's death for political gain, while at the same time casting Mr. Romney as weak in the war on terrorism.
"I don't do politics. I don't do the campaign. I'm not a Democrat or a Republican. All I know is the president made the decision when he was given the opportunity to carry out that raid," he said on ABC's "This Week." "I think the American people are clearly very appreciative and supportive of that decision. We're safer today as a result."
Mr. Brennan said the Obama administration does not plan to release any images from the bin Laden raid. "What we don't want to do is put out anything that is going to unnecessarily incite emotions on this issue," Mr. Brennan said on Fox News. "We believe that it's unnecessary to put something like that out."
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Ben Wolfgang is a national reporter for The Washington Times. Before coming to the Times, he spent four years as a political reporter in Pennsylvania. His focus is on education and science policy. Ben lives in southeast D.C. and has played guitar in several bands while still in Pennsylvania. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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