Romney, Obama Mark A Year Since Bin Laden's Death

May 1, 2012
Originally published on May 9, 2012 9:44 am
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For more on the politics of the anniversary of bin Laden's killing, we turn to NPR national political correspondent Mara Liasson. And, Mara, while President Obama was flying to Afghanistan, you had Mitt Romney spending the day in New York City. He appeared at a firehouse with former Mayor Rudy Giuliani, so obvious connection there between bin Laden's death and the site of the 9/11 attacks.

MARA LIASSON, BYLINE: Yes. And both the president and his rival have been accused of using the anniversary for political purposes. Romney was - (unintelligible) before the firehouse to push back against the president's suggestion that he might not have made the same decision as President Obama did. He said, of course, I would have authorized the raid on bin Laden. Here's some of what he said:

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Mitt Romney, you're a racist. Mitt Romney, you're a racist. Mitt Romney, you're a racist. Mitt Romney, you're a racist. Mitt Romney, you're a racist.

MITT ROMNEY: You know, I think it's totally appropriate for the president to express to the American people the view that he has that he had an important role in taking out Osama bin Laden. I think politicizing it was and trying to...

LIASSON: What you can hear in the background there, Audie, is a heckler. She went on to shout some profanities that we can't play on family radio. But what Romney went on to say was that he said that to draw a distinction between himself and myself was an inappropriate use of this very important event.

CORNISH: So how did the anniversary of bin Laden's death become such a part of an issue?

LIASSON: Well, there's no doubt that the Obama campaign was going to use this moment to remind everyone of the president's foreign policy success. After all, if it had failed, he would have been Jimmy Carter-ed, desert one redux. And if there had been - or if there is another terrorist attack in the future, he's going to own that too. But Vice President Joe Biden has gone so far to say the bumper sticker for the campaign should be: General Motors is alive, and Osama bin Laden is dead. So the White House has tried to walk a fine line, not always succeeding, between acknowledging a big success and gloating.

CORNISH: You talked about that bumper sticker. Now, they're also releasing an ad talking about bin Laden's death. And I mean, their critics are saying that touting your accomplishments is one thing, but using it against your opponent is another.

LIASSON: Well, that's where the president is running some risks according to Democrats and Republicans. He's not just calling attention to his own success, but he's suggesting in his own comments and in that ad that you just mentioned that Mitt Romney may not have made the same decision. He's been calling attention to comments that Romney made in 2007 where he said it's not worth moving heaven and Earth to catch just one man and also when he criticized candidate Obama for saying that he would pursue Osama bin Laden to Pakistan even without Pakistan's permission.

CORNISH: So you're after this milestone in the war in Afghanistan. Exactly how does the killing of Osama bin Laden - now as a presidential election issue, how does it reframe the political debate between the two parties?

LIASSON: Well, I think, for the moment, we have an usual situation where it's the Democratic candidate that has an advantage on foreign policy and national security. The polls show that. The Romney campaign hasn't ceded this ground, however. Yesterday, Romney was trying to downplay the decision. He said even Jimmy Carter would have authorized this raid. And, of course, Jimmy Carter is the Romney campaign's poster child for a weak foreign policy president.

They've been saying that Obama is having a Jimmy Carter moment when it comes to North Korea and Syria and Iran. And, of course, to say that even Jimmy Carter would have authorized this suggests that it was a slam dunk when the evidence doesn't support that. Bob Gates, the defense secretary, Vice President Biden at different times were against this raid. It wasn't a no-brainer. And it was a judgment call for the president to make, and there is only one president who made it. So I would just say that the president has a lot of vulnerabilities in this election. But so far, the Romney campaign has not been able to make national security and foreign policy one of them.

CORNISH: NPR national political correspondent Mara Liasson. Mara, thank you.

LIASSON: Thank you, Audie. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.