Why Progressives Should Be Uneasy About Obama's Bin Laden Ad

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Its misleading message: Mitt Romney is insufficiently willing to invade the air space of sovereign countries.



In the campaign ad above, Bill Clinton and Team Obama brag about the president's decision to order the raid that killed Osama bin Laden, and criticizes Mitt Romney for the position he took in 2007.

Says the text that flashes onscreen:
Mitt Romney criticized Barack Obama for vowing to strike al-Qaeda targets inside Pakistan if necessary. -- Reuters, August 4, 2007.
This is noteworthy for two reasons.

1) The last two Democratic presidents are effectively charging that the Republican nominee is too hesitant about sending U.S. forces on kill missions inside nuclear-armed allies without permission. I'd like to hear progressives explain why this insufficient penchant for cowboy unilateralism would be a bad thing if it actually characterized the next president.

2) As it happens, the characterization of Romney's position is egregiously misleading. As Morgen Richmond of Hot Air notes, a video he unearthed from the GOP presidential primary debate in August 2007 shows what the former Massachusetts governor actually said about the issue:
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.
Romney was right. (If only he'd follow his own advice on Iran!) Obama was wrong to openly talk about ordering strikes within the borders of a nuclear power with whom he'd have to closely cooperate if elected.

As Richmond goes on to note, Hillary Clinton felt the same way as Romney:
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.
Obama isn't just politicizing the killing of a man any American president would've been happy to take out. He's doing so in a way that misrepresents the position of his opponent -- and despite the fact that the position taken by his opponent was substantially the same as the one taken by the person he appointed to oversee U.S. foreign policy. If voters didn't so reliably lose their ability to think rationally when confronted with anything Osama bin Laden related, this ad would hurt the president. But it'll likely help him just as invoking the War on Terror helped Bush in 2004. We've gone from "hope" and "change" to "I gave the order to kill a terrorist and it worked." And the fiction that an unsuccessful raid would have seriously hurt Obama with the electorate.

As if he would've told you about it.
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Conor Friedersdorf is a staff writer at The Atlantic, where he focuses on politics and national affairs. He lives in Venice, California, and is the founding editor of The Best of Journalism, a newsletter devoted to exceptional nonfiction.

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