Today Mitt Romney was asked whether he would have given the order to launch the operation that killed Osama Bin Laden, as Obama did.
“Of course,” Romney said. “Even Jimmy Carter would have given that order.”
But by invoking Carter in this fashion, Romney may have effectively undermined his whole argument.
That’s the point that Mike Breen, the vice president of the Truman Project, a progressive national security think tank, made to me in an interesting interview this afternoon.
The rub is that in a sense, Carter did give “that order,” as Romney puts it. In April of 1980, Carter ordered the launch of an American military operation designed to rescue Americans held hostage in Tehran. The mission went horribly awry, of course, killing eight American service-men — a disaster that played a major role in ending Carter’s presidency.
And so, by invoking Carter, Romney is reminding us that Obama’s call — like Carter’s — was anything but routine, was fraught with major risk, and could have ended with the loss of American lives and the destruction of the Obama presidency.
“I am sure the ghost of Jimmy Carter’s decision was present in the room” as Obama and his advisers debated whether to launch the Bin Laden mission, says Breen, who is not a spokesman or surrogate for the Obama campaign, but supports Obama’s national security policies and is a registered Democrat.
“The president had the option to launch a high altitude bomber that could have destroyed the target, with low risk to the air crew,” continued Breen, a former Army Captain in Afghanistan and Iraq. “He made a decision that was much riskier — a long range helicopter mission with a small special ops force into a country that had not granted permission for the mission at all. That’s remarkably similar to what Carter did.”
“Romney is undermining his own point,” Breen says. “He’s invoking a decision that cost Carter his presidency. Obama bet his presidency on this operation. It’s troubling if Romney thinks it was an easy decision.”
Today we’re seeing some nonsense on both sides. Republicans are blasting the Obama campaign for politicizing the killing of Bin Laden, even though the George W. Bush reelection campaign nakedly did the same with 9/11. Similarly, Dems are insisting that the touting of Bin Laden’s death constitutes legitimate policy debate, even though they decried the GOP’s 2004 discussion of 9/11. And I have previously written that I’m not comfortable with too much Obama chest-thumping over Bin Laden.
But the question of whether this was an easy call for Obama is, well, an easy call: It was no such thing. As Romney himself inadvertently reminded us today.