When it comes to who would have done what to capture and/or kill Osama bin Laden, the record is crystal clear. What then-candidate Barack Obama said he would do in 2007, he did. Said policy commitment was slammed by not only rival then-Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton but also by then-candidate Mitt Romney. He called it “ill-considered.” While folks are right to point out how wrong he was, they are not right to say that he wouldn’t have made the same or a similar decision if it were he and not Obama who had to make the call.
First, some context. On Aug. 1, 2007, Obama said, “If we have actionable intelligence about high-value terrorist targets and President Musharraf won’t act, we will.” As Reuters reported then, “Obama’s stance comes amid debate in Washington over what to do about a resurgent al Qaeda and Taliban in areas of northwest Pakistan that President Pervez Musharraf has been unable to control, and concerns that new recruits are being trained there for a September 11-style attack against the United States.” Questions of respecting a vital ally’s sovereignty versus protecting us from another attack were driving the national conversation.
Romney blasted Obama the next day. “I do not concur in the words of Barack Obama in a plan to enter an ally of ours,” he said then. “I don’t think those kinds of comments help in this effort to draw more friends to our effort.” Four months earlier, Romney said, “It’s not worth moving heaven and earth, spending billions of dollars just trying to catch one person.” A most objectionable line that got him clobbered by his opponents and conservative commentators at the time. He walked back the comment within days.
This is not so much a defense of Romney as it is a matter of consistency. I’m bone-tired of these superfluous arguments about whether Democrats or Republicans are more worried about the peace and stability of the United States. As I argued in my earlier post today, never question whether the man or woman running for the privilege of sitting in the Oval Office has the strength to protect the United States. In response to the backlash against what he said in 2007, Romney said, “[e]ven Jimmy Carter would have given that order.”
Anyone who thinks Romney would allow his timid 2007 talk to stand in the way of making the same or similar tough call as Obama made a year ago is fooling himself or herself. Candidates for president make promises all the time. Many of them can never be kept, especially once those promises smack up against the scary reality lurking within classified documents and daily briefings.
Then, one day, the bravado or the caution will be met with a demand for action. We’re lucky that the man who made the call told us exactly what he would do four years earlier — and that the risky mission was successful.