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Obama Accused Of Politicizing Bin Laden's Death


Republicans have repeatedly criticized President Obama for what they contend is a weak foreign policy. Their criticism now extends to how the president talks about his signature foreign policy success.

Here's NPR national political correspondent, Mara Liasson.

MARA LIASSON, BYLINE: President Obama's visit to Afghanistan and his address to the nation were reminders of the responsibilities of the commander-in-chief and the attention he can muster at a moment's notice.

Yesterday, while the president was addressing the troops, his rival, Mitt Romney, was in New York City at a firehouse with former Mayor Rudy Giuliani, the hero of 9/11. Although he was commemorating that event, Romney complained about how Mr. Obama has used the anniversary of bin Laden's death.


MITT ROMNEY: 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 draw a distinction between himself and myself was an inappropriate use...

LIASSON: Romney's comments were interrupted by a heckler screaming profanities. But he went on to make the same point he'd made the day before when he dismissed the president's decision to kill bin Laden by saying he would've made the same decision, and moreover...


ROMNEY: Well, of course. Even Jimmy Carter would have given that order.

LIASSON: The Romney campaign has been comparing Mr. Obama to Jimmy Carter a lot lately, suggesting that the current president is as weak as Carter when it comes to North Korea, Iran and Syria. Despite Romney's suggestion that the raid on bin Laden's compound was a no-brainer, however, several of President Obama's top advisors - including the vice president and secretary of defense - argued against it at one point. Michael O'Hanlon is the author of a new book on President Obama's foreign policy called "Bending History."

MICHAEL O'HANLON: Secretary Gates is known to have advised against this, initially. And therefore, it was obviously a difficult decision, and not at all an obvious one.

LIASSON: But the president has done more than tout his own achievement. He's using it against his opponent. A new Obama campaign ad suggests Romney might not have gone after bin Laden. In a news conference on Monday, the president himself brought this up when he was asked about Romney's Jimmy Carter comment.


PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: I assume that people meant what they said when they said it. That's been, at least, my practice. I said that I'd go after bin Laden if we had a clear shot at him, and I did. If there are others who have said one thing and now suggest they'd do something else, then I'd go ahead and let them explain it.

LIASSON: Mr. Obama was referring to a 2007 quote from Romney, saying it wasn't worth moving heaven and earth to catch one person, and to Romney's objection to Mr. Obama's pledge to pursue bin Laden in Pakistan, even without Pakistan's permission. The Romney camp has been complaining about the president's use of bin Laden's death as a political weapon, but Romney's appearance with the hero mayor of 911 was seen by some as a similar move. Michael O'Hanlon thinks both men should back off.

O'HANLON: I tend to think we have two outstanding candidates, two honorable men who are pragmatic and fairly centrist in a lot of their views of the world. But their campaigns are already in overdrive, even on an issue that you would consider to be relatively non-divisive, like the death of Osama bin Laden. And I think both campaigns need to look in the mirror a little bit and ask just where they want to take the country these next six months.

LIASSON: O'Hanlon is hoping a little less vitriol around foreign policy, but that is unlikely in this campaign, where both sides show little restraint. Polls show the president with a distinct advantage over Romney on foreign policy and national security. Those might not be the most important issues to voters this fall, but they're an advantage the president won't hesitate to press. Mara Liasson, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Mara Liasson is a national political correspondent for NPR. Her reports can be heard regularly on NPR's award-winning newsmagazine programs Morning Edition and All Things Considered. Liasson provides extensive coverage of politics and policy from Washington, DC — focusing on the White House and Congress — and also reports on political trends beyond the Beltway.