First Published: 2012-04-30

 

Bin Laden: from world’s most wanted terrorist to campaign slogan

 

Al-Qaeda leader's killing is now spur for Obama’s furious row with Republican campaign of his White House rival Romney.

 

Middle East Online

By Stephen Collinson - WASHINGTON

Obama led Romney by 43 to 33 percent in a Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll released this month

A year after his death, Osama bin Laden has gone from being the world's most wanted terrorist to serving as a punch line in a campaign speech.

President Barack Obama's decision to launch a daring special forces raid to kill bin Laden, fraught with military and political risk, is now the spur for a furious row with the Republican campaign of his White House rival Mitt Romney.

US Vice President Joe Biden has been touting the raid on the stump, using it to bolster Obama's credentials as commander-in-chief, and former president Bill Clinton cut a campaign ad warmly praising Obama over the operation.

"If you're looking for a bumper sticker to sum up how President Obama has handled what we inherited, it's pretty simple: Osama bin Laden is dead and General Motors is alive," Biden said last week.

The president, in keeping with his role as commander-in-chief, has been more circumspect, but has long been noting the Al-Qaeda leader's killing on May 2, 2011 in fundraising speeches.

"Osama bin Laden will never walk this Earth again," the president said, for example, at a political event in Hawaii in November.

Obama has also used the anniversary of bin Laden's death to tape an interview with NBC News from the White House Situation Room, scene of an iconic photo as senior officials watched the raid unfold.

Republicans, who for years branded Democrats as soft on terror and weak on national security, are crying foul.

Obama "took something that was a unifying event for all Americans... and he's managed to turn it into a divisive, partisan, political attack," said Romney senior advisor Ed Gillespie on NBC's "Meet the Press" Sunday.

"I think most Americans will see it as a sign of a desperate campaign."

The Obama campaign however insists the decision to order US Navy SEALs on a secret raid deep into Pakistani territory last year, with the outcome uncertain, shows Obama as a commander-in-chief with rare judgment.

It also argues that the presumptive Republican nominee may not have made the same call, had he been in the same position.

"This isn't the politics of fear, this is the politics of brave decision making. That's what (being) commander-in-chief is all about," said senior Obama advisor Robert Gibbs, also on NBC.

Gibbs noted that Romney had once argued it would be wrong to infringe Pakistan's sovereignty even if there was intelligence that a top terror suspect was on its soil and suggested he would not have ordered the bin Laden raid.

"Quite frankly Mitt Romney said it was a foolish thing to do a few years ago. Look, there's a difference in the roles they would play as commander-in-chief. I certainly think that's fair game," Gibbs said.

Asked whether Romney may not have ordered the raid on the Al-Qaeda leader's hideout in Abbottabad, Gibbs replied: "I don't think it's clear that he would."

The bin Laden row fits into the Obama campaign's strategy of portraying Romney as unfit to be president, as it tries to make his character and judgment a key point in an election dominated by a stuttering economy.

The political insulation offered to Obama by the successful operation to kill the Al-Qaeda leader and mastermind of the September 11 attacks complicates Romney's assaults on Obama's foreign policy.

For years, Republicans profited by slamming Democrats as soft on national security -- the tactic was used to devastating effect in the 2004 election when George W. Bush narrowly defeated Democrat John Kerry to win a second term.

A video by bin Laden aired a few days before the vote, and may have aided Bush's effort to portray Kerry as unsuitable for leading the US war on terror, after the first presidential vote since the September 11 attacks in 2001.

Deprived of the terror card, Romney instead is forced to critique Obama's performance on issues like "reset" ties between Washington and Moscow, and his response to Syria's uprising and nuclear challenges from Iran and North Korea.

But it is not clear whether such attacks have the same kind of resonance as the traditional Republican tactic on national security.

Obama got a short-term political boost last year after the bin Laden raid, but in an election shaping up as a referendum on his handling of the economy, it is unclear how influential the operation will be as an election theme.

But the president's handling of national security and the US campaign against Al-Qaeda do appear to be helping his overall political image.

Obama led Romney by 43 to 33 percent in a Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll released this month, when respondents were asked who would be a good commander-in-chief.

 

Gridlocked streets of Saudi capital turn quiet for day of mourning

Obama vows to maintain pressure on Qaeda in crisis-hit Yemen

New violence as Egypt marks anniversary of 2011 revolt

Erdogan visits war-torn Somalia amid tight security

Gaza announces plans to ready sea port for international travel

Barrage of rockets rains down on Syria capital

Egypt extends Sinai state of emergency by three months

Syria ambassador to UN to head government team in Moscow talks

Qatar court tells US family to decide on fate of alleged killer

Gunmen kidnap Libya deputy foreign minister from hotel room

Yemen Huthi rebels fire in air to disperse Sanaa protest

Islamist websites confirm death of Ansar al-Sharia chief in Libya

World leaders head to Saudi Arabia to offer condolences

Iran parliament starts to draft law on nuclear enrichment hike

Mauritania prison siege ends with captives freed

Syria opposition demands 'radical democratic change'

Tunisia turns the page on political Islam

Iran FM pays rare visit to Saudi Arabia after King's death

Signs of uprising against Huthis in streets of Sanaa

Israel prepares for any retaliation by Hezbollah

New Tunisia PM forms cabinet with no Islamists

Saudi Arabia buries King Abdullah

Britain allowed Libya to intimidate political opponents

Gul calls to Erdogan for greater democracy

Israel Arab parties join forces ahead of snap election

Mubarak sons freed pending retrial

Hagel: US has killed thousands of jihadists

Iraq asks for more weapons to fight IS threat

Half-brother Salman replaces late Saudi King

Yemen leader resigns, leaves country in deadlock

King of Saudi Arabia dies at age of 90, Crown Prince Salman declared new ruler

Europe pleads for more nuclear talks allowance

Israel PM accepts invitation to address US Congress

Huthis maintain tight grip on Yemen capital despite deal

Anti-IS coalition talks focus on threat of homegrown jihadists

Wait for Hezbollah reaction to Israel air strike on Golan ... next week

French flag burnt in Baghdad protest

Mubarak sons freed pending corruption retrial

Saudi postpones flogging of blogger again

Syria opposition in Cairo to discuss Moscow talks

Iran supreme leader urges Western youth to examine Islam

Syria opposition government receives US financial aid

Immigrant youth feel less equal in France of equality, fraternity

Kerry leads anti-IS coalition talks in London

Yemen president bows to Huthis demands