May 2 marked the one year anniversary of Operation Neptune Spear, the successful raid on the secret compound of al-Qaeda leader, Osama Bin Laden that ended with his death and the capture of invaluable information that lead to further successful raids and killings of operatives. It boosted President Barack Obama’s approval ratings to a high not seen since his first year in office and for a brief time Americans rejoiced or expressed relief that one of America’s deadliest enemies was gone. The raid was near perfect except for the loss of one helicopter and all members of the Navy Seal team involved returned alive. There are still lingering consequences for launching this attack without the government of Pakistan’s approval, but ultimately the raid was worth it and while this nation is still a target of terrorist groups we are safer now than we were before May 2011.
With all that said it is the kind of achievement President Obama can be expected to include in his reelection campaign and extremely difficult to denigrate by his presumptive challenger Mitt Romney and other Republican supporters. One should never underestimate the Republican strategists for finding a way.
To denigrate Obama without criticizing the achievement he has been accused of boasting. Among the most recent critics include Senator John McCain who stated “You know the thing about heroes? They don’t brag” or former New York Governor George Pataki who said “I think it’s wrong, I think it should stop and I think the president should apologize.” There are many other pundits, strategists, and Republicans who reluctantly or whole heartedly support Romney and repeat many of the same claims, but I find this example most glaring.
On May 1 there was a rally in New York City with former Mayor Rudolf Giuliani and Romney that was largely overshadowed by an Occupy Wall Street heckler repeatedly screaming that Romney was a racist. Also overshadowed was Giuliani’s remarks that “using 9/11 as a source of negative campaigning was a mistake.” I do not think the hypocrisy could be any more evident. All the while the Republicans denounce Obama for politicizing a military mission to kill Bin Laden is Giuliani who constantly used the September 11 tragedy to attack Democrats as well as his own failed campaign for president in 2008. Where was their outrage when President George W. Bush pronounced the invasion of Iraq as a mission accomplished before it was? In 2004 Bush’s reelection campaign constantly used the possibility of another September 11 attack to undercut his opponent Senator John Kerry. If Republicans want to accuse Obama of hypocrisy for touting the execution of Bin Laden while criticizing Bush for exploiting September 11 and the war in Iraq then that would be a valid charge, but that is not what this is about. It is shameless sour grapes and a prime example of selective memory and yet it is probably more effective than the second strategy Romney uses.
One day earlier at a rally in Portsmouth, New Hampshire when asked if he would have given the order to kill Bin Laden he answered, “Of course. Even Jimmy Carter would have given that order.” In other words Obama’s decision was so easy to make even a president regarded as being passive on foreign policy would have done it. However, given Romney’s previous statements as well as so many issues he has changed position on his hypothetical decision is murky.
In 2007 he attacked Obama for suggesting he would go after targets within Pakistan and claimed it was “not worth moving heaven and earth spending billions of dollars to catch just one person.” If that is indeed the case then Romney might have weighed the potential fallout from a botched attack and decide to play it safe, but during an election year memories are selective and history open to partisan interpretation. President Carter actually ordered a similar raid April 24, 1980. Operation Eagle Claw was intended to rescue the US embassy hostages in Iran, but due to poor planning it failed and eight people died. Carter’s unpopularity increased and America’s power and abilities were diminished before the world. I estimate that Romney and his foreign policy experts would have that debacle in mind before making a decision because memories are not so selective after the election. Moreover, while they would like to believe that they would do the same they were not there and his lack of commitment indicates otherwise.
Just this week the State Department is in the midst of dealing with Chen Guangcheng, a blind Chinese activist who escaped house arrest and fled to the US embassy on April 25. One week later Chen’s ordeal grew more complicated after he claimed he did not want to leave China and expressed a set of demands for reform and justice before being leaving for treatment at a hospital. However, the next day he claimed he wanted to leave China with his family and never would have left the embassy if they were not threatened with reprisals. There were also rumors that the embassy pressured Chen to leave to avoid a diplomatic incident at a time when the United States needs China’s agreement on matters involving Iran, North Korea, Syria, and Sudan.
It did not take long for Romney to exploit this stating if the rumors were true, “this is a dark day for freedom, and a day of shame for this administration.” It was a carefully worded, but not outright accusation of treachery which seems unusual because Romney has shown no concern with his words coming back to haunt him. I can also imagine Romney does not envy the president because in a situation like this the president risks the principle of one man’s human rights over the geopolitical goals of this nation. Chen’s escape from house arrest is an embarrassment for the government of China and if our government is perceived as exploiting this then there is little reason for cooperation. If anything this is a far more difficult position for Romney to suddenly embrace because if he should be elected president and another dissident seeks refuge at our embassy at a diplomatically inconvenient time he will be obligated to do something or be condemned as a hypocrite. If Romney was in the White House in 2008 and did nothing to kill Bin Laden who would ever know about it since the information regarding his whereabouts would be classified for years after his presidency.
The incident involving Chen might come to nothing since Beijing is considering allowing him to leave on an education visa and if so will only be sporadically remembered in the campaign of 2012. In the end this strategy of raining on Obama’s parade is only going to reinforce the Republican base’s negative opinion about the president which is pointless because at this stage in the campaign Romney will be the Republican nominee. They could have given Obama begrudging credit for this one decision while attacking him for everything else since he will not be reelected on foreign policy decisions alone. Furthermore, the opinions regarding this among voters is so firmly entrenched at best it will only win over a few uninformed people which is futile since their opinions constantly change beyond predictability