The Obama campaign launched a harsh and potentially controversial foreign policy attack against Mitt Romney on Friday, suggesting the presumptive Republican nominee would not have made the “hard” decision to order the operation against Osama bin Laden inside Pakistan.
The charge, narrated by former President Bill Clinton in what the campaign called “never-before-seen footage,” was leveled in a somber, ninety-second video released on YouTube. The Obama campaign has aggressively used YouTube to reach both base and swing voters this campaign cycle, and the combative video is sure to generate (free) media attention. The campaign distributed a press release about the spot Friday morning—most of the campaign’s videos do not receive such promotion—and within an hour the Romney campaign responded, calling it “sad” to see Obama exploiting “an event that unified our country to once again divide us.”
In the bin Laden video, former President Clinton flatly revisits the substantive and political risks that Obama faced in ordering the mission. The target could have turned out not to have been bin Laden, Clinton says, or the Navy Seals might have been “captured or killed.” Yet Obama took a harder and more honorable path, Clinton declares, followed by a rhetorical question that flashes across the screen, asking, “Which path would Mitt Romney have taken?” Adding oppo to injury, the video cites Romney’s 2007 criticism of Obama’s vow to strike Al Qaeda facilities in Pakistan if neccessary—a question of strategy and sovereignty that was a major policy debate in the 2008 Democratic primary and presidential election.
The focus on bin Laden comes a day after Vice President Biden headlined a speech questioning Romney’s foreign policy positions, and fits Obama’s longstanding emphasis on running on foreign policy issues, not away from them—a break from the “inoculation” strategy favored by many Democratic candidates. So while Obama always outlined his opposition to the Iraq War, he also pledged to increase forces in Afghanistan, project special forces wherever necessary and continue a range of national security policies associated with the Bush administration. (Many of the tradeoffs have been troubling.) But if there was any question about whether he would be shy about seeking the political dividends from that agenda in a general election, this opening salvo makes it clear he is eager to put Mitt Romney on the defensive.