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Friday, 4 May 2012

In April 2007, the Bush-Cheney administration had taken the public position that finding Osama bin Laden wasn’t that important in its global war on terrorism. That’s why that administration had pulled resources out of Afghanistan to invade Iraq, a dictatorship unrelated to al-Qaeda.

Mitt Romney had just completed his one term in elected office and was running for the Presidency. He dutifully echoed the Bush-Cheney message in an interview with the Associated Press:
MR: I wouldn’t want to over-concentrate on Bin Laden. He’s one of many, many people who are involved in this global Jihadist effort. He’s by no means the only leader. It’s a very diverse group—Hamas, Hezbollah, al-Qaeda, Muslim Brotherhood and of course different names throughout the world. It’s not worth moving heaven and earth and spending billions of dollars just trying to catch one person. It is worth fashioning and executing an effective strategy to defeat global, violent Jihad and I have a plan for doing that.

LS: But would the world be safer if bin laden were caught?

MR: Yes, but by a small percentage increase—a very insignificant increase in safety by virtue of replacing bin Laden with someone else. Zarqawi—we [i.e., the Bush-Cheney administration] celebrated the killing of Zarqawi, but he was quickly replaced. Global Jihad is not an effort that is being populated by a handful or even a football stadium full of people. It is—it involves millions of people and is going to require a far more comprehensive strategy than a targeted approach for Bin Laden or a few of his associates.
That dispatch was headlined “Romney says he's not the only one switching positions, rivals do it too.” True to form, Romney quickly switched positions on the importance of bin Laden when rival John McCain and others on the right criticized his remarks as naive. In a May 2007 debate Romney took the opportunity to say:
Of course we get Osama bin Laden and track him wherever he has to go, and make sure he pays for the outrage he exacted upon America. . . . We’ll move everything to get him. But I don’t want to buy into the Democratic pitch that this is all about one person — Osama bin Laden — because after we get him, there’s going to be another and another. This is about Shia and Sunni. This is about Hezbollah and Hamas and al-Qaida and the Muslim Brotherhood.
Romney lied when he said that the “Democratic pitch” focused on “one person.” Rather, most Democrats focused on al-Qaeda rather than unrelated states that happened to have Islamic majorities and oil. Romney, like his party, was still arguing for a larger war.

By August 2007, Barack Obama was prominent in the Democratic race. He said he would order attacks on al-Qaeda leaders inside Pakistan whether or not the strongman then governing that country concurred. Romney shifted position again, abandoning “We’ll move everything to get him.” Reuters reported:
“I do not concur in the words of Barack Obama in a plan to enter an ally of ours. . . . I don’t think those kinds of comments help in this effort to draw more friends to our effort,” Romney told reporters on the campaign trail. . . .

Romney, the former Massachusetts governor who is one of the Republican front-runners, said U.S. troops “shouldn’t be sent all over the world.” He called Obama’s comments “ill-timed” and “ill-considered.”
But in a Republican debate the next day, Romney shifted yet again. He now said that the problem wasn’t Obama’s strategy but his willingness to tell the American people about that strategy. Romney insisted:
It’s wrong for a person running for the president of the United States to get on TV and say, “We’re going to go into your country unilaterally.” Of course, America always maintains our option to do whatever we think is in the best interests of America. But we don’t go out and say, “Ladies and gentlemen of Germany, if ever there was a problem in your country, we didn’t think you were doing the right thing, we reserve the right to come in and get them out.” We don’t say those things. We keep our options quiet.
The election proceeded. Obama won his party’s nomination, Romney didn’t win his. The actual Republican nominee, McCain, repeatedly criticized Obama’s policy on attacking al-Qaeda targets in Pakistan, calling that a threat to attack Pakistan itself.

People who suffer from OIP Derangement Syndrome can’t forgive Barack Obama for two things. One is being elected President. The other is doing just what he said he would in regard to Osama bin Laden: ordering an attack inside Pakistan, and a successful one. While Republicans have mustered up some ideological reasons to oppose Obama’s other successes, or claimed that their policies would somehow have produced better results, on bin Laden they can’t oppose his methods or results.

Talking Points Memo traced the “The Five Stages Of GOP Reaction To Osama Bin Laden’s Death,” starting with some Republicans refusing to mention Obama’s role in the event. Romney’s approach for months has been to claim that any President would have done the same.

Of course, when McCain insisted, “you work with the Pakistani government,” he was ruling out the unilateral action Obama took. When Romney said US troops “shouldn’t be sent all over the world” for bin Laden, that surely didn’t sound like, well, sending troops anywhere after bin Laden. But consistency has never been Romney’s strength.

Some Republicans groused that Obama campaign advertising took Romney’s remarks about bin Laden out of context, but the Romney campaign has already destroyed its credibility on “context.” And in this case “context” mainly shows how quickly Romney shifted his emphasis for political expediency.

It’s particularly interesting to compare Romney’s criticism of the Obama administration this week for not protecting Chen Guangdong after he left the US embassy in Beijing (Romney didn’t specify what to do or how) with his 2007 statement: “But we don’t go out and say, ‘Ladies and gentlemen…, if ever there was a problem in your country, we didn’t think you were doing the right thing, we reserve the right to come in and get them out.’ We don’t say those things.”

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