Barack Obama Killed Osama Bin Laden. Period.
It was a bold, even risky decision, but he made it.
Gates, still skeptical of the whole business, had been CIA director Stansfield Turner’s executive assistant back in 1979, when President Carter ordered a raid to rescue American hostages in Iran—then watched the operation go down in flames, along with his presidency, when the Delta Force’s helicopter crashed.
Struck by Gates’ concerns, Obama ordered Adm. William McRaven, the special-operations commander organizing the raid, to throw in two additional helicopters for backup. It was a good thing he did, since one of the assault choppers crashed outside the compound.
Romney has kept up a barrage of attacks on Obama’s national-security record—which is puzzling, to say the least, since there are no politically palatable routes to criticizing the president on this score, except from the left, which is hardly an angle that Romney or any other Republican (except Ron Paul) would traverse.
On Afghanistan, Romney has lambasted Obama for announcing his troop-withdrawal schedule (a legitimate criticism), but he’s also expressed support for NATO’s announcement to pull out all combat troops by 2014 (which renders his first point moot). Let’s see if he keeps up this assault after Obama’s surprise May Day visit to Kabul, where he and Afghan president Hamid Karzai are scheduled to sign a “strategic partnership” accord, which, for better or worse, will keep the United States committed to the country’s security well beyond the NATO deadline.
On Iran, Romney calls for a different policy without specifying what that might be. Given Obama’s multiple rounds of sanctions and likely cybersabotage, which may be having an effect, it is hard to imagine what Romney might do differently, except go to war, a step that few Americans would welcome.
In an attempt to trash the New START arms-reduction treaty, which Obama signed with Russia, Romney wrote (or at least signed) the most misleading and ignorant article on the subject that I’ve read in more than 35 years of following the nuclear debate.
On North Korea, Romney appears not even to want to try negotiating a solution. On China, he seems to be pushing for a trade war. On Russia, which he has called America’s No. 1 geopolitical foe, he appears to think the Cold War is still raging.
Romney’s position—or, more accurate, his pose—on these issues is so preposterous, one can only surmise that he can’t be serious. More likely, he and his proxies in the right-wing press are adopting Karl Rove’s strategy of attacking the opponent’s strengths. In the 2004 election, Sen. John Kerry’s war-hero status posed a threat against George W. Bush, so Rove and the Swift Boaters painted Kerry as a war coward; Kerry and his team were so flummoxed, they didn’t know how to respond. Now Mitt Romney, who has no foreign-policy experience whatever, is painting Obama as the dangerous naif.
There are two big differences this time out. First, Obama’s political operators seem more adept at dousing these sparklers than were Kerry’s. Second, like Bush in 2004, Obama is the incumbent in this election; he can demonstrate experience and competence in foreign affairs as a matter of course, on a daily basis; hence his trip to Kabul.
Republicans are no doubt pining for a second dip in the economy, because going after Obama on foreign and military affairs is a dead-end route.
Fred Kaplan is Slate's "War Stories" columnist and author of the book, The Insurgents: David Petraeus and the Plot to Change the American Way of War. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter.