Articles

Victory Laps and Double Standards

May 02, 2012

Considering Team Obama's behavior regarding the killing of Osama bin Laden, I can truly say, What a difference a decade makes.

In January 2002, as senior adviser to President George W. Bush, I told the Republican National Committee that "We can go to the country on this issue [prosecuting the war on terror] because they trust the Republican Party to do a better job of protecting and strengthening America's military might." After the meeting, all hell broke loose.

House Democratic Minority Leader Dick Gephardt called my remarks "shameful." House Democratic Whip Nancy Pelosi implied that I might be attempting "to exploit terrorism as a political issue." Democratic National Committee Chairman Terry McAuliffe raged that my comments were "nothing short of despicable" and "an affront to the integrity of the entire United States military."

A few years later, in March 2004, the Bush-Cheney re-election campaign released its first ads. One of them, "Tested," began with the announcer saying "the last few years have tested America in many ways. Some challenges we've seen before. And some were like no others." During this last sentence, footage of the attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon appeared. The ads, including this one, were so inoffensive that FactCheck.org called them "downright bland." But once again, all hell broke loose. 

The campaign of the Democratic presidential candidate, Sen. John Kerry, denounced the use of the 9/11 images as "astonishing." The head of the national firefighters union said it was "disgraceful," and a union resolution demanded Mr. Bush "apologize to the families of firefighters killed on 9/11."

The press corps joyfully pummeled Bush campaign spokespersons. And yet in both instances, critics responded harshly to what were simple, positive statements and images.

Now fast forward to President Barack Obama's re-election campaign, which is drawing attention to his decision to order the raid on Osama bin Laden's hiding place. It is completely legitimate that he and his campaign do so.

But Team Obama took it one massive step further, suggesting that GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney would not have ordered the bin Laden raid. They made this charge on Sunday morning talk shows and put it in a video. Even Vice President Joe Biden was wheeled out to make the charge. But the voices that were so quick to condemn the Bush administration's alleged attempts to politicize the war on terror have been mute about this overt campaign slur.

My former White House colleague, Dana Perino, recently made this acute observation about Team Obama: Never underestimate their ability to overdo anything.

They diminished the commander in chief by putting his decision, which should unify the nation, in the same frame as a partisan political attack, which divides it. For Mr. Obama to repeat the charge about Mr. Romney at his Monday news conference with the Japanese prime minister made things worse.

Moreover, the attack on the former Massachusetts governor doesn't ring true. Mr. Romney was obviously right in responding that, given the intelligence, even President Jimmy Carter would have ordered the strike.

Nor does Team Obama understand that sometimes less is more. An acknowledgment of the day, focused on high praise for those who carried out the operation, would have been a masterstroke. Instead Americans got Web videos, television ads, a political offensive on cable and Sunday morning television shows, several prime-time interviews in the Situation Room, a cover story in Time, and a trip to Kabul. Someone forgot that too much hype cheapens the moment.

Finally, Mr. Obama showed again it's all about him—his decision, the stakes for him, and the ramification for his re-election. Lost was proper credit for the intelligence operatives who painstakingly traced the thin fragments of evidence to a compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan; for the pilots and logistics and support personnel who carefully planned and made possible the mission itself; and of course the brave warriors of SEAL Team 6 who executed the plan to perfection.

The president deserves to take credit for his decision to move against bin Laden. But the way he is doing so will diminish the credit he will receive. Mr. Obama should have left well enough alone, but narcissists never do.

This article originally appeared on WSJ.com on Wednesday, May 3, 2012.

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