President Barack Obama used an international press conference with Japan’s prime minister to showcase his controversial campaign-year claim that former Gov. Mitt Romney would have failed to kill Osama bin Laden had he been president.
“I assume that people meant what they said when they said it,” Obama said in response to a question from a selected reporter in the White House. “If there are others who have said one thing and now suggest they’d do something else, I’d go ahead and let them explain,” he added, effectively inviting reporters to grill Romney.
Obama’s campaign-style answer evoked a recently advertised 2007 statement by Romney, who rebuked then-candidate Obama for threatening to send U.S. forces into Afghanistan’s unstable neighbor, Pakistan.
“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 said in 2007. He added then that killing bin Laden is not something the United States should “move heaven and earth” to accomplish, given the broader range of the war on terror.
At the time, politicians and experts were debating whether the U.S should send many troops into the Taliban-controlled tribal districts straddling the Pakistan-Afghanistan border.
In response, Romney said April 30 that “of course” he would have sent a strike force into Pakistan once bin Laden’s hideout was discovered. “Even Jimmy Carter would have given that order,” said Romney, who is trying to persuade the public to view Obam as a failed president.
Today’s partisan answer likely benefited Obama, because it will help to keep the media’s attention off the stalled economy and instead focused on Romney’s national security credentials. (RELATED: More on the Obama presidency and campaign)
The reporter’s question was prompted by a recent Obama attack ad, and by a statement from Vice President Joe Biden. Both suggested Romney would not have tried to kill bin Laden once his location had been discovered.
The question also allowed Obama to portray himself as modest. “The American people rightly remember what we as a country accomplished in bringing to justice somebody who killed over 3,000 of our citizens, and it is mark of the excellence of our intelligence teams, our military teams [and] a political process that worked,” he said. “I said I’d go after bin Laden if we have a clear shot at him, and I did.”
Romney’s staffers quickly pushed back. “It’s unfortunate that President Obama would prefer to use what was a good day for all Americans as a cheap political ploy,” said a statement from Romney’s campaign.