(WASHINGTON) — Without mentioning his opponent by name, President Obama took clear political aim at Mitt Romney on Monday, continuing a line of attack from his campaign that Romney would not have given the go-ahead to the mission that ended in the death of Osama bin Laden.
Asked about Romney’s comments from earlier Monday morning belittling how difficult the decision to go after bin Laden may have been, the president said, “As far as my personal role and what other folks would do, I’d just recommend that everybody take a look at people’s previous statements in terms of whether they thought it was appropriate to go into Pakistan and take out bin Laden. I assume that people meant what they said when they said it. That’s been at least my practice.”
The president was alluding to Romney’s 2007 comments about bin Laden that “it’s not worth moving heaven and earth and spending billions of dollars just trying to catch one person.” The Obama campaign last Friday released a Web ad suggesting that this sentence suggests he would not have been willing to take the risk and order Navy SEALs to cross into Pakistan and infiltrate bin Laden’s Abbotabad compound.
Continued the president, “I said that I’d go after bin Laden if we had a clear shot at him and I did. If there are others who have said one thing and now suggest they’d do something else, then I’d go ahead and let them explain it.”
The president was also referring to Romney’s reaction in 2007 after then-Senator Obama said “if we have actionable intelligence about high-value terrorist targets and President Musharraf won’t act, we will.” Romney at the time called those comments “ill-timed” and “ill-considered” and said “there is a war being waged by terrorists of different types and nature across the world. We want, as a civilized world, to participate with other nations in this civilized effort to help those nations reject the extreme with them.”
Romney, incidentally, was hardly the only politician taking issue with then-Senator Obama’s comments about Pakistan. Then-Senator Hillary Clinton called the remarks “irresponsible and frankly naive” in an interview with Iowa’s Quad City Times, and then-Senator Joe Biden said “the last thing you want to do is telegraph to the folks in Pakistan that we are about to violate their sovereignty.”
The Romney campaign argues that his 2007 comments about “not moving heaven and earth” to get bin Laden are being unfairly twisted by the president, that the full context indicates that he was saying the war against the extremist Islamist movement was bigger than just one man — not that he wouldn’t go after that one man.
At the time, however, Romney’s then-primary rival Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., said in response to Romney’s comment that “it takes a degree of naiveté to think he’s [bin Laden] not an element in the struggle against radical Islam.”
After McCain hit him for the remark, Romney backtracked from it at a debate, saying, “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 the worldwide jihadist effort to try and cause the collapse of all moderate Islamic governments and replace them with a caliphate.”
The president made his remarks in the East Room of the White House at a joint appearance with Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda.
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