If Mitt Romney’s views had prevailed, Osama bin Laden would still be alive

Back in 2008, Romney denounced Barack Obama for saying he would do what he later did: strike terrorist targets in Pakistan without playing “Mother, may I?” with the ISI. He should be reminded of that, often.

Remember the debate between Obama and McCain about attacking terrorists holed up in Pakistan?  The entire Republican party had a collective case of the vapors about the horror of possibly doing something on Pakistani soil without permission of the ISI and its tame politicians.  (When the ever-clueless Sarah Palin disagreed, McCain insisted she hadn’t meant it.) When the time came, Obama backed his words with action, and Osama bin Laden became a former terrorist.

Now the GOP is eager to deny the President credit for the effort. Mitt Romney says “any President” would have done the same thing. That’s not what Romney said in 2008.

Footnote In the course of McCain’s 10,000 appearances on the Sunday blather shows, has any reporter bothered to ask him whether he now thinks the President was right to do what McCain insisted in 2008 it would be wrong to do? I doubt it.

 

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact: Markarkleiman-at-gmail.com

12 thoughts on “If Mitt Romney’s views had prevailed, Osama bin Laden would still be alive”

  1. Obama in 2007: If we have actionable intelligence about high-value terrorist targets and President Musharraf won’t act, we will

    Romney in 2007: “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

    Regardless of his true convictions, Romney’s rebuke of Obama is clearly formulated as being more concerned with the foreign reception of such statements than with the intent of actual plan of action. Also of note, Obama’s 2007 statement implies that Pakistan would be given “right of first action”, which I believe wasn’t the case in the May 2011 mission.

  2. Exactly. Had the Pakistanis been given the right of first action, their first action would have been to warn their guest – bin Laden couldn’t possibly have been living where he was without the knowledge of people in the military – and help him escape.

    1. Right, so Obama didn’t carry out his actions as he indicated in 2007. Clearly, away from the needs of electoral politics and the glare of the press and advised by pragmatic cool heads within the national security apparatus, he made the choices best designed to produce the needed outcome, which in this case, unlike complex matters of economic or geopolitical policy, share a very high degree of consensus across the political divide. No indication to think, contrary to the blog post headline, that other US presidents wouldn’t have produced the same outcome, if starting with the same inputs of intelligence, geopolitical circumstances and military resources at hand.

      Of course, the main point here is that what Romney was actually attacking was Obama’s lack of tact in terms of announcing prospective foreign policy, and not the actual suitability of the underlying sentiment.

      1. 1. By the standards of Willard Romney, this is a trivial flip-flop.

        2. “If we have actionable intelligence about high-value terrorist targets and President Musaharraf won’t act, we will” does NOT give a right of action to the government of Pakistan (even if it were Musharraf in charge in Pakistan when the attack on Bin Laden took place, which he was not) based on the same actionable intelligence. The government of Pakistan isntead has a right to act based on what it should know about what is happening inside its own country. If it had not acted, then Obama could infer that it would not act.

        3. Yes, maybe Romney’s point really was more “A politician should not say that he will use force in Pakistan without talking to Pakistan,” as opposed to “The President of the United States should not actually use force in Pakistan without talking to Pakistan.” However, the question then becomes whether or not he has the same concerns about diplomacy in 2011 that he did in 2007.

        1. The government of Pakistan isntead has a right to act based on what it should know about what is happening inside its own country. If it had not acted, then Obama could infer that it would not act.

          What??? …are you smoking?

          the question then becomes whether or not he has the same concerns about diplomacy in 2011 that he did in 2007.

          No, it renders this blog post disingenuous.

  3. Much as I dislike McCain, as I recollect, his point at the time was that a potential President had no business answering that sort of question, and that possibly illegal attacks like those described were not a proper subject for public debate in the context of a Presidential election. For once, McCain was correct. A future President shouldn’t be publicly discussing the possibility of attacks that violate the sovereignty of another nation.

  4. I think Romney has a simple defense here: “I never said that. Everyone knows it is Obama who bows down to foreign heads of state.” Republican voters would blame the liberal press for unfair attacks on Romney and the liberal press would just wonder why Obama needs to go negative (“Is it to cover his bowing down?” etc.).

  5. Asuming Romney is the GOP candidate, we are going to get a lot more of this sort of sophistry from commenters in defence of Romney´s flip-flops. The basic form of the argument is always:
    1. Romney is a decent, rational, principled, centrist, courageous, patriotic politician. (Just because.)
    2. Romney said something inconsistent with 1.
    3. Romney was then lying (or practising economy of the truth or weaselling for later denialbility) for tactical advantage, so it doesn´t count.

    Romney´s empty talents remind me of Dryden´s lines on the second Duke of Buckingham from Absalom and Achitophel:

    A man so various that he seemed to be
    Not one, but all mankind’s epitome.
    Stiff in opinions, always in the wrong;
    Was everything by starts, and nothing long:
    But, in the course of one revolving moon,
    Was chemist, fiddler, statesman, and buffoon.

  6. If Mitt Romney’s views had prevailed, Osama bin Laden would still be alive

    This is a very silly title for a blog post. Politicians’ actions are only roughly correlated with their words (see, eg, any comment from the Obama Administration stating how they would no longer target dispensaries with federal resources).

    Further, this post assumes that the only way to kill Osama would be by direct strike without permission of Pakistan’s authorities, when in fact there are an large number of ways Osama could have been killed. It’s not as if everything up until the time that Obama made the decision to send in the seal team to kill Osama would have been exactly the same had Romney been president.

    (NB: I will not be voting for Romney or Obama in the next presidential election).

  7. The RBC community has been around this block; any interested reader can consult the archives, in the unlikely event that anyone cares enough. Thus to summarize as briefly as possible: 1. The case for assassinating Osama bin Laden as a continuing military threat was very weak. 2. The case for assassinating him for revenge was even weaker. 3. There was no synergy between the two. 4. That assassination is not something in which Barack Obama or the United States of America should take pride. The end.

    1. Ken, you are assuming the mission was assassination only.
      The case for bringing him in, dead or alive, was quite strong. Head of al qeada is pretty much an open target, no matter the person having the title.

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