Peter Feaver comments on the Obama campaign’s Bin Laden ad:
The critique of Romney was fundamentally dishonest in the way that campaign ads often are. The ad cherry-picked Romney quotes and deployed them out of context.
This is absolutely true. Romney’s position at the time was that he favored launching attacks or raids into Pakistan without its government’s knowledge or approval, but objected to talking about it publicly. The Obama campaign’s attack was very dishonest.
It’s not as if the decision to order the raid was obviously and unquestionably the right decision to make when it was made. There were members of the Cabinet advising a different course of action. There were valid reasons to object to ordering the raid, and the decision was a calculated risk that could have ended badly. The worst part of the attack may have been that it intensified the bad American habit of excessively personalizing national security issues and identifying the elimination of various individual villains with the overall improvement of U.S. security, as if killing a particular villain happens without incurring any costs. As Paul Pillar pointed out recently, it once again unnecessarily elevated Bin Laden’s stature:
As early as the late 1990s, well before 9/11, the counterterrorist focus on Bin Laden personally had become strong and sharp. Also that early, some U.S. officials came to realize that the heavy attention to this one man tended to serve some of his own purposes by elevating his stature. But we were never able to get away from that sort of attention, and we are still serving some of bin Laden’s purposes by continuing to dwell on him.
Oddly enough, Obama’s campaign could have delivered a more effective attack against Romney (and one that wouldn’t be producing the same backlash) if it had just quoted Romney’s related statement from earlier in 2007 or the full interview statement. That’s why the the next part of what Feaver wrote doesn’t make as much sense:
The valid Romney observation that defeating al Qaeda would require a comprehensive strategy, not one limited to hunting down a single man, got distorted by the Obama scriptwriters into a hesitation to pursue Bin Laden.
Feaver fails to mention that the “comprehensive strategy” that Romney had in mind was ridiculous and was based on a basic ignorance of the distinctions between jihadists and other Islamists and the differences among various Islamist groups. These are Romney’s exact words from the earlier 2007 debate:
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 about Shi’a and Sunni. This is about Hezbollah and Hamas and al Qaeda and the Muslim Brotherhood. This is the worldwide jihadist effort to try and cause the collapse of all moderate Islamic governments and replace them with a caliphate [bold mine-DL].
This is as absurd as any declaration about “Islamofascism.” In an interview, he said this:
I think, I wouldn’t want to over-concentrate on Bin Laden. He’s one of many, many people who are involved in this global Jihadist effort. He’s by no means the only leader. It’s a very diverse group – Hamas, Hezbollah, al-Qaeda, Muslim Brotherhood and of course different names throughout the world [bold mine-DL]. It’s not worth moving heaven and earth and spending billions of dollars just trying to catch one person. It is worth fashioning and executing an effective strategy to defeat global, violent Jihad and I have a plan for doing that.
When we put Romney’s statements on Bin Laden into its proper context, we find that the Obama campaign simply lied about his position. We also find that Romney didn’t distinguish between different sects, nor did he distinguish between local militias and international jihadist groups, and he identified all of them as part of “the worldwide jihadist effort” (or as different parts of “global, violent Jihad”) striving for the same goal. If the Obama campaign wanted to discredit Romney in the eyes of the public on his understanding of the threat from jihadism, all they would have had to do was quote Romney accurately. They chose to engage in some cheap point-scoring demagoguery instead.
Perhaps someone will say that Romney was simply pandering to hard-line anti-jihadist sentiment as part of his attempt to make himself acceptable to Republican primary voters. If so, he didn’t abandon his argument after the 2008 election, but included it in a foreign policy speech in 2009:
The fourth strategy is that of the Jihadists. By means of escalating violence, they intend to cause the collapse of the other three competing visions, dragging the entire world back into a medieval dictatorship ruled by Mullahs and Ayatollahs.
Romney was once again confusing all sorts of different groups and sects under the catch-all term of “the Jihadists.” The statement he made at the debate in 2007 wasn’t a one-time blunder. It reflected a basically incorrect and uninformed view of jihadism and the broader Islamic world.