Obama hammered for focus on killing of bin Laden

Osama bin Laden gestures in this frame grab from the Saudi-owned television network Middle East Broadcasting Center during the April 17, 2002, broadcast of an undated videotape.
AFP/Getty Images

Reelection arguments don't get much more straightforward than this: I made the decision to go after and kill America's biggest enemy. It worked. My opponent has suggested he wouldn't have done the same. So who do you want making those decisions for four more years?

Indeed, that's the argument that President Obama's campaign team made in a videoout Friday that featured former president Bill Clinton. But even as reporters and politicians partied this weekend at the White House Correspondent's Association dinner, the questions were growing over the appropriateness of the argument.

The first volley was a scathing statementfrom GOP Sen. John McCain, the 2008 GOP presidential nominee, who accused Mr. Obama of "politicizing" the killing in "a Romney adviser Ed Gillespie on "Meet the Press" on Sunday, who called the video a "bridge too far." 

"This is one of the reasons President Obama has become one of the most divisive presidents in American history," he said. "He took something that was a unifying event for all Americans - an event that Gov. Romney congratulated him and the military and the intelligence analysts in our government for completing the mission in terms of killing Osama bin Laden - and he's managed to turn it into a divisive partisan political attack."

It's unclear the degree to which either argument will really resonate at a time when Americans say their chief focus is the state of the economy. But Republicans to appear to have found an argument to at least somewhat diminish what should be one of the president's strongest rationales for another term.

And there are clear signs that the message is effective: On "CBS This Morning" Monday, liberal commentator Arianna Huffington sided with Team Romney, calling the decision to release the Clinton video "one of the most despicable things you can do." (It's worth noting here, as Slate's William Saletan does, that Gillespie himself suggested in 2004 that then-Democratic nominee John Kerry wouldn't have gone after Saddam Hussein, but hey, memories are short in Washington.) It's understandable that the Obama campaign wants to trumpet one of Mr. Obama's most significant and unambiguous first term accomplishments -- and they'll be doing so again on Tuesday, the anniversary of bin Laden's death, when an with the president about the decision, set in the situation room, runs on NBC. But by doing so now in such an explicit way, it may have engaged in an overreach that will make it harder to bring the issue up in the coming months, as Americans begin to really start to tune into the race.

UPDATE, 1:25 p.m. Eastern Time: The White House doesn't seemed cowed by the criticism. In a speech Monday, Obama counter-terrorism adviser John Brennan mentioned bin Laden 13 times, including here: "Credit for that success belongs to the courageous forces who carried out that mission, at extraordinary risk to their lives; to the many intelligence professionals who pieced together the clues that led to bin Laden's hideout; and to President Obama, who gave the order to go in."

MORE: And Romney weighs in:"Of course" I would have attacked bin Laden

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