The Obama campaign's advertisement that highlights the president's decision to authorize the covert mission that killed Osama Bin Laden was criticized Monday by Republicans and Mitt Romney's team as politicizing an event that should be off limits. But experts say this pushback was just as predictable as Obama highlighting the raid as part of his foreign policy success.
"I feel like the inspector in 'Casablanca,' who is shocked to find out that there's gambling in this establishment," says Jeremy Mayer, a professor of public policy at George Mason University. "National security is always a political football in presidential elections, and when the facts are against you, and when it's playing against your party, you complain that the other side is politicizing national security."
In 2004, it was Democrats decrying President George W. Bush's touting of the 'war on terror' during his re-election campaign. Some even claimed his administration was politically motivated in raising the homeland security threat level during the election to play on voters' fears.
But the bickering between the Romney and Obama campaigns is different in that, for the first time in decades, it's the Democrat with the decided edge on issues of national security. Romney, a former governor of Massachusetts who has no foreign policy experience, had argued during his 2008 presidential campaign that the United States shouldn't waste millions of dollars searching for one man and cautioned against conducting a covert mission within Pakistan.
When asked Monday about whether or not he would have authorized the same mission Obama did, Romney replied, "Of course. Even Jimmy Carter would have given that order."
That comment received a seeming rebuke from the president himself, who was asked about the back-and-forth during an appearance with Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda.
"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," Obama said. "I assume that people meant what they said when they said it. That's been at least my practice. 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 would do something else, then I'd go ahead and let them explain it."
Mayer says Romney would be better off to take a pass when it comes to talking about Bin Laden.
"The longer anyone is talking about Osama bin Laden, the worse for Romney," Mayer says. "He wants to talk about the unemployment rate, he wants to talk about what he considers a failed stimulus, and even responding to this attack as they've done is foolish."
And while foreign policy will not be the major focus of the 2012 presidential election, Mayer says because Osama Bin Laden's name is so well-known and evokes such strong emotion for Americans, the Obama campaign will be able to get some mileage from bringing it up.
"It is a talisman that Obama can raise in debates, and you don't have to know a lot about politics, you don't have to follow politics carefully, but you remember that this happened and you remember that you felt kind of good–most Americans did–when you heard about this," Mayer says. "This is going to be an advantage that Obama can continually go back to. I think it's hard to overplay this."
Rebekah Metzler is a political writer for U.S. News & World Report. You can contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow her on Twitter.