Fight Over bin Laden Raid Comes Down to Simple Politics

Democrats seek to neutralize traditional GOP edge on national security.

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There's a good reason why the Democrats and Republicans are fighting so strenuously over how much credit President Obama can properly take for ordering the raid that killed terrorist Osama bin Laden.

National security has long been a key political weapon in the GOP arsenal against Democratic presidential candidates, with Republicans arguing that the Democrats are weak on defense and too timid in using U.S. military force abroad. But Obama is making the case that such criticisms don't apply to him because of his decisive handling of the bin Laden raid. The latest example came Wednesday night when NBC aired an interview with the president in which he said he was at peace with his decision to order the risky but successful mission that resulted in bin Laden's death a year ago.

[Photo Gallery: One Year After Osama Bin Laden's Death]

"There were doubts that were voiced in the Situation Room, but they were not doubts in my own head," Obama said.

NBC reported that Vice President Joe Biden wanted more evidence that bin Laden had actually been located at the compound in Pakistan where intelligence sources said he was living. Then-Defense Secretary Robert Gates urged Obama to launch air strikes on the compound. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and then Director of Central Intelligence Leon Panetta backed the raid.

Obama said, "It was never contentious because I think everybody understood both the pros and the cons of action." He added: "Ultimately, it was a 50/50 proposition as to whether this was actually bin Laden."

"I did choose the risk," he said, because he had "100 percent faith in the Navy SEALs" who conducted the mission.

[Read the U.S. News debate: Is America Safer Under Barack Obama?]

On a political level, Democratic strategists argue that, with the bin laden raid, Obama erased any advantage that the GOP might have had on national security issues. The Democrats point out that President George W. Bush, who launched a global "war on terror," was unable to capture or kill bin Laden, the chief planner of the 9/11 attacks, over a period of eight years. Obama managed to kill bin Laden in a bit more than two years.

But Republicans are trying to minimize the decision. GOP presidential front-runner Mitt Romney says he would have ordered the raid under similar circumstances and he argues that Obama's campaign is trying to politicize the issue. Other GOP leaders including Sen. John McCain of Arizona, the Republican presidential nominee in 2008, say Obama partisans are giving the president credit for what is really a success by the U.S. military.  McCain said, "Any president of the United States, given that information, would have done the same thing....You know the thing about heroes? They don't brag."

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  • Ken Walsh covers the presidency and politics for U.S. News and writes the blog, "Ken Walsh's Washington." He can be reached at kwalsh@usnews.com and on Twitter.