Politics, Washington lawmakers once generally agreed, stops at the water's edge. In other words, politicians and candidates can fight all they want about budgets and taxes and social policy, but when it comes to foreign policy and national security, it's good to present a united front—at least publicly. That tenet, along with so many niceties of yore, has been abandoned in the presidential race with the handling of the death of Osama bin Laden.
It stands to reason that the taking out of bin Laden by a team of brave Navy SEALs would be getting some attention now, since we're at the year anniversary of the event. And with the country making a steady, but still painfully slow, move out of recession, it's a relief to celebrate a major victory in international security. But the episode is taking on a decidedly political tone.
First, the Obama campaign released a video touting President Obama's success in having bin Laden killed. And it is a success, no matter how much that might annoy Obama detractors hoping to cast him as naïve and ineffective on foreign policy. Was it crossing a line for the Obama campaign to ask whether Mitt Romney would have made the same bold decision? Perhaps, since Obama's decision easily could have produced a different and tragic result, and it's not right to dismiss the sort of serious consideration that should be taken before such a dramatic move. Had the mission instead had an ending like former President Carter's failed mission to rescue the hostages in Iran, we probably wouldn't be hearing about the bin Laden mission from the Obama campaign. However, we would likely have been hearing about it from the Romney campaign.
Is it improper to take a "victory lap?" Maybe a little, but people who elected a president who landed on an aircraft carrier with a "Mission Accomplished" banner—when the mission was far from accomplished—don't get to complain about that.
The mistake Republicans are making with their complaints about Obama using bin Laden's death for campaign purposes is that they merely draw attention to Obama's biggest foreign policy success. Accuse someone of gloating, and you just remind people of the event or accomplishment that person is touting. And it looks a little petty to be mad that bin Laden was killed under Obama's watch instead of former President Bush's command. Bush hasn't made such small-minded comments—in fact, he's been impressively quiet throughout Obama's presidency. If the GOP wants to defeat Obama, they should draw attention to his missteps, not his successes.