One year after he authorised an extraordinary mission inside Pakistan by an elite Navy Seals unit to kill Osama bin Laden, President Barack Obama is not hesitating to put it front and centre in his gathering re-election effort, while implying that his presumptive challenger in 2012, Mitt Romney, might not have been so gutsy.
The all-out effort to remind Americans of what will widely be seen as Obama's signal foreign policy success since taking office has included the release of a seven-minute video about the operation partly narrated by former President Bill Clinton - and has raised the ire of Republicans who accuse him of milking it. "Which path would Mitt Romney have taken?" the video asks.
"This is one of the reasons President Obama has become one of the most divisive Presidents in American history," complained senior Romney campaign adviser Ed Gillespie. "He's managed to turn it into a divisive, partisan political attack. I think most Americans will see it as a sign of a desperate campaign."
While seeking the Republican nomination in 2007, Romney said of the hunt for bin Laden: "It's not worth moving heaven and earth, spending billions of dollars just trying to catch one person."
Obama campaign adviser Robert Gibbs said on Monday that it was not clear whether Romney would have made the same decision as Obama.
"Look, just a few years ago President Obama, then a candidate, said in a speech that if we had actionable intelligence of a high-value target in Pakistan, we'd go in and get that high-value target," Gibbs said on NBC. "Mitt Romney said that was foolish. He wouldn't do such a thing. That he wouldn't move heaven and earth to get Osama bin Laden."
Speaking to reporters in New Hampshire yesterday, Romney said he would have made the same decision.
"Of course. Even Jimmy Carter would have given that order," Romney said.
Romney has scheduled an appearance today in New York City with firefighters and former Mayor Rudy Giuliani to mark the killing of bin Laden.
Coy the Obama campaign is not. In addition to the campaign video with its solemn musical score, NBC was granted an unprecedented interview with the President in the White House Situation Room where he and his national security team, including Vice-President Joe Biden and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, monitored the raid on the bin Laden compound in Abbottabad as it unfolded.
The NBC interview with anchor Brian Williams, to be broadcast on the network tomorrow, includes reflections on the moment when a now famous photograph was taken of the team enthralled with monitors in the room at the moment that one of the Seal helicopters crashed with mechanical failure.
"There's silence at this point inside the room," the President tells Williams, who also speaks to Clinton, seen in the picture with her hand over her mouth. "What it conjures up is all of the emotions that were running through [me] and every other person in that small group," she says. "It was just an extraordinary experience."
Senator John McCain, the eventual Republican nominee four years ago and a war veteran, has also lashed Obama over his celebrating the killing of bin Laden now, accusing him of "doing a shameless end-zone dance to help himself get re-elected".
But the Obama campaign has shot back. "Osama bin Laden no longer walks on this planet today because of that brave decision and the brave actions by the men and women in our military," Gibbs asserted. "Mitt Romney said it was a foolish thing to do a few years ago."
- Independent, APBy David Usborne