Commentary: Mission Accomplished? Almost.

Michael Steele and Barack Obama

Commentary: Mission Accomplished? Almost.

By politicizing the anniversary of Osama Bin Laden's death, President Obama missed an opportunity to be presidential.

Published May 4, 2012

There was no “Mission Accomplished” sign hanging behind the president like a Sword of Damocles as he laid out his plan to end the war in Afghanistan on the anniversary of the killing of Al Qaeda leader Osama Bin Laden. But President Obama did take the unusual step (and a highly politically charged one at that) of addressing the American people from a hangar at the Bagram Air Base — just outside the capital of Afghanistan.

Standing in front of two very big trucks, the president declared "The Iraq war is over. The number of our troops in harm's way has been cut in half, and more will be coming home soon. We have a clear path to fulfill our mission in Afghanistan, while delivering justice to Al Qaeda." To be sure, his words spoke of closure and a “new day” but one couldn't help but recall a very similar moment with President George Bush aboard the USS Abraham Lincoln on May 1, 2003.

The problem: the president's campaign soiled the moment by releasing a campaign video a few days before featuring narration by former President Bill Clinton praising Obama’s decision to order the killing of Osama Bin Laden. Fair enough. But that wasn't the problem. The video then goes on to question whether presumptive Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney would have made the same choice, quoting Romney saying in 2007, "It's not worth moving heaven and earth, spending billions of dollars just trying to catch one person.” And just so no one would miss the point, Vice President Joe Biden in a campaign speech echoed the same sentiment that Romney would have let Bin Laden live.

Worse still, during the visit of Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda the president personally stepped in it with the prime minister standing by his side, saying “I assume that people meant what they said when they said it. That’s been at least my practice. I said that I would go after Bin Laden if we had a clear shot at him and I did. If there are others who said one thing and now suggest they would do something else, I’d go ahead and let them explain.”

The only explanation is there is no explanation for the White House allowing the president to be so exposed and diminished by amateur politics. Consequently the president’s address on Tuesday, which should have been an appropriate and dignified moment for him, became yet one more political shout-fest about who is or is not politicizing the War on Terror and specifically, the execution of Bin Laden.

In Washington, it's always the little things that trip you up or causes controversy (trust me on this one) — especially when you allow them to become very big things. So you would think Team Obama would jealously guard what has been termed the president’s “signature foreign policy achievement” leading up to the Bin Laden anniversary and not allow a little thing like a  campaign video touting the president’s success to become a very big political problem. But they did; and it is — not that it will dominate headlines for weeks to come; or even determine the outcome of the fall elections, but rather because, as Romney senior advisor Ed Gillespie said, “[the president] took something that was a unifying event for all Americans, and [he managed] to turn it into a divisive, partisan political attack.”

You got the bad guy, Mr. President, and for that our nation is grateful. But a year after you’ve taken out Osama Bin Laden, your re-election campaign has made it about something else entirely and for that, we are not.


Michael Steele served as the first African-American chairman of the Republican National Committee. He is a former lieutenant governor of Maryland and a political commentator. He will be providing commentary on all things politics for each week.

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Written by Michael Steele


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