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Transition 2012

A guide to foreign policy and the 2012 U.S. presidential transition.

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Homeland Security Update: Bin Laden’s Death and the U.S. Race

by Newsteam Staff
April 30, 2012

President Barack Obama, Vice President Joe Biden and f the national security team in the Situation Room during the mission against Osama bin Laden, May 1, 2011 (White House/Pete Souza/Courtesy Reuters).


On the anniversary of the killing of Osama bin Laden, analysts examine how the controversial raid in Pakistan by U.S. forces is playing out on the campaign trail.

In his 2008 presidential bid, current GOP frontrunner Mitt Romney, criticized then-Democratic candidate Barack Obama’s pledge to take on al-Qaeda even in Pakistan. Though Romney now says (WashPost) he would have made the same call as Obama on the May 2011 raid that led to bin Laden’s death, the Obama campaign is using Romney’s former comments in a controversial new ad that has the GOP is crying foul.

Brookings’ Michael E. O’Hanlon told the Washington Post, that while Obama is smart to set himself up as accomplished on foreign policy, he shouldn’t go too far. “He deserves the right to crow about it a little, but he has to be careful, given how many other issues are out there, even on the counterterrorism front,” O’Hanlon said, especially if there is a terrorist attack or other foreign policy failures before the election.

In the Washington Post, columnist Jennifer Rubin writes that Romney’s advisers should be using the ad controversy as an opportunity to get more aggressive on national security. “Campaign operatives, especially those with no real experience or passion for foreign policy, no doubt counsel Romney to be cautious, selective, and unprovocative in foreign policy. That would be fine if foreign policy under Obama was going swimmingly. But it’s not and it’s a potential source of weakness for him so long as Romney holds back.”

Meanwhile, Peter Bergen writes in the New York Times that Obama has asserted himself as the “warrior in chief” and proved himself as “one of the most militarily aggressive American leaders in decades” with conflicts in six Muslim countries under his belt. The bin Laden raid, Bergen writes, “combined with Mr. Obama’s record of military accomplishment, will make it hard for Mitt Romney to convince voters that Mr. Obama is a typical, weak-on-national-security Democrat. And, if Mr. Romney tries to portray Mr. Obama this way, he will very likely trap himself into calling for a war with Iran, which many Americans oppose.”

For more on the candidates’ stances, check out CFR’s Issue Tracker on The Candidates and Homeland Security.

Suggested Other Reading:

Despite the deaths of bin Laden and other major al-Qaeda members, whoever wins the 2012 race must continue to pursue al-Qaeda and its affiliates in Pakistan, Yemen, and beyond as well as mend fences with Congress on counter-terrorism policy, write Benjamin Wittes and Daniel Byman at Brookings.

Foreign Policy’s Seth G. Jones disputes a year of pronouncements that “al-Qaeda is on the brink of defeat” after bin Laden’s death.

This CFR Backgrounder looks at the Taliban’s continued hold on power in Afghanistan. “Since 2010, Washington has expanded the endgame in Afghanistan to include a negotiated settlement with top Taliban leaders who break ties with al-Qaeda and accept the Afghan constitution.”

— Gayle S. Putrich, Contributing Editor

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