Editorial: 'Speak softly and carry a big stick' still the best foreign policy
It's election season and so anything goes, but it would be appropriate if the standard-bearers for both major political parties put Osama bin Laden to rest, once and for all.
President Barack Obama has been using the occasion of the one year anniversary of bin Laden's death - May 2 - at the hands of U.S. Navy SEALS at his hideout in Pakistan as something of a campaign slogan, perhaps even planning to run on the theme that "Bin Laden is dead and General Motors is alive," according to no less an authority than his vice president. He's already done an interview on the subject from the White House Situation Room, while questioning the foreign policy resolve of his GOP opponent: "Which path would Mitt Romney have taken?"
Obama is hardly the first president to have gone all swagger on a foreign policy triumph, for those who remember George W. Bush and some of his comments and campaign commercials regarding 9-11 and ultimately the removal of Saddam Hussein from power in Iraq. It was recently revealed that Obama was the target of an assassination plot by bin Laden, who reportedly also had Gen. David Petraeus in his sights before the U.S. got to him first. There is much media interest in the anniversary, and no doubt the White House has been inundated with interview requests. As signature accomplishments go, well, "Obamacare" is iffy and could be declared unconstitutional this summer, and the economy is better but far, far from booming. You make your best case.
Nonetheless, from this vantage it is unseemly to exploit for personal gain or to celebrate the death of another, even an enemy who had that fate coming as much as bin Laden did. With soldiers in harm's way, certainly no commander in chief should go out of his way to inflame the other side.
A year ago Obama's response was pitch perfect in its restraint, with the president declining to release photographic proof of the al-Qaida leader's demise while saying, "There is no doubt that we killed Osama bin Laden. ... We don't need to spike the football." That's the posture he should have stuck with, the one that has the bearing of a leader. Bragging rights are best coated with at least a veneer of humility.
Meanwhile, Romney is going around not only defending himself against the administration's allegation that he lacks what it takes to pull the trigger, but trying to diminish bin Laden's removal as any kind of achievement accruing to the president.
"Even Jimmy Carter would have given that order," Romney said. That was meant as a put-down, of course, for those who recall the military raid ordered by then-President Carter in 1980 that ultimately failed in its mission to rescue the American hostages being held by the Iranians at the U.S. Embassy in Tehran. No doubt Romney also wishes to resuscitate memories of a Democratic incumbent who was defeated that same year by a Republican with the name of Ronald Reagan.
Perhaps Romney is just compensating for the vulnerability he owns on this issue, with the Obama campaign hammering him on his 2007 quote in reference to a then-still-roaming bin Laden that "it's not worth moving heaven and earth and spending billions of dollars just trying to catch one person." To be sure, SEAL Team 6 did the heavy lifting here.
Nonetheless, to suggest that this was no big deal, that any occupant of the Oval Office could have pulled it off in a nation that had been chasing bin Laden without success for more than a decade, is neither accurate nor particularly presidential of Romney, either.
The appropriate response for the presumptive GOP nominee would have been to say that the world is better off without Osama bin Laden in it, that Americans should have confidence that he, too, could make that pressure-packed decision, and leave it at that.
Obama has taken to mimicking the rhetoric of Theodore Roosevelt on more than one occasion this past year. "Speak softly and carry a big stick" was wise advice when TR gave voice to it more than a century ago, and remains so today. May no White House stray too far from the foreign policy described by it.
Peoria, Ill., Journal Star