x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

Killing of bin Laden has become a political weapon in Obama's re-election campaign

US president is portraying his risky decision to go after America's top enemy as a defining difference with his Republican presidential opponent.

WASHINGTON // The killing of Osama bin Laden, first presented as a moment of American unity by Barack Obama, the US president, has become something else: a political weapon.

Mr Obama's re-election campaign is portraying his risky decision to go after America's top enemy as a defining difference with his Republican presidential opponent, suggesting Mitt Romney might not have had the guts to order a mission that put lives and perhaps a presidency at stake.

Mr Obama himself is opening the secretive White House Situation Room as an interview stage - to hail the one-year anniversary.

His broader goal, whether through campaign web videos or the trappings of the White House, is not to just to remind voters of an enormous victory on his watch. It is to maximise a political narrative that he has the courage to make tough calls that his opponent might not.

"Does anybody doubt that had the mission failed, it would have written the beginning of the end of the president's first term?" Vice President Joe Biden says in laying out Mr Obama's foreign policy campaign message. "We know what President Obama did. We can't say for certain what Governor Romney would have done."

The strategy underscores the fact that the president who ordered the raid as commander in chief is now seeking a second term. The risk is the political blowback that can come if he is seen as crossing a line into politicising national security.

"Sad," said a spokeswoman for Mr Romney. "Shameless," said Mr Obama's 2008 election foe John McCain.

Mr Biden even combined the killing of the Al Qaeda leader and Mr Obama's support for a failing auto industry into what could be a re-election bumper sticker message.

"It's pretty simple: Osama bin Laden is dead and General Motors is alive," the vice president said in a speech on Thursday.

Mr Obama's campaign followed on Friday with a new web video questioning whether Mr Romney would have taken the same path Mr Obama did. It features a quote from a 2007 Romney interview in which he said it was not worth "moving heaven and earth spending billions of dollars just trying to catch one person."

That prompted Mr McCain to issue a scathing statement in which he accused Mr Obama of playing politics with the bin Laden killing and "diminishing the memory of September 11th."

The president's initial words on the bin Laden mission - a raid for which he received wide praise, including from Mr Romney - were ones of sober thanks. Addressing the nation late that night of May 1, 2011, in Washington, Mr Obama said: "Tonight, let us think back to the sense of unity that prevailed on September 11."

So much for that, the Romney campaign said Friday.

"It's now sad to see the Obama campaign seek to use an event that unified our country to once again divide us, in order to distract voters' attention from the failures of his administration," said Andrea Saul, a spokeswoman for Mr Romney.

Mr Obama's campaign spokesman Ben LaBolt declined to comment, saying Mr Biden's speech and the new campaign video speak for themselves.

President George W Bush, when seeking re-election in 2004, faced criticism that he was politicising the memory of the September 11, 2001, attacks.

Steve Schmidt, a spokesman and strategist for that Bush campaign, said the bin Laden killing is fair game as a campaign message for Mr Obama.

"It was a courageous political decision to launch the raid where bin Laden was killed. The stakes were enormous," Mr Schmidt said. "Had it gone south, there would have been tremendous political ramifications for the president."

In perspective, he added, the issue won't be a determining factor in an election to be driven by the economy.