Obama ad questions Romney's will to get Osama bin Laden. Fair?

The ad questions whether presumptive GOP nominee Mitt Romney would have ordered the raid that killed Osama bin Laden. It cites statements that Mr. Romney made in 2007.

Carolyn Kaster/AP
President Obama speaks at the University of Iowa in Iowa City, Iowa, Wednesday.

President Obama’s reelection campaign has released a new ad that questions whether presumptive GOP nominee Mitt Romney would have ordered the Special Forces raid that killed Osama bin Laden.

The ad, titled “One Chance,” opens with narrator Bill Clinton talking about the difficulties presidents face with national-security decisions. If the Navy SEAL raid in Pakistan had gone wrong, for Mr. Obama “the downside would have been horrible,” Mr. Clinton says.

But Obama “took the harder and more honorable path,” says Clinton.

Then the hard-hitting stuff starts. A screen fades in that says, “Which path would Mitt Romney have taken?”

This morphs into a quote from a 2007 Reuters article, “Mitt Romney criticized Barack Obama for vowing to strike al-Qaeda targets inside Pakistan if necessary,” followed by another 2007 Romney quote in which the former Massachusetts governor questions whether it’s worth “moving heaven and earth ... just trying to catch one person.”

The ad ends with the now well-known photo of Obama alone at a White House window, staring out, at the time of the raid. “That’s what you hire the president to do ... to make the calls when no one else can do it,” says narrator Clinton.

Hmm. Is this over the line? After all, during the current campaign Mr. Romney has given Obama credit for launching the raid, though he then usually pivots to criticize the president on lots of other stuff.

The Romney campaign itself has pushed back hard against the spot. In a statement, press secretary Andrea Saul said that the OBL killing “was a momentous day for all Americans," adding, "It’s now sad to see the Obama campaign seek to use an event that unified our country to once again divide us.”

In political terms, however, we’ll note that the ad is well timed and constructed. The anniversary of the SEAL raid is Tuesday, meaning the subject will get more media coverage than it has in some time. The spot was released a day after Vice President Joe Biden gave a wide-ranging address criticizing Romney on foreign-policy issues. Foreign policy is a relative strength for Obama, vis-à-vis Romney, according to polls. (Unlike Obama’s handling of the economy, which is not.)

As for the nuts and bolts, getting former President Clinton to do the voice-over gives the ad a subtext of been-there-know-what-I’m-talking-about. At least, that’s what the Obama campaign hopes. It begins with a shout-out to George W. Bush, too, as Clinton says that Mr. Bush was right: The president really is the "decider in chief."

Plus – and this is wonky, we admit – Clinton’s use of the word “hire” is clever, when he sums up the ad’s premise as, “That’s what you hire the president to do.” He’s trying to frame the election as a hiring choice: Do we need a new person in that job?

Are you scoffing? Trust us: They poll-test many of the individual words used in campaign communications.

Is it fair that Romney’s words from five years ago are being used against him today? This is politics as it’s practiced in the United States: Opposition research teams are busy digging up old stuff and reframing it to make the other guy look as bad as possible.

Perhaps the more relevant question is whether voters may judge this invocation of OBL as over the top. After all, it wasn’t the White House that caught him. It was the US national-security apparatus, working as a team over the span of two presidencies.

The video shows that the Obama team won’t be shy about invoking the Osama bin Laden raid as a counter to Romney’s assertion that Obama is weak, notes liberal Greg Sargent in his Plum Line blog in The Washington Post on Friday.

“The campaign will regularly cite it as evidence of his leadership qualities and decisiveness under pressure,” Mr. Sargent writes.

Of course, shortly after last year’s raid, Obama promised that he wouldn’t trot out the killing as a political trophy, counters Daniel Halper on the blog of the conservative Weekly Standard. The president told CBS News he didn’t need to “spike the football” of that success.

With the Obama campaign’s latest ad, it’s pretty safe to say that the president is now OK with " ‘trot[ting] out this stuff’ and ‘spik[ing] the football,’ as long as it helps him get reelected,” writes Mr. Halper.

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