Seeking to undercut one of President Obama’s strongest reelection talking points that he ordered the mission that took out Osama bin Laden, Romney surrogate John Sununu said in an interview with the New York Times that Obama should have moved more aggressively than he did to kill bin Laden.
In an interview published Saturday, the former New Hampshire Governor said Obama was retroactively being given far more credit for ordering the attacks than is fair, and that the real credit should go to Secretary of State Hilary Clinton for convincing him to launch the strike, and to George W. Bush for pursuing bin Laden in the first place. Citing a tell-all book that claims Obama passed on three previous opportunities to order a strike, Sununu said that was a sign Obama had gone weak at the wrong time.
“The president is trying to take credit for following the strategy and the tactics put into place by George W. Bush,” he said. At some point the president is going to have to explain why he was timid on the first two or three opportunities that we had.”
“[He's] trying to take credit for having been decisive belies the fact that he wasn’t decisive until pressed by others.,” he added.
The Obama administration has called the claim that the president passed on three previous opportunities to kill bin Laden, “an utter fabrication.” Other reports on the raid’s timeline have also questioned the validity of that claim; the author of that book wrote that Obama passed on a strike in January 2011, though other reporting indicated that the plan to kill bin Laden was not sent to the president until March of that year.
When pressed about his claim later in the interview, however, Sununu conceded that he didn’t really know the internal deliberations that led up to the raid, saying, “I have no idea what happened in that White House.”
On the campaign trail prior to his 2008 election, Obama vowed to withdraw troops from Iraq and increase the nation’s focus on Afghanistan. In an October 2008 presidential debate with Sen. John McCain, Obama even vowed to unilaterally send troops into Pakistan if that country proved uncooperative—which, in 2011, is exactly what he did.
“If we have Osama bin Laden in our sights, and the Pakistani government is unable or unwilling to take them out, then I think that we have to act, and we will take them out,” Obama said in that debate. “We will kill bin Laden. We will crush al-Qaida. That has to be our biggest national security priority.”
Jon Terbush is a Boston-based writer whose work has appeared in Talking Points Memo, Business Insider, the New Haven Register, and elsewhere. He tweets about politics, cats, and baseball via @jonterbush.
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