A year after US special forces shot dead the world's most wanted terrorist, bin Laden's death has sparked a furious political row. A risky tactic by President Obama - now could it backfire?
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President Obama says it was the longest 40 minutes of his life: the moment he made the decision to send special forces into Pakistan to take out Osama bin Laden. A year after the al-Qaeda leader was shot dead, Obama has given journalists unprecedented access inside the situation room of the White House, telling NBC News of the silence that fell inside the room, as the dramatic events unfolded.
Mr Obama insisted it was not an occasion to celebrate, but he has come under fire from his Republicans rivals for using the raid as a key part of his re-election campaign, starting with a video entitled 'One Chance', released on Friday, which commended his ability to take tough decisions as commander-in-chief.
The theme was pressed home in another video, showcasing the Obama campaign's new slogan, 'Forward': the death of bin Laden, it claimed, was "the victory no-one saw coming". Vice President Joe Biden, campaigning in New York, suggested it was "legitimate" to ask whether the terrorist leader would still be alive if the Republican presidential challenger Mitt Romney had been in charge.
A pathetic political act of self congratulation. John McCain
That one hurt: the outraged response was instant. Senator John McCain described the campaign ad as a "pathetic political act of self-congratulation", and in a statement hosted on the RNC website, accused Obama of doing "a shameless end-zone dance to help himself get re-elected." The former defence secretary Donald Rumsfeld took to Twitter to vent his spleen, while there was even unease on the left, with Ariana Huffington describing the whole strategy as "despicable".
On Monday things ramped up still further, as the President himself was asked about the issue at a press conference with the Japanese premier. He alluded to the fact that Mitt Romney had previously been on record as questioning the value of "moving heaven and earth" to catch al-Qaeda leaders. "I'd just recommend that everybody take a look at people's previous statements in terms of whether they thought it was appropriate to go into Pakistan and take out Bin Laden."
Cue Romney, on the stump in New Hampshire, who insisted that any American would have taken the same decision as Obama. "Of course, of course. Even Jimmy Carter would have given that order," he quipped. Of course there is no way of knowing what Romney would have decided, if he had been in that situation room. But it is hardly a novel tactic in politics, to use a president's definining moment of military success for some kind of electoral advantage.
There are countless examples from the 2004 campaign, for example, where the Bush campaign declared that Saddam Hussein would "not only be in Baghdad, he would be in Kuwait", if John Kerry had been in the White House. No matter. There is a backstory to take into consideration here, that of a growing, and incresingly vociferous military lobby against the current President.
I hardly think you've seen excessive celebrating here. President Obama
Anger among some of the more conservative Navy Seals, claims the Buzzfeed website, has been brewing for months, highlighted by an op-ed for the Wall Street Journal earlier this year, by former Seal Leif Babin. Under the banner headline "Obama exploits the Navy Seals", he criticised the administration's "lack of discretion", concluding: "It is infuriating to see political gain put above the safety and security of our brave warriors and our long term strategic goals."
A question of judgement
As with most definining political moments, however, this one is all down to a judgement call. President Obama's judgement, on that special forces raid, and the judgement of his campaign team, to use the anniversary of that moment now. On the face of it, it might appear disingenuous for the Republicans to insist that the bin Laden killing should be out of bounds, in the President's bid to win re-election.
"I hardly think you've seen excessive celebrating here", Obama said on Monday, and indeed, his team have already moved on to another target - Mitt Romney's Swiss bank accounts, and his extensive financial assets around the globe. Polls suggest that that all-important demographic, the 'Walmart Moms', care not one jot about terrorism and foreign policy, but the economy and making ends meet.
But still: cameras inside the stuation room, and a president whose experience and courage under fire was questioned from the moment he ran for office. Turning a military triumph into something to shout about seems understandable, under those circumstances.
Felicity Spector writes about US politics for Channel 4 News