By Michael A. Memoli and Christi Parsons, Tribune Washington Bureau –
WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama Monday called the anniversary of Osama bin Laden’s killing a time for “reflection” and denied that there’s been “any excessive celebration” on the part of the White House.
At the same time, Obama drew a contrast with Mitt Romney, amplifying his campaign’s efforts to draw attention to the presumptive GOP nominee’s past statements on how best to prosecute the war on terrorism.
Obama did not mention Romney nor quote him directly, but told reporters: “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.”
“I assume that people meant what they said when they said it. That’s been at least my practice,” Obama said from the East Room of the White House, during a joint news conference with Japan’s prime minister. “I said that I’d go after bin Laden if we had a clear shot at him, and I did. If there are others who have said one thing and now suggest they’d do something else, then I’d go ahead and let them explain it.”
Before the president spoke, Romney rejected Democratic efforts to question whether he would have given the directive to kill bin Laden, saying “of course” he would have done so. “Even Jimmy Carter would have given that order.”
Vice President Joe Biden began the effort to use the high-risk raid to contrast Obama and Romney on national security. He said the campaign’s slogan should be, “Bin Laden is dead and General Motors is alive.”
“You have to ask yourself, if Gov. Romney had been president, could he have used the same slogan in reverse?” Biden asked, adding that it “was a legitimate thing to speculate on.”
The Obama campaign also released a video on Friday that praised Obama’s decision to send a Navy SEAL team into Pakistan at night to kill bin Laden, and quotes Romney as saying in 2007, “It’s not worth moving heaven and earth, spending billions of dollars just trying to catch one person.”
At the same time, the White House granted NBC News an interview with the president and senior members of his national security team. The Obama interview was held in part in the White House Situation Room.
Republicans have sharply criticized Obama for, in their view, politicizing the anniversary.
“Shame on Barack Obama for diminishing the memory of Sept. 11 and the killing of Osama bin Laden by turning it into a cheap political attack ad,” Sen. John McCain said in a statement issued by the Republican National Committee. “This is the same president who said, after bin Laden was dead, that we shouldn’t ‘spike the ball’ after the touchdown. And now Barack Obama is not only trying to score political points by invoking Osama bin Laden, he is doing a shameless end-zone dance to help himself get re-elected.”
Obama rejected that charge.
“I hardly think that you’ve seen any excessive celebration here. I think that the American people rightly remember what we as a country accomplished in bringing to justice someone who killed over 3,000 of our citizens. It’s a mark of the excellence of our intelligence teams and our military teams, a political process that worked,” he said. “And I think for us to use that time for some reflection, to give thanks to those who participated, is entirely appropriate and that’s what’s been taking place.”