Almost one year later: Osama Bin Laden dead but not off the political scene

The Obama administration faces a delicate balancing act in marking the one-year anniversary of Osama bin Laden’s killing.

The administration, which has been touting its role the death of the former al Qaeda head, will have to tread the fine line between gloating over ordering the operation that killed the most wanted man in the world and giving itself due credit for ending the reign of a terrorist who took nearly 3,000 American lives.

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The one-year anniversary, coming at the end of this month, is the first taste of an issue that is likely to gain an increasing amount of attention on the national stage as the 2012 presidential race heats up. Obama and Republicans will both face the predicament of how to address a serious and somber, yet politically powerful subject.

A spokesman for the White House declined to say how the president was planning to recognize the one-year anniversary on May 1.

The Obama spokesman also declined to say whether the president’s mention of the killing of bin Laden in speeches would raise national security concerns by potentially inciting terrorist groups.

Obama was quick to put a photograph of bin Laden's body under wraps last year for this very reason. After a U.S. special forces mission killed the al Qaeda leader in Pakistan, Obama addressed his decision to not release the picture publicly in an interview with CBS, saying, “We don't need to spike the football.”

But in an attempt to bolster the White House’s foreign policy and national security record Obama has readily reminded voters and campaign donors about his role in ordering the risky attack that ultimately dealt the fatal blow to bin Laden, who evaded capture for nearly 10 years.

“Change is keeping the promise — one of the promises I made in 2008,” said Obama at a campaign event in a Washington D.C. hotel Thursday night to a roomful of applause.

“We ended the war in Iraq and we refocused our attention on those who actually attacked us on 9/11. And Al Qaeda is on its last legs, weaker than it's ever been. And Osama bin Laden is no longer around. And we are transitioning out of Afghanistan. And we've raised America's respect all around the world.”

Obama has made very similar comments in at least four New England campaign fundraisers last week, causing Republican strategists to ponder whether the president has crossed the line of appropriateness.

“There’s a limit to how much the Obama campaign can use it politically and we may be fairly close to reaching that limit,” said Matt Mackowiak, a GOP strategist and founder of the Potomac Strategy Group.

“If he’s planning on using that, it could potentially reach the danger zone in terms of shear opportunism. You don’t know where the line is until the line has been crossed.”

Mitt Romney, who holds the lead in the race for the Republican presidential nomination, and most of the GOP field have accused Obama of appeasing Iran and not fully supporting Israel.

In a December 2011 news conference, Obama retorted: "Ask Osama bin Laden and the 22 out of 30 top al Qaeda leaders who have been taken off the field whether I engage in appeasement or whoever is left out there." 

Romney's campaign did not respond to a request for comment on how he was planning to recognize the one-year anniversary of bin Laden’s killing or his thoughts on how the issue would impact the 2012 presidential election.

Republicans are going to have to acknowledge Obama’s role in signing off on the mission to kill bin Laden, said Mackowiak. The nighttime stealth mission invaded Pakistan’s air space without warning and acted on only partially solid intelligence that the al Qaeda leader was at the compound.

“Republicans have to give the president credit for calling that shot, for taking that risk, for the way he went about it,” he said. “There were two options and the one he took had greater risk and greater potential reward. Republicans will have a hard time criticizing him on that.”

Obama is not the only White House official who has trumpeted the killing of bin Laden, indicating that the administration recognizes it holds a trump card with the successful mission.

Earlier this year, Vice President Biden promoted Obama's auto industry bailout by telling a crowd at a Texas fundraiser that, “The best way to sum up the job the president has done — if you need a real shorthand: Osama bin Laden is dead and General Motors is alive.”

In the top Democratic circles the killing of bin Laden is seen as evidence of Obama’s successful foreign policy strategy.

“President Obama has done a remarkable job in terms of foreign policy, being our commander in chief, bringing Osama bin Laden to justice, making sure that we re-established the United States diplomatic influence around the world and also speaking softly and carrying a big stick,” said Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.), the chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee, in an interview on CNN last week.

But Mackowiak said the administration should be careful about how broadly it plays its hand.

“If I’m President Obama that’s the sort of thing I keep in my pocket and whip out at a debate when you’re being attacked,” said Mackowiak.

“It’s such a potent thing for them that they think it’ll be the trump card and it’ll never run out. But you can play your trump card too often, especially with a deeply emotional issue like this. A trump card like this has value and the more you use it, the less potent it will be.”