Date: May 02 2012
AFTER months of Republican mocking of his security credentials, US President Barack Obama is wheeling out one of this country's most powerful rallying points - the killing of Osama bin Laden.
Since Sunday the White House has been choreographing a multi-pronged campaign to mark today's first anniversary of bin Laden's death in an airborne raid near the Pakistani garrison town of Abbottabad.
On Sunday, senior administration officials were on the morning talk shows, congratulating Mr Obama for his courageous decision to authorise the mission.
At the same time, his campaign released a new advertisement to suggest that Mr Obama's likely rival in November might not have been so steely. It relies on an equivocal line on the wisdom of pursuing bin Laden, which Mitt Romney uttered in 2007.
There was no pretence of the reserve that might be expected of a commander-in-chief when Mr Obama used a Monday press conference with Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda to imply that Mr Romney did not have the ticker for the job - and to brag: ''I said I'd go after bin Laden if we had a clear shot at him - and I did.''
In what had the appearance of a parallel election effort, White House counter-terrorism chief John Brennan used a speech to a Washington think tank to justify the President's orders for drone attacks that are estimated to have killed more than 2000 people since he took office in 2009.
The Brennan speech was billed as a public articulation of the legal basis for drone attacks, particularly when the target is a US citizen. But Mr Brennan did not release any of the expert opinions that underpin the administration's claim to be operating legally.
There was also a hint of electioneering when he revealed that Mr Obama had ordered senior officials to be more open about a process used far more widely by this administration than its predecessor - but always under a cloak of secrecy.
''Legal, ethical and wise,'' Mr Brennan said of drone strikes, mostly in Pakistan and Yemen, before he argued that they were ''carefully, deliberately and responsibly'' considered against ''rigorous standards and processes of review''.
''We only authorise a particular operation against a specific individual if we have a high degree of confidence that the individual being targeted is indeed the terrorist we are pursuing … and if we have a high degree of confidence that innocent civilians will not be injured or killed, except in the rarest of circumstances,'' he said.
Medea Benjamin, a co-founder of the anti-war group Code Pink, managed to interrupt the Brennan speech, arguing against the use of drones for more than a minute - before declaring, as security staff hauled her from the hall, that she spoke on behalf of the US constitution.
Mr Brennan sidestepped an audience question about so-called signature strikes, which the US has used in Pakistan against facilities and suspected militants without knowing the target's name. The White House last month approved the use of signature strikes in Yemen.
Coinciding with the bin Laden anniversary and an election campaign now under way, Mr Brennan's speech served to remind Americans that their President has ordered these killings - without dwelling on a think tank estimate that 11 per cent to 17 per cent of the victims were civilians.
Vice-President Joe Biden also weighed in on the enormity of the political risk that Mr Obama took in going after bin Laden.
''Does anybody doubt that had the mission failed, it would have written the beginning of the end of the President's first term?'' he said. ''On this gut issue, we know what President Obama did. We can't say for certain what Governor Romney would have done.''
Mr Romney responded to the White House taunts with a belittling jab of his own: ''Even Jimmy Carter would have given that order.''
That was a reference to Mr Carter's failed effort to rescue US hostages in Iran. By any security or political yardstick, Mr Obama's handling of the killing of bin Laden was a stunning success, but he is regularly criticised by Republican figures for his handling of Iran and its nuclear program.
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