Crowley: Playing politics with bin Laden

Bin Laden death enters U.S. politics
Bin Laden death enters U.S. politics

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Bin Laden death enters U.S. politics 02:46

Story highlights

  • In a campaign ad, President Clinton praises risky raid into Pakistan to kill Osama bin Laden
  • Obama ad questions whether Mitt Romney would have pursued bin Laden
  • Obama camp in 2008 criticized Hillary Clinton for using bin Laden "to score political points"
  • Romney adviser calls new ad "a divisive, partisan political attack"

It was probably only a matter of time -- about 365 days, in fact -- before the death of Osama bin Laden got into the political groundwater of 2012.

In a campaign ad for President Barack Obama, former President Bill Clinton praises Obama for approving the risky raid into Pakistan and suggests Mitt Romney wouldn't have.

"He took the harder and more honorable path, and the one that produced, in my opinion, the best result," Clinton says.

Which path, the silent screen asks, would Romney have taken? It quotes his criticism of candidate Obama's promise to strike inside Pakistan if needed to go after terrorists. It quotes Romney in 2007 questioning whether the pursuit of bin Laden was worth moving heaven and earth.

The day bin Laden died

Where to begin in what can best be described as situational politics?

A year after Osama bin Laden's death
A year after Osama bin Laden's death

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    A year after Osama bin Laden's death

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A year after Osama bin Laden's death 02:14
Are we safer after bin Laden's death?
Are we safer after bin Laden's death?

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    Are we safer after bin Laden's death?

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Are we safer after bin Laden's death? 03:44
Time editor on new bin Laden raid detail
Time editor on new bin Laden raid detail

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    Time editor on new bin Laden raid detail

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Time editor on new bin Laden raid detail 02:43
Author on politics of Bin Laden's death
Author on politics of Bin Laden's death

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    Author on politics of Bin Laden's death

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Author on politics of Bin Laden's death 02:30

Seems like only four years ago the Obama campaign was outraged by an ad from the former president's wife, then-candidate Hillary Clinton, now the secretary of state.

She used a picture of bin Laden to question Obama's credentials.

The Obama campaign accused her of acting like President George W. Bush, trying to "invoke bin Laden to score political points."

Four years later, the Obama campaign has different rules.

"Look, there's a difference in the roles they would play as commander in chief, and I certainly think that's fair game," said Robert Gibbs, Obama campaign adviser and former White House spokesman, on NBC's "Meet the Press."

GOP says Obama playing politics with bin Laden

Playing the part of the aggrieved this time, the Romney campaign accused the president of turning a unifying event on its head.

"He's managed to turn it into a divisive, partisan political attack," said Ed Gillespie, a Romney adviser and former Republican National Committee chief. "I think most Americans will see it as the sign of a desperate campaign."

That's mild compared to the reaction from Obama's 2008 Republican rival, Sen. John McCain, who ran on his tough foreign policy credentials.

McCain called the spot "a cheap political attack ad" and "a pathetic political act of self-congratulation."

On Sunday, the White House offered up the president's counterterrorism adviser for a relatively rare round of morning political talk.

Clinton: Bin Laden raid 'intense'
Clinton: Bin Laden raid 'intense'

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    Clinton: Bin Laden raid 'intense'

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Clinton: Bin Laden raid 'intense' 03:55
How bin Laden hid in Pakistan
How bin Laden hid in Pakistan

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    How bin Laden hid in Pakistan

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What life is like for bin Laden's widows
What life is like for bin Laden's widows

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John Brennan arrived with high praise for his boss' steely nerves and nothing on the ad.

"First of all. I don't do politics. I'm not a Democrat. I'm not a Republican," Brennan told me.

Timeline: Osama bin Laden operation

It wasn't like this the night bin Laden was killed: not in public, where there was a bipartisan mood of justice being done; nor in the White House, where the president said there would be no spiking the football and where his immediate calls went to two people he thought most wanted to hear the news -- first to Bush, then to Clinton, who had both tried to kill bin Laden.

Obama is marking the anniversary by allowing NBC's Brian Williams a rare visit to the White House Situation Room to talk about the night of the raid for an interview to air Wednesday.

And Romney on Tuesday will mark the anniversary with former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, known as "America's mayor" in the day's following bin Laden's 9/11 attacks.

Three hundred sixty-five days later, things are different.

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