Mitt Romney says he did not rule out going into Pakistan to take out Osama bin Laden back in 2007, clarifying a quote that President Obama recently alluded to in raising doubts about whether the presumptive Republican nominee would have killed the terror mastermind.
“We always reserve the right to go anywhere to get Osama bin Laden,” Romney told reporters at a joint appearance with Rudy Giuliani in New York Tuesday, the anniversary of the raid that killed bin Laden. “I said that very clearly in the response that I made, but that I thought — and many people believed as I did — that it was naive on the part of the president at that time, the candidate, to say he would go in to Pakistan. It was a, if you will, fragile and flammable time in Pakistan and I thought it was a mistake of him … to announce that he would do this.”
Romney indeed said something along those lines at the time, though he was clarifying even earlier comments on the issue.
In August 2007, Obama was under fire from then-candidates Hillary Clinton, John McCain and Joe Biden for stating plainly that he would act unilaterally to get bin Laden if he was found to be in Pakistan and the government there could not be trusted to help. Romney joined the fray himself, telling reporters, “I do not concur in the words of Barack Obama in a plan to enter an ally of ours. … I don’t think those kinds of comments help in this effort to draw more friends to our effort.” He added that troops “shouldn’t be sent all over the world” and that Obama’s remarks were “ill-timed” and “ill-considered.”
But Romney didn’t leave it at that: Under questioning in a Republican primary debate shortly afterward, he essentially endorsed Obama’s position while attacking him for saying it out loud:
ROMNEY: It’s wrong for a person running for the president of the United States to get on TV and say, “We’re going to go into your country unilaterally.” Of course, America always maintains our option to do whatever we think is in the best interests of America. But we don’t go out and say, “Ladies and gentlemen of Germany, if ever there was a problem in your country, we didn’t think you were doing the right thing, we reserve the right to come in and get them out.” We don’t say those things. We keep our options quiet. We do not go out and say to a nation which is working with us, where we have collaborated and they are our friend and we’re trying to support Musharraf and strengthen him and his nation, that instead that we intend to go in there and potentially bring out a unilateral attack.
Romney is right to object to suggestions he took killing bin Laden completely off the table. But since he had to explain himself at the time, the Obama camp has at least a little room of their own to needle him on it. Let the parsing begin.
Benjy Sarlin is a reporter for Talking Points Memo and co-writes the campaign blog, TPM2012. He previously reported for The Daily Beast/Newsweek as their Washington Correspondent and covered local politics for the New York Sun.