Republicans are aghast that President Obama is stepping on them as he takes his well-earned victory lap on the one year anniversary of the daring raid he ordered that killed 9/11 villain Osama bin Laden. But 2012 marks an important anniversary for another milestone event in American foreign policy whose exploitation for partisan gain was measured not in cheap political points but in brave American lives.
There are far worse things than politicizing a foreign policy event after the fact to gain a political advantage against an adversary, as President Obama is now doing with the raid on bin Laden. Worse still is the real damage Republicans did a decade ago when they politicized American foreign policy before the fact and, in 2002, turned the impending invasion of Iraq into a cynical wedge issue to paint Democrats as weak and untrustworthy on national defense during the congressional mid-term elections that year.
War was an issue Republicans could take to the country and win on, Karl Rove giddily boasted to Republican candidates in the run-up to the 2002 elections.
The most egregious example was the unpatriotic and unforgivable attacks against decorated Vietnam veteran (and triple-amputee) Senator Max Cleland of Georgia, whose memoir, Heart of a Patriot: How I found the Courage to Survive Vietnam, Walter Reed and Karl Rove, re-lived a 2002 campaign in which Republican Saxby Chambliss suggested Cleland was in league with terrorists.
"Karl Rove managed to take away our service," writes Cleland of Republican attacks against his, and Senator John Kerry's, war records. "Can you ever really let something like that go? You have to have a sense of God in charge."
Senator Cleland's lingering bitterness is one of the reasons why no president on the eve of taking his nation to war had ever done what Karl Rove and George Bush irresponsibly did in 2002, which was to deliberately divide the nation along partisan lines in order to gain a few extra congressional seats for their party.
Wars are not simple. They are never the "cakewalks" predicted by the neo-conservative ideologues who got us into the Iraq mess in the first place, nor are America's victorious troops always greeted as the liberators Iraq war's architects also promised.
In fact, wartime presidents count on support from their political opponents whenever Americans are put in Harm's Way, for those times when the tide of war turns against them, as it always does.
Yet, because George W. Bush turned his Democratic opponents into embittered political enemies, he was unable to admit a mistake once the surprise Iraqi insurgency intensified. Nor was he able to turn to Democrats for help in extricating the country from what war correspondent Tom Ricks called Bush's "fiasco."
And so, brave American troops had to pay with their lives for the poisoned fruit of that bitter 2002 campaign as Bush, for political reasons of his own making, "stayed the course" in a losing war strategy far longer than he should have.
Today, Republicans are up in arms that President Obama is rubbing their noses in the fact that he got Osama bin Laden while they - to quote George Bush -- really didn't "spend that much time on him, to be honest with you."
As Think Progress reminds us, Republicans were assailing President Obama both before and after he successfully ordered SEAL Team Six to attack bin Laden in his Abbottabad, Pakistan hideout a year ago, May 2, 2011.
Before President Obama had even taken office, Fox News host Sean Hannity was sniping at then President-elect Obama for allegedly "putting our national security at risk" by "flip-flopping" on his pledge to go after bin Laden. Hannity called Obama's purported "change of heart" on killing or capturing the al Qaeda leader "jaw-dropping."
After the raid on bin Laden's compound was a success and the body of the terrorist leader lay lifeless somewhere on the bottom of the ocean, conservatives couldn't wait to offer their congratulations - to George W. Bush!
"There was no way this would have happened but for the policies of George W. Bush," said a gloating Hannity. In fact, said the reliable right wing hack, the attack on bin Laden "wouldn't have happened if Obama had his way."
Karl Rove insisted it was the "important policy decisions made under Bush" that made the attack against bin Laden by US Special Forces possible in the first place.
A story on the attack by Washington Times reporter Brett Decker was headlined: "Bin Laden's Death Is More Mr. Bush's Victory Than Mr. Obama's."
Fox Business host Eric Bolling tweeted: "Thank GWB for This Not BHO!"
One year later, Republicans are again crying "foul." But this time it's because President Obama is reminding the nation who really bagged al Qaeda's "Ace of Spades" -- and doing so in ways that suggest maybe it's Governor Romney who isn't up to the job of protecting America in a dangerous world.
As Michelle Cottle reports in the Daily Beast, Romney's advisers have attacked Obama's foreign policy for its "naivete and fecklessness" while at the same time pronouncing themselves "saddened" by the president's "unbecoming" conduct against their man.
GOP operative Ed Gillespie ludicrously claims the Democrats' bin Laden spot makes Obama "one of the most divisive presidents in American history."
John McCain has once again "slipped on his serious statesman's jacket," says Cottle, so that he can scold the President for administering to the GOP a little of its own medicine: "Shame on Barack Obama for diminishing the memory of September 11th and the killing of Osama bin Laden by turning it into a cheap political attack ad."
But the real story here, as Cottle's Daily Beast colleague Michael Tomasky correctly puts it, "is the fact that Democrats don't appear to be afraid of the Republicans anymore." And that, to Republicans, "is what's truly unacceptable."
For Republicans, said Tomasky, "9/11 politics are supposed to be permanently frozen in mid-2002, with Democrats shivering like Proust under the bedcovers as all the manly Republican men (Five-deferments Cheney and the rest) explained to America that Saddam Hussein was an immediate threat and that anyone who didn't agree with this assertion hated freedom."
E.J. Dionne of the Washington Post agrees: "For the first time since the early 1960s, the Republican Party enters a presidential campaign at a decided disadvantage on foreign policy. Republicans find it hard to get accustomed to the fact that when they pull their favorite political levers -- accusations that Democrats are "weak" or Romney's persistent and false claims that Obama "apologizes" for America -- nothing happens."
Polls show that 53% of Americans trust Obama over Romney to handle international affairs, says Dionne, while only 36% trust Romney more. The turnaround is due to the fact that Republicans have lost their edge as America's "Daddy Party" on foreign policy thanks to their drunken, ideological binge on misadventures like the invasion and occupation of Iraq.
GOP strategist Mark McKinnon gets it even if his fellow Republicans don't.
Remarking on the killing of bin Laden, McKinnon says: "So, President Obama is launching his reelection campaign and happens to mention one of the greatest foreign-policy achievements of our time. And Republicans go bananas. It's history folks. It happened. It would have been absurd not to mention it, just as it would have been absurd for the Bush campaign not to mention 9/11 in our 2004 election launch."
All of this has liberals and Democrats gleefully ransacking the rucksack of recent history so as to remind everyone of all those times Republicans exploited "support for the troops" for their own political advantage.
There was, as Cottle says, the not-so-subtle suggestion that a vote for John Kerry was a vote to let al Qaeda " invade your homes and eat your children."
Then there was Joe Biden's on-point comment that everything out of Rudy Giuliani's mouth consisted of "a noun, a verb, and 9/11."
But worst of all was George W. Bush's absurdly reckless tail-hook landing on the USS Abraham Lincoln so that he could strut on the carrier's deck in his flight suit like some tin-pot Latin American dictator -- the first sitting US president since George Washington to appear in military uniform -- while he proclaimed (wrongly) "Mission Accomplished."
And these were just the examples Cottle was able to recite off the top of her head.
Republican complaints against Barack Obama for his well-deserved crowing over the successful raid killing bin Laden one year ago amounts to nothing more than partisan whining. What Bush and Rove did a decade ago in 2002, however, is what "dividing" a nation and "politicizing" its foreign affairs really looks like.