There's plenty to criticize in this week's back and forth between President Obama and Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney over the anniversary of Osama bin Laden's killing. Obama stretched credibility in suggesting that Romney would not have pursued Bin Laden; Romney laughably minimized the significance of Obama's success in authorizing the operation that ended the terrorist's life.
But one claim stands out for its impropriety. Commenting on Obama's decision to green light the raid on Bin Laden's compound, Romney said that "even Jimmy Carter" would have made that call. Start with the gratuitous swipe at Carter, who's been a favorite Romney punching bag this week. Say what you will about Carter's presidency, his conduct of foreign affairs was a highlight. Moreover, one might recall that Carter in fact did authorize a daring raid to rescue the American hostages in Iran. Like Obama in Pakistan, Carter did so despite the misgivings of some of his top advisors; unlike Obama's raid, Carter's ended in tragedy, with servicemen killed in the desert and hostages unrescued.
More offensive, however, is the suggestion that Obama's foreign policy has been characterized by a return to Democratic timidity in the use of American force abroad, as exemplified in the Republican mind by Carter. That's not only unfair to Carter, it's plainly false about Obama, who has increased U.S. forces in Afghanistan, sharply stepped up drone attacks in Afghanistan and Pakistan, authorized the killing of Al Qaeda leaders, supported the overthrow of Moammar Kadafi in Libya and approved covert actions in Somalia and Yemen. National security analyst Peter Bergen described Obama in the New York Times as "one of the most militarily aggressive presidents in decades." Indeed, his aggressiveness has caused some Obama supporters to worry about an excessive reliance on force, even if it's failed to impress Romney.
It's a long campaign, and both sides will lob plenty of false charges. One that should be dismissed at the outset is that Obama has been reluctant to use force.