By David Espo, AP
WASHINGTON — As slogans go, U.S. President Barack Obama’s promise of the “light of a new day” in Afghanistan is not nearly as catchy as the “Mission Accomplished” banner on the USS Abraham Lincoln the day then-President George W. Bush announced the end of major combat operations in Iraq in 2003.
One was jubilant, conveying triumph, prematurely so, as more than 4,000 U.S. combat deaths over the next several years demonstrated. The other, more restrained, optimistically cites progress toward an ultimate victory over the terrorists who attacked the United States more than a decade ago.
Yet the take-away messages fit the political circumstances of the president in office at the time. Then it was Bush prosecuting an Iraq war that was intensely controversial from the outset.
Now it is Obama seeking re-election in a campaign against Mitt Romney that is anything but certain, polishing his credentials as commander in chief.
The polls all say the economy will be the overarching issue this fall, but Obama can hardly be blamed for wanting the singular triumph of his term — “Osama bin Laden’s death at the hands of U.S. special operations forces — to gain plenty of attention.
After all, the death of the terrorist leader got equal billing with the slowly recovering economy in Vice President Joe Biden’s own suggested campaign slogan: “Osama bin Laden is dead and General Motors is alive.”
As a political strategy after three years in office, blaming Bush for the war in Afghanistan probably is not any better than trying to saddle him with responsibility for the economy.
Still, Obama chose to reprise his 2008 campaign criticism of Bush’s war policy in his brief 10-minute address on Tuesday night from Bagram Air Field in Afghanistan.
“Despite initial success, for a number of reasons, this war has taken longer than most anticipated,” he said, beginning his account neutrally before pivoting.
“In 2002, (Osama) bin Laden and his lieutenants escaped across the border and established safe haven in Pakistan,” this president said, referring to the battle at Tora Bora. “America spent nearly eight years fighting a different war in Iraq.”
But over the past three years, he said, referring to his own time in office: “The tide has turned. We broke the Taliban’s momentum. We’ve built a strong Afghan security force. We devastated al-Qaida’s leadership, taking out 20 of their top 30 leaders. And one year ago, from a base here in Afghanistan, our troops launched the operation that killed Osama bin Laden.”
Romney decided he wanted no part of it.