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Romney's Bin Laden Comment In Context

Romney's 2007 gaffe was fodder but rivals, but also reflected a maximalist view on the War on Terror. "Not worth moving heaven and earth, spending billions of dollars just trying to catch one person."

Posted on April 28, 2012, at 9:54 a.m. ET

At the center of Democrats focus this week on national security is this line from Joe Biden: Obama killed Osama Bin Laden and "we can't say for certain what Governor Romney would have done," as Vice President Joe Biden put it.

Democrats point to a 2007 quote in which Romney said on the 9/11 mastermind, “It’s not worth moving heaven and earth, spending billions of dollars just trying to catch one person.”

The criticism leaves out the broader point Romney was making, that America’s focus should have been stopping the broader efforts of Islamic terrorists.

Presidential rivals pounced on Romney’s comments in 2008. John McCain said, “it takes a degree of naiveté to think he’s [Bin Laden] not an element in the struggle against radical Islam.”

The DNC also jumped on Romney. "It seems Mitt Romney and his Republican cohorts need to be reminded that Osama Bin Laden was the mastermind behind the September 11th attack on America," said their Communications Director Karen Finney.

The Romney campaign responded that the former Massachusetts Governor "believes it's important that we continue to hunt down and capture or kill bin Laden," but reiterated the campaign's message about the broader war on terror.

"If other candidates believe that only one person should be our sole focus, instead of recognizing the larger threat of regional and global terrorist networks built by Al Qaeda and others and destroying them, then I think it has much less to do with naiveté and instead is merely a disagreement," said then Romney spokesman Kevin Madden. "We would disagree with a candidate who thinks our military and [intelligence] efforts in the war on terror should only focus on one terrorist leader."

Romney’s statements echoed a similar philosophy with the Bush White House. Questioned by a reporter as to why he rarely mentioned the 9/11 mastermind, Bush said “the idea of focusing on one person is really indicates to me people don't understand the scope of the mission. Terror is bigger than one person. And he's just, he's a person who's now been marginalized.”

Romney’s comments were an ungainly reflection of what was, at the time, an unusually intense focus from the candidate on the broadest possible war on terror. Another mark of how the country has moved on: The absence from Romney's rhetoric today of warnings about "jihad" and the "caliphate" that were staples back then.