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Wednesday
May042011

Bin Laden Death: Americans Divided Over Credit for Presidents

The White House/Pete Souza(WASHINGTON) -- A bipartisan mix of lawmakers and pundits has been heaping credit for the killing of Osama bin Laden on President Obama -- and his two predecessors, Presidents George W. Bush and Bill Clinton.

But to what extent did presidential leadership play a role in ultimately finding bin Laden, and who deserves the most credit for finally finding the world's most wanted man?

Public displays of unity aside, those questions remain the subject of a subtle, but hot, partisan debate.

Obama claimed credit for himself Sunday night, emphasizing the decision to make the bin Laden manhunt a key objective was his, shortly after he took office more than two years ago.  He didn't mention Bush, who wanted bin Laden "dead or alive," or Clinton, who declared him "public enemy number one."

"I directed Leon Panetta, the director of the CIA, to make the killing or capture of bin Laden the top priority of our war against al Qaeda," Obama said early in his speech, "even as we continued our broader efforts to disrupt, dismantle, and defeat his network."

Moreover, White House aides said Obama's decision to go forward with the dangerous secret operation, based on circumstantial evidence alone, was gutsy and bold.  The odds bin Laden would actually be there were only 60 to 80 percent, Panetta told Time magazine after the fact.

Leading Republicans have publicly praised Obama for his leadership in the moment, and strong majorities of Republican voters in recent polls say they believe the president deserves credit for the mission's success.

But there's a remarkable divide between parties over just how much credit President Bush deserves.  Eighty-one percent of Republicans say Bush deserves some recognition for the successful operation, according to a new Washington Post/Pew Research Center poll.  Only 35 percent of Democrats said they agree.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

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