VP at the DNC: Joe Biden's Disturbing Riff On Killing Osama bin Laden

The vice president argued that putting bullets in his corpse was necessary to heal America's wounded heart. He knows not what he draws on.

I usually like Joe Biden's earnest, regular guy persona. The knock against him is that he's prone to putting his foot in his mouth. Almost every time he does so, I think it reflects poorly not so much on the vice president as the frivolous people who gleefully crow every time he phrases something poorly. They do so even when they know his intended meaning and that it is unobjectionable. It disgusts me when they do that. So I am often rooting for Biden amid his blunders.

But I didn't like his Thursday speech to the DNC. Oh, most of it was fine. He kept my attention, despite going on for almost 40 minutes, and his riff on a job meaning more than a paycheck was moving.

The section I didn't like was about Osama bin Laden. Biden sought to draw a contrast between President Obama and Mitt Romney on that issue by harkening back to a 2007 incident about whether it would be prudent to strike inside Pakistan to kill the terrorist leader, even without permission.

As a refresher, candidate Barack Obama said that he would order troops into Pakistan to get bin Laden, a position that Hillary Clinton immediately criticized. And Romney 2008 criticized Obama too. When I re-read the relevant quotes, it seems clear that Romney was objecting to Obama preemptively and needlessly announcing that he would violate the sovereignty of a nuclear-armed ally, even though he agreed that it might be necessary. Clinton and Romney were both right to criticize Obama at the time; and Romney is likely being misrepresented on this issue.

But that isn't actually what bothered me about Biden's riff on bin Laden. Let's see if you can guess what bothered me. Here's the relevant passage:

BIDEN: Look, Barack understood that the search for Bin Laden was about a lot more than taking a monstrous leader off the battlefield. It was about more than that. It was about righting an unspeakable wrong.  Literally, it was about healing an unbearable wound -- a nearly unbearable wound in America's heart.  And he also knew -- he also knew the message we had to send around the world. If you attack innocent Americans, we will follow you to the end of the earth!
Look, most of all, President Obama had an unyielding faith in the capacity and the capability of our special forces. Literally, the finest warriors in the history of the world.The finest warriors in the history of the world.  So we sat -- we sat originally only five of us.  We sat in the situation room beginning in the fall of the year before. We listened, we talked, we heard, and he listened, to the risk and reservations about the raid. He asked again the tough questions, he listened to the doubts that were expressed. 

But when Admiral Mcraven looked him in the eye and said, ``sir, we can get this job done''.  I sit next to him and I looked at your husband. And I knew, at that moment, he had made his decision. And his response was decisive. He said, "do it" and justice was done. Folks -- folks, Governor Romney didn't see things that way. When he was asked about Bin Laden in 2007 here's what he said, he said, "it is not worth moving heaven and Earth and spending billions of dollars just to catch one person."

(AUDIENCE):  Booo.
BIDEN: But he was wrong. He was wrong. Because if you understood that America's heart had to be healed, you would have done exactly what the president did and you would move heaven and Earth to hunt him down and to bring him to justice.

So here we have two arguments for why it was worth spending billions and "moving heaven and earth" to kill one man. Argument number one is that America must send a signal that if someone murders thousands of our citizens, we will not stop until he is brought to justice: a reasonable argument, and one that Americans routinely apply in our criminal-justice system. A serial killer is hunted by law enforcement until he is arrested. There isn't a cost-benefit calculation about whether it's worth catching that particular guy. Our commitment to justice itself is implicated.

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Conor Friedersdorf is a staff writer at The Atlantic, where he focuses on politics and national affairs. He lives in Venice, California, and is the founding editor of The Best of Journalism, a newsletter devoted to exceptional nonfiction.

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