In a candid admission that is both revealing of the inner circle of the White House — and designed to make the president look good — Joe Biden says that he, along with most of Barack Obama's senior advisers, told the president not to undertake the mission to kill Osama bin Laden. In a speech delivered to leading Democrats over the weekend, Biden says that when asked directly whether they thought the raid was a good idea, most of those in the room "hedged their bets," unwilling to commit to the raid without absolute proof that bin Laden would be at the Abottabad compound that was the target of the raid. Biden says that when it came to his turn, he directly said not to go.
Biden added that the lone dissenter was Leon Panetta, who just days earlier had been promoted from CIA director to Secretary of Defense. Biden says Panetta was the only one who didn't hesitate to support the raid. Biden's admission came just before Panetta's own discussion of the raid, in an interview on 60 Minutes last Sunday.
Although Biden appeared quite grave while telling the story, it's clear what listeners are meant to take away from his message: the president is a bold leader who makes his own, tough decisions. Even when those decisions put his entire legacy on the line. It's not even a subtle lesson; Biden finished the story by saying, "This guy doesn't lead from behind. He leads." You might as well put that (and an x-ed out picture of bid Laden) on the campaign buttons.
But it's also instructive for the light it sheds on all big presidential decisions — the underlying knowledge that any choice you make could define how you will be remembered. Biden says that what makes the Obama's decision so important, is that he made it knowing that when "books are written" about his presidency and the raid, he wouldn't be able to lay the blame on any of his advisers. It's not just about facing the people in the room when you've made a blunder. It's about facing history. That's something no president ever escapes.
“He knew what was at stake, not just the lives of those brave warriors, but literally the presidency."
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.