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Biden Was Against bin Laden Raid Before He Was for It

Despite others' accounts that Biden opposed the bin Laden raid, the vice president said he advised Obama in private to proceed. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)
Despite others' accounts that Biden opposed the bin Laden raid, the vice president said he advised Obama in private to proceed. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. offered an account Tuesday of his advice to President Barack Obama before the raid that killed Osama bin Laden that differed from his previous remarks.  

Biden’s recollection spilled over to the White House’s daily briefing, and offered a clear example of how his off-the-cuff style could stir up the 2016 race — and undercut his potential candidacy. “We walked out of the [situation] room and walked upstairs,” Biden said at a forum at George Washington University. “I told him my opinion: I thought he should go, but to follow his own instincts.”  

Biden’s Tuesday account did have a bit of nuance: He also said prior to that conversation, he told Obama he favored getting one more birds eye view of the Pakistan compound where U.S. officials believed the al-Qaida leader was holed up.  

“‘Joe, what would you do?’” he said others in the secure room asked in the days before the special forces raid. “And there was a third option that I didn’t really think we should do, and I said, ‘I think we should make one more pass with a UAV to see if it’s, if it is him,'” Biden said, using military shorthand for an unmanned drone aircraft.  

Biden told an audience packed into a GWU auditorium  that he “didn’t want to take a position to go if that was not where [Obama] was going to go.”  

That’s why he later allegedly advised Obama to greenlight the risky mission.  

The Tuesday comments do not completely align with ones he made in 2012 at a House Democratic retreat, as reported by The New York Times : “Every single person in that room hedged their bet except [then-Defense Secretary] Leon Panetta. Leon said go. Everyone else said, 49, 51.”  

“This account stands at odds with numerous
accounts of the meeting and the vice president’s position then and subsequently,” William A. Galston, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution wrote in a blog post . “It is likely that the vice president will be called upon to reconcile these apparently competing accounts.”  

Biden reportedly told House Democrats that he told his colleagues, “We owe the man a direct answer,” then said, “Mr. President, my suggestion is don’t go. We have to do two more things to see if he’s there.”  

The last part of that 2012 remark aligns with Biden’s comments on Tuesday morning. What’s new is his account of the follow-up conversation — in private — with Obama.  

On Monday, White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest sidestepped reporters’ questions about Biden’s revised account.  

Earnest would not comment on the vice president’s assertion that he advised Obama to launch the strike.  

“For an accurate accounting of what happened, you’re going to have to talk to the people who were in the room,” Earnest said.  

Other then-Cabinet members have said Biden advised Obama to hold off.  

In his 2014 memoir “Duty,” former Defense Secretary Robert Gates wrote this: “Joe Biden and I were the two primary skeptics.”  

Gates, who was critical of the vice president in his book, also wrote, “Biden’s primary concern was the political consequences of failure.”  

“Biden was against the operation,” Gates wrote in his characteristic bluntness about what he called the final meeting on April 28, 2011, to discuss the raid. Gates’ account essentially paints Biden as the lone individual in the Situation Room who argued against an offensive strike of some kind.  

Biden is mulling a bid for the 2016 Democratic presidential nomination. Should he jump in, he would clash with Hillary Rodham Clinton, who was secretary of State at the time of the bin Laden mission. She frequently says she advised Obama to carry out the raid that ultimately killed bin Laden.  

Biden’s new version clearly would become an immediate campaign-trail issue should the vice president opt for a third presidential bid.

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