In advising against the raid that successfully nabbed OBL, Biden may have given me a perfect case study of vice presidential influence. Or maybe not…
It is true that Biden advised against the raid and that the President did not take his advice and gave the “go” order. Some pundits have used this as an opportunity to argue (remind?) that Biden is always wrong. It isn’t clear if this interpretation is fair.
Reportedly, except for then DCI Panetta (who was strongly for) all of the other advisors were “51-49” on whether or not to do it. There were huge risks and huge benefits. Biden sees himself as a devil’s advocate or in-house truth teller who doesn’t have to curry favor. So he called it as he saw it. Reportedly Biden said, “We owe the man a direct answer. Mr. President, my suggestion is, don’t go. We have to do two more things to see if he’s there.”
Those two things are not known – but the specificity of the advice suggests that Biden was trying to be useful. The fact that ultimately his advice was not taken, doesn’t mean he did not play a valuable role in the President’s decision-making process.
It is also worth noting, that the raid could easily have gone bad. If that had been the case, then Biden would have looked like a genius. But as a good vice president he would have had to keep quiet about it.
With Biden and Cheney the US has had two straight VPs who did not harbor presidential ambitions. Previous VPs did seek the presidency. While they were careful not to show any policy divisions between themselves and the president – they would also not have done what Biden just did. Biden admitted to being wrong and at odds with the President, but in a way that built up the President.
Just as Biden ran the opposition play in the Afghanistan strategy review – not necessarily to succeed but to ensure the pro-surge crowd didn’t run the table – Biden is making an interesting use of his role and his freedom from a political future.