The president “went around the table with all the senior people, including the chiefs of staff,” Biden explained. “And he said, ‘I have to make this decision. What is your opinion?’ He started with the national security adviser and the secretary of state, and he ended with me. Every single person in that room hedged their bet except [Secretary of Defense] Leon Panetta. Leon said go. Everyone else said 49, 51, this got to be, ‘Joe, what do you think?’
“And I said, ‘You know, I didn’t know we had so many economists around the table.’ I 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.’”
Obama, Biden recalled, “walked out and said, ‘I’ll give you my decision.’ The next morning, he came down to the diplomatic entrance getting in the helicopter — I believe to go to Michigan, I’m not positive about that. He turned to [National Security Adviser] Tom Donilon and sad ‘Go.’”
The story was meant to illustrate that Obama is a strong leader willing to make tough decisions. “He knew what was at stake,” Biden concluded. “Not just the lives of those brave warriors, but literally the presidency, and he pulled the trigger.”
In recent weeks, the president’s re-election campaign has sought to portray Obama as an effective leader in strong support of the military. At his State of the Union address, the president opened up with lines praising the U.S. military for its bold decisions and effectiveness. In addition, the killing of bin Laden has been cited heavily as part of selling the president’s record. (RELATED: Full coverage of Joe Biden)
This is a marked departure from the president’s policy, as explained on “60 Minutes” following the announcement of the raid, when he said that releasing photographs of bin Laden’s corpse would “spike the football,” and that, “We don’t trot this stuff out as trophies.”
If well-executed, Obama’s pro-military campaign strategy could help his poor poll numbers with working-class white voters, a constituency where his numbers have plummeted since his election in 2008.
The pitch does not promise to be easy, though. During a 2010 appearance on “Larry King Live,” Biden’s declaration that the Iraq War “could be one of the great achievements of this administration” was met with pushback in op-eds whose writers pointed out that the president had been a vocal opponent of the war and the surge, and that the vice president himself had suggested dividing Iraq into three independent countries.
It also illustrates a messaging recalibration following the backlash against an Obama adviser’s observation — related to The New Yorker in April 2011 — that the administration is “leading from behind” in Libya.
“That’s not a slogan designed for signs at the 2012 Democratic Convention,” the New Yorker article continued, “but it does accurately describe the balance that Obama now seems to be finding. It’s a different definition of leadership than America is known for, and it comes from two unspoken beliefs: that the relative power of the U.S. is declining, as rivals like China rise, and that the U.S. is reviled in many parts of the world.”