Democratic presidential frontrunner Joe Biden fully endorsed a president's unilateral authority to conduct strikes on terrorists without any public notification in a 2007 interview, a position he has disavowed in the wake of President Donald Trump's killing of Iranian terror leader Qassem Soleimani.
Biden told Charlie Rose on Aug. 9, 2007, that the United States would be justified in conducting a raid on Pakistani soil to kill 9/11 mastermind Osama bin Laden, adding that Pakistan would "forfeit their sovereignty" by harboring the terrorist. He said the president should act immediately if the military is able to strike.
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"Absolutely positively, but you don't announce it.… Do it, just do it," Biden said of a hypothetical raid.
Despite his past statements, the former vice president continues to condemn the drone attack that killed Iranian terror leader Qassem Soleimani in Baghdad last week. He called Trump's decision to carry out the strike "dangerously incompetent" and "haphazard." Biden criticized the president's lack of a "press conference or consultation with Congress" regarding the attack, an apparent contradiction of his 2007 position.
Soleimani was killed in Iraq despite travel restrictions imposed on the terrorist by the United Nations, and Iranian proxies have killed at least 603 Americans in Iraq since 2003. According to Biden, this cooperation means the Iraqis "forfeit their sovereignty."
"Look, I believe, and I've made this speech for the last five years, that when a country harbors terrorists that threaten the United States and either take no action or abet it, they forfeit their sovereignty. Hear me? Forfeit their sovereignty," Biden said.
"So therefore, if Pakistan is harboring Osama bin Laden, they have forfeited their sovereignty?" Rose asked.
"If they're cooperating with him and/or if they're not moving on actual intelligence themselves," Biden responded.
It is unclear whether Biden's aggressive stance would have included a notification of senior congressional leaders. His campaign did not respond to emailed questions on the interview, which can be viewed in full online.
When the hypothetical bin Laden raid became reality in 2011, Biden opposed it, telling then-president Barack Obama "my suggestion is, don't go." According to author Mark Bowden, Biden was concerned by the political implications of a failed mission.
"He believed that if the president decided to choose either the air or the ground option, and if the effort failed in any of the many ways it could, Obama would lose his chance for a second term," Bowden wrote in his 2012 book The Finish: The Killing of Osama Bin Laden.
Biden has confirmed that he had political concerns about the raid, telling supporters Obama "would have been a one-term president" if the bin Laden mission had failed. He has since claimed he did not advise against the raid. Congressional leadership was briefed by the White House before the bin Laden raid.
Unlike bin Laden, Soleimani was both a designated terrorist leader and an Iranian official. The Trump administration has said it had actionable intelligence that Soleimani was planning imminent attacks on Americans.