Osama bin Laden: Joe Biden Not Worth Killing

Bin Laden reportedly didn’t think the vice president was worth targeting. But Michael Tomasky points out that killing Obama and Biden would have put Nancy Pelosi in charge—and helped inflame anti-American sentiment.

Some on the right are having fun with the revelation, via Pro Publica, that Osama bin Laden didn’t think Joe Biden was worth killing, according to diaries and documents found in Abbottabad. "He talks about targeting priorities," a counterterrorism official told the news organization. "He says the president is of course the top target if you could get a shot at him. Also the military chiefs like the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the Defense secretary, top military people. There is a note indicating that the vice president is not an important target because that position has less weight."

Well, ho ho ha ha. Such is sometimes life for any vice president. Even Dick Cheney had to endure a few such moments, surely. But I think OBL’s assessment actually betrays his (perhaps unsurprising) lack of knowledge of constitutional governance. Consider.

Pro Publica does not indicate when the above musing took place. But if it happened while bin Laden was living in Abbottabad, the odds are good that he jotted these notes down while Nancy Pelosi was the speaker of the House of Representatives, and thus third in line for the presidency. Bin Laden, given what we know of his religious views, was probably not a big believer in women’s lib. Now, if I hated America and were a misogynistic religious extremist and wanted Muslims across the world to come around to my way of seeing things, I think I’d want the United States to have a female president. Women do not enjoy status equal to men in the Muslim world, to put it mildly, so I would have thought that a Great Satan led by a member of the veiled sex—and a brassy one at that—would be that much more opprobrious in the eyes of Muslims. It thus would have been a lot easier to inflame Arab world opinion against an America led by Nancy Pelosi than against one led by Barack Hussein Obama, or even by Joe Biden.

It would have been a lot easier to inflame Arab world opinion against an America led by Nancy Pelosi than against one led by Barack Hussein Obama, or even by Joe Biden.

That’s the impact in the Arab world of a Pelosi presidency. In America, it might have been even greater. Bin Laden wanted to assassinate the secretary of Defense and the head of the Joint Chiefs. Diabolical, sure. Whoever they are at any given moment, they are important people. But let’s face it, they’re quickly replaceable. Whereas the psychic blow to Americans of losing both president and veep, which has never happened, and having as president a person who’s never gotten votes outside of one lousy congressional district, would be mind-bending for most Americans. And in the particular case of Pelosi would have ignited a cultural flame-war on the right.

We attribute genius, albeit evil genius, to people like bin Laden and Hitler. But Hitler was (fortunately) one of history’s most incompetent major military strategists. And bin Laden clearly wasn’t thinking things through here. You’d have thought he might have learned more about us back when he was our ally.

Newsweek/Daily Beast Special Correspondent Michael Tomasky is also editor of Democracy: A Journal of Ideas.