3 Tallest Biden Tales on Foreign Policy
The former vice president has made a habit of distorting his national security record and telling stories that just aren't true.
Former vice president Joe Biden has spun his foreign policy bona fides for the better part of two decades in order to make them fit with the political zeitgeist. Now, as he nears the Democratic nomination, it’s time for the media to take a closer look.
With that in mind, here are three of Biden’s most outrageous distortions of his national security record.
The Iraq War vote
Biden was chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee when he voted to give President George W. Bush the broad authority to go to war in Iraq. But he didn’t just vote for the war—he helped sell it to the American public, even though the majority at the time did not support taking immediate military action.
As Tara Golshan and Alex Ward explain:
Biden bought into the Bush administration’s argument. He elevated the administration’s concerns about Hussein in the press. And in the months leading up to the vote authorizing war, he organized a series of Senate hearings, in close coordination with the White House, during which he echoed the administration’s talking points about weapons of mass destruction.
Biden even praised Colin Powell’s notorious United Nations Security Council speech, saying, “I think Secretary Powell made a very powerful, and I think irrefutable, case today.”
“President Bush did not lash out precipitously at Iraq after 9/11,” Biden said in a 2002 floor speech. “He did not snub the U.N. or our allies. He did not dismiss new inspection regimes. He did not ignore Congress. At each pivotal moment, he has chosen a course of moderation and deliberation…in each case in my view he has made the right rational calm deliberate decision.”
On October 11, 2002, the Democratic Senate passed the resolution for authorization of use of military force in Iraq by a vote of 77 to 23, with Biden voting yes.
Just hours before the invasion, on March 19, 2003, Biden told CNN, “I support the president. I support the troops. We should make no distinction. …Let’s get this war done.”
“We voted to give [Bush] the authority to wage that war. We should step back and be supportive,” he said.
But when asked about his Iraq vote during the July 2019 Democratic debate, Biden stated: “From the moment ‘shock and awe’ [the invasion of Iraq] started, from that moment, I was opposed to the effort, and I was outspoken as much as anyone at all in the Congress.”
Biden repeated the claim that he was against the war “immediately, the moment [shock and awe] started” again during an interview on NPR on September 3, 2019.
Biden didn’t actually call the war a “mistake” until 2005—not because he thought his vote for it was wrong, but because in his estimation we should have sent more troops: “We went too soon. We went without sufficient force. And we went without a plan.” Of course by that time, American support for the invasion had also dropped off precipitously.
Now, in his 2020 bid for the presidency, Biden continues to offer “jumbled Iraq war revisionism.” “Yes, I did oppose the war before it began,” Biden said at a September 6 campaign event. During the Democrats’ September debate, he claimed he only voted for the war authorization “to allow inspectors to go in to determine whether or not anything was being done with chemical weapons or nuclear weapons.”
Biden frequently conflates his Iraq vote with the issue of inspections, as if it was necessary to approve the AUMF in order to guarantee those inspections. It was not, and the timeline bears that out. Almost a month before Biden’s pro-war vote, in September 2002, Iraq said it was willing to allow in inspectors without conditions. Those inspections began in November. There were several senators who, unlike Biden, voted against the Iraq war while also arguing for the return of United Nations weapons inspectors to Iraq.
The raid on Osama bin Laden
When President Barack Obama sought advice on whether to carry out the raid that ultimately found and killed terrorist leader Osama bin Laden in a compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan, Biden advised him not to strike because he felt the U.S. needed more information.
[When he] got to me, he said, “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’s then-White House press secretary Jay Carney said that Biden was “speaking accurately” at the retreat about what had taken place in 2011.
By 2015, Biden had changed his story about that fateful 2011 meeting, claiming that “it would have been a mistake” to offer an opinion in front of the group, and that instead of saying to go or not go, he privately advised Obama to “go.”
Biden has continued to proffer this revised account, as recently as January of this year, despite the fact that it is contradicted by senior Obama officials, including none other than Hillary Clinton in her book Hard Choices and former CIA director Leon Panetta in his book Worthy Fights.
In January, Biden was asked by Fox News: “As commander in chief, if you were ever handed a piece of intelligence that said you could stop an imminent attack on Americans—but you have to use an airstrike to take out a terrorist leader—would you pull the trigger?”
Biden replied: “Well we did—the guy’s name was Osama bin Laden.”
“Didn’t you tell President Obama not to go after bin Laden that day?” Fox News asked.
“No, I didn’t,” Biden said.
An Afghanistan war story
Joe Biden painted a vivid scene for the 400 people packed into a college meeting hall. A four-star general had asked the then-vice president to travel to Konar province in Afghanistan, a dangerous foray into “godforsaken country” to recognize the remarkable heroism of a Navy captain.
Some told him it was too risky, but Biden said he brushed off their concerns.
“We can lose a vice president,” he said. “We can’t lose many more of these kids. Not a joke.”
The Navy captain…had rappelled down a 60-foot ravine under fire and retrieved the body of an American comrade, carrying him on his back. Now the general wanted Biden to pin a Silver Star on the American hero who, despite his bravery, felt like a failure. He said, “Sir, I don’t want the damn thing!” Biden said, his jaw clenched and his voice rising to a shout. “Do not pin it on me, Sir! Please, Sir. Do not do that! He died. He died!” …”This is the God’s honest truth,” Biden had said as he told the story. “My word as a Biden.”
The problem with Biden’s moving account is that, as the Post puts it, “almost every detail in the story appears to be false” and that Biden seems to have “jumbled elements of at least three actual events into one story of bravery, compassion and regret that never happened.”
Biden did visit Kunar province in 2008, but as a senator, not as vice president. Twenty-year-old Army specialist Kyle J. White, not a Navy captain, performed the rescue. And Biden did not pin the medal on White; then-president Obama did six years after Biden’s trip.
In one short story, Biden managed to be wrong on the time the event took place, the location, the person being honored, the rank and branch of the military the honoree belonged to, the type of medal awarded, the heroic act itself, and his own role in the event.
Unlike Brian Williams’ “I was there” Iraq account and Hillary Clinton’s claim to have “landed under sniper fire” in Bosnia, both tales that exaggerate the tellers’ heroism, it is muddier what Biden’s mixed-up, mish-mashed Afghanistan account was supposed to achieve. The most charitable take may be that it is simply a result of his alleged cognitive decline.
The same cannot be said for his record, however. Unlike his plagiarism, Biden’s foreign policy decisions had far-reaching, devastating, international consequences. If he becomes president, that will be doubly true.