Home/Daniel Larison/The Real Biden Record on the Iraq War

The Real Biden Record on the Iraq War

Vice President Joe Biden in 2016.  By  By Mark Reinstein/ Shutterstock

Joe Biden still refuses to own up to his real record on the Iraq war:

Kaczynski cites earlier reports that he wrote about Biden’s support for the Iraq war. The most striking piece of evidence that Biden was fully in favor of the invasion comes from a speech he delivered in May 2004 in which he said this:

“Let me tell you what I see with Iraq,” Biden told the graduates. “We had to go into Iraq, not because Saddam (Hussein) was part of Al Qaeda, there was no evidence of that, not because he possessed nuclear weapons or because he posed an imminent threat to the United States, there was no evidence of that.”

“The legitimate reason for going into Iraq, was he violated every single commitment he made and warranted being taken down. And the international community and us had a right to respond.”

In other words, Biden’s argument more than a year after the invasion of Iraq was that the U.S. had to violate international law in order to uphold it. Biden was saying in 2004 that the Bush administration’s claims about potential threats from Iraq were clearly false but that the war was still the right thing to do. For Biden to try to claim now that he was voting to “prevent” the war that he openly supported for years is a shameless attempt to deceive the public about his record and his foreign policy views. Much of the rest of the speech was an exercise in touting the virtues of multilateralism. Biden’s own words show he didn’t disagree with the substance of what the Bush administration did, but only with how they went about doing it. That was a common refrain from Democratic hawks that voted for the war. They wanted credit for backing the invasion, but they wanted to be able to fault Bush for poor execution. In the end, all they did was enable one of the biggest foreign policy debacles in American history by authorizing a war that was both illegal and unwise.

The 2004 speech was not an isolated example of his endorsement of war and regime change in Iraq after the war started. Kaczynski found Biden saying this in October 2003: “I think it was necessary to enforce the international rules of the road.” Biden’s defenses of the Iraq war from back then are typically couched in these terms. He not only approved of the invasion, but he actually believed that the U.S. was doing this as a legitimate enforcer of the “rules of the road.” That is essentially no different from Bush’s own arguments in his U.N. speech in the fall of 2002. These arguments were an attempt to dress up a war of aggression as a defense of U.N. resolutions. Biden not only bought these arguments, but he then used them himself to defend his vote.

Biden’s lies about his Iraq war record are bad enough, but his refusal to grapple with his bad decisions and arguments from those years is just as troubling. He won’t acknowledge that he was a proud supporter of the war, and instead concocts an absurd story that he was trying to prevent the war that he himself later said was legitimate and necessary. That shows that he hasn’t reflected nearly enough on the war and his part in making it happen, and given the gravity of his mistake that is unacceptable. Can he admit now that war and regime change in Iraq had nothing to do with upholding the “rules of the road”? Does he understand that putting multilateralist window-dressing on aggressive war doesn’t make it any better? Will he accept responsibility for his role in giving Bush the authority to launch an unjust and criminal war? These are some of the questions Biden should have to answer before he becomes the nominee, and he should have his own words quoted back to him the next time he tries to lie about his record.

Why does Biden’s Iraq war record matter now? For one thing, the 2002 Iraq AUMF vote was one of the most consequential actions Biden took as a senator, and he got it wrong because he failed to question the assumptions behind the case for war. He wasn’t alone in that failure, but he was part of the problem. Following the start of the war, Biden didn’t recognize that failure for what it was. Instead, he continued to defend his vote to authorize the war. Once the war became politically radioactive, he started to move away from his previous support. Now that he is seeking the presidency again, he has decided that it is politically safer for him to pretend to have been secretly opposed to the war when all of his public statements from that time show him to be for it. This outdoes Kerry’s “I voted for it before I voted against it” line by claiming that Biden was actually voting against the war when he voted to authorize it. It is a preposterous claim, and it is an insult to the voters to tell them such a bald-faced lie over and over.

about the author

Daniel Larison is a senior editor at TAC, where he also keeps a solo blog. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, World Politics Review, Politico Magazine, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and was a columnist for The Week. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Chicago, and resides in Lancaster, PA. Follow him on Twitter.

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