Joe Biden Didn’t simply Vote for the Iraq Invasion—He assisted Lead the March come War

Biden may run from it today, yet he played a critical role in ensuring America’s authorized in the most destructive foreign policy endeavor of the 21st century. This is how.

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By Branko Marcetic

Above: U.S. Sen. Joe Biden discusses a recent trip to Iraq throughout a taping that "Meet the Press" on September 9, 2007. (Photo through Alex Wong/Getty photos for meet the Press)

July 8, 2019

As the trump card administration’s saber-rattling towards Iran threatens another disastrous war in the middle East, international policy has obtained newfound focus in the 2020 presidential race. And also former Vice president Joe Biden’s 2002 poll in favor of the Iraq battle leaves him with a specifically glaring vulnerability.

Biden’s poll had already become a sticking suggest in the race prior to President Trump started his provocations towards Iran in earnest. Bernie Sanders has used Biden’s record to attract a comparison with his very own opposition come the Iraq War. Rep. Seth Moulton, an additional 2020 candidate, has dubbed for Biden to recognize he was wrong for casting the vote. And a current POLITICO/Morning Consult poll showed more than 40 percent that respondents in between 18 and 29 were much less likely to earlier Biden since of it.

But come say the now-Democratic frontrunner voted for the Iraq war doesn"t fully describe his role in what has come to be widely identified as the most devastating foreign plan decision that the 21st century. A review of the historic record mirrors Biden didn"t simply vote for the war—he was a leading autonomous voice in that is favor, and played critical role in persuading the public of its need and, much more broadly, laying the groundwork because that Bush"s invasion.

In the wake of September 11th, Biden stood together a leading democratic voice on foreign policy, chairing the powerful Senate international Relations Committee. Together President shrub attempted to market the U.S. Publicly on the war, Biden came to be one the the administration’s steadfast allies in this cause, backing claims about the supposed threat posed by Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein and insisting top top the necessity of removing him from power.

Biden did attempt to placate democrats by criticizing shrub on procedural grounds while mostly affirming his instance for war, also as the painted himself as an enemy of Bush and also the war in prior of for free audiences. In the months leading increase to and also following the invasion, Biden would certainly make repeated, inconsistent statements about his place on the issue, eventually spreading himself together an unrepentant backer that the war initiative just together the public and his own party began to tart on it.

Above: U.S. Sen. Joe Biden discusses a recent trip to Iraq during a taping that "Meet the Press" on September 9, 2007. (Photo through Alex Wong/Getty images for meet the Press)

Democratic senator and Presidential candidate Joe Biden speaks with U.S. Maritime generals before a advance meeting in between Iraqi and American federal government officials and Sunni sheikhs September 6, 2007 in Ramadi, Anbar Province, Iraq. (Photo by john Moore/Getty Images)

From dove to hawk

Biden hadn"t always been a eagle on Iraq. He had actually voted against the very first Gulf battle in 1991, though also his the contrary to the war had been tepid in ~ best, focused mainly ~ above badgering George H.W. Bush into having Congress rubber rubber stamp a war shrub had currently made clean he was will on waging through or without its approval.

In 1996 Biden criticize Republican cases that then-President bill Clinton wasn’t being hard enough on Iraq between calls to eliminate Saddam Hussein indigenous power, labeling one ouster “not a doable policy.” before the battle on Terror drive U.S. Foreign policy, Biden criticized bush during his first year in office because that the then-president’s hawkish position on missile defense.

September 11th readjusted all this. Only one day before the attacks, in ~ a decided in front of the national Press Club, Biden had referred to as Bush’s international policy concepts “absolute lunacy” and also charged the his missile defense device proposal would certainly “begin a news arms race.” however the almost 3,000 Americans that were eliminated on U.S. Soil that day upended the politics consensus. Bush’s approval rating shot up to a historic 90 percent, and also any chosen officials that failed to complement the president’s zeal for armed forces retribution became vulnerable to accusations of gift “soft ~ above terror.”

“Count me in the 90 percent,” Biden claimed in the weeks after the attack. There to be “total cohesion,” that said, between Democrats and also Republicans in the difficulties ahead. “There is no daylight between us.”

In November 2002, just a little over a year adhering to the human being Trade center attacks, Biden faced re-election amidst a political climate in i m sorry the Bush management had incited nationalist sentiment over the issue of terrorism. In October 2001, Biden had actually been criticized in Delaware newspapers for comments the were regarded as potentially weak, warning that the unified States can be seen as a “high-tech bully” if that failed to placed boots on the floor in Afghanistan and instead relied ~ above a protracted battle campaign come oust the Taliban.

Consequently, Biden, then reputed by the New Republic to it is in the democratic Party’s “de facto spokesman on the war versus terrorism,” quickly came to be a close allied of the Bush management in its beginning of that war. The White home installed a special secure phone line to Biden’s home, and also he and also three various other members of congress met privately with bush in October 2001 come come up with a positive public relations message for the battle in Afghanistan.

Biden’s stance on Iraq soon began to change, too. In November 2001, Biden had actually batted away proposal of program change, saying the united States need to defeat al-Qaeda and Osama bin Laden before thinking about other targets. Through February 2002, he showed up to have actually creaked opened up the door to the possibility of one invasion.

“If Saddam Hussein is still there 5 years from now, we room in large trouble,” that told a group of 400 Delaware national Guard policemans that month at the annual Officers speak to event.

“It would certainly be unrealistic, if not downright foolish, to believe we can insurance claim victory in the battle on terror if Saddam is still in power,” the said approximately the very same time, echoing the language that hawks favor Connecticut Sen. Joe Lieberman.

Biden soon emerged the place he would organize for the following 13 month leading into Bush’s in march 2003 invasion of Iraq: when the Bush administration was completely justified in its plan to remove Hussein from strength in Iraq, it had actually to carry out a far better job of selling the unavoidable war come the U.S. Public and the international community.

“There is overwhelming assistance for the proposition that Saddam Hussein have to be gotten rid of from power,” he claimed in in march 2002, while noting that departments remained around how specifically that would be done. If the management wanted his support, Biden continued, castle would have to make “a complete and also thorough case” that Iraq possessed weapons of mass damage (WMDs) and also to rundown what they envisioned a post-Hussein Iraq would certainly look like.

It was a view well-calibrated for the political climate. Biden could proceed to point to debates with the administration for liberal audiences, even if castle were just procedural, while putting his weight behind the ultimate goal of war v Iraq. At the very same time, Biden’s noticeable criticisms doubled as advice for the administration: If you desire buy-in indigenous liberals for her war, this is what you’ll have to do.

“I don"t understand a solitary informed person who is saying you can take down Saddam and not be all set to continue to be for two, four, 5 years to give the country a possibility to be hosted together,” Biden recounted telling bush privately in June 2002. It was a talking allude he would repeat regularly over the following year, the regime change in Iraq was the correct point to do, but would need a permanent commitment from the United says after Hussein’s removal.

Setting the ground rules

During constant television appearances, Biden didn’t just insist on the necessity of removing Hussein indigenous power, but appeared to signal to the Bush administration on what grounds it can safely look for military action against Iraq.

When Bush’s directive to the CIA to step up assistance for Iraqi the contrary groups and even perhaps capture and also kill Hussein to be leaked to the Washington Post in June, Biden provided it his approval. Asked on CBS’s “Face the Nation” if the plan gave him any kind of pause, Biden replied: “Only if the doesn"t work.”

"If the covert activity doesn"t work, we"d better be prepared to move forward with one more action, an overt action, and it seems to me that we can"t afford come miss," the added.

“Prominent democrats endorse administration plan to remove Iraqi leader from power,” ran the succeeding Associated Press headline.

A month later in July, Biden affirmed the Congress would ago Bush in a pre-emptive strike on Iraq in the event of a “clear and also present danger” and also if “the president deserve to make the situation that we’re around to be attacked.”

Asked top top “Fox News Sunday” the same month if a exploration that Hussein was in league with al-Qaeda would justify one invasion, Biden replied: “If he have the right to prove that, yes, the would have the authority in my view.”

“And this will certainly be the first time ever in the history of the United says of America that us have essentially invaded an additional country preemptively to take out a leadership, ns think justifiably given the case being made.”

These themes would certainly be offered by the Bush management in the month ahead to offer the war to the American public. The non-existent ties in between Hussein and al-Qaeda became one of the many high-profile talk points for the war’s proponents. And also the Bush management would publicize the supposedly impending threat Hussein posed come the unified States, including then-National defense Advisor Condoleezza Rice’s notorious September declaration that “we don"t want the smoking gun to it is in a mushroom cloud.”

By July Biden appeared to dominion out a diplomatic equipment to the conflict. “Dialogue through Saddam is useless,” the said.

U.S. Sen. Joe Biden Joe Biden gavels in the begin of the September 22, 2002 Senate foreign Relations hearing through Secretary of State Colin L. Powell. (Photo by Scott J. Ferrell/Congressional Quarterly/Getty Images)

Not a skeptic to it is in heard

It was also in July 2002 that Biden lugged out among his most consequential action in the lead-up to the Iraq War, as soon as he hosted several days of congressional hearings about the then-potential invasion.

Biden stressed the hearings weren’t meant to antagonize the White House. Rather, as he explained, they would inform the American people around the crest of the conflict and the logistical issues connected in waging it.

At the time, the pro-war stance shared by the administration, lot of the press, and Democrats favor Biden to be by no method unanimous. Plenty of of the joined States’ closestly allies in Europe (apart indigenous Tony Blair’s brother government) to be wary that the battle drums beating from Washington, as were numerous Arab states. In July, King Abdullah II that Jordan, a U.S. Allied in the center East, called the idea the an intrusion “somewhat ludicrous.”

The very same month, the Houston Chronicle reported, based upon interviews v anonymous officials, that a number of senior army officials, consisting of members the the joint chiefs the staff, to be in disagreement with the White House’s journey for war with Iraq, and also believed that Hussein posed no prompt threat come the unified States. The day prior to the hearings, Scott Ritter, the previous chief tools inspector at the UN, cautioned that it was far from “inevitable” the Iraq had restarted its weapons program, and warned the “Biden"s open take on of regime removal in Baghdad” intimidated to do the hearings “devolve right into a politics cover” for Congress come authorize Bush’s war.

Yet as Stephen Zunes reported for The Progressive in April 2019, none of these views to be aired in ~ Biden’s hearings, which opened up with Biden stating that WMDs “must be dislodged native Saddam, or Saddam need to be dislodged indigenous power,” and that “if we wait for the danger from Saddam to come to be clear, it can be also late.” Ritter self was never invited to testify.

Neither were other experts an essential of the bush narrative top top Iraq, consisting of Rolf Ekéus, the previous executive chairman that the United countries Special Commission, the inspection regime set up ~ the Gulf war to address WMDs, and former UN Assistant Secretary general Hans Von Sponeck, who complained that he was “very agitated by the intended distortions and misrepresentations” the made the “look to the average person in the U.S. Together if Iraq is a threat to your security.” follow to Biden, bush later thanked him for the hearings.

By Zunes’ count, no one of the 18 witnesses who were dubbed objected come the idea the Hussein had WMDs, and all 3 witnesses that testified ~ above the subject of al-Qaeda declared the organization received straight support from Iraq—the really red line Biden had actually said would certainly give shrub the government to invade the country. The end of the 12 witnesses who questioned an invasion, half were in favor and only two opposed. Biden himself said throughout the hearings the Iraq was a national security threat.

It was greatly up to republic on the committee—namely Lincoln Chafee and Chuck Hagel—to voice skepticism around a battle effort. Ritter accused Biden and other members of conference of having actually “preordained a conclusion that looks for to eliminate Saddam Hussein from power regardless that the facts.” Indeed, top top the day of the hearings, Biden had co-authored a New York time op-ed saying that continued “containment” that Hussein “raises the risk that Mr. Hussein will play cat-and-mouse with examiners while building much more weapons,” and also that “if we wait because that the hazard to become clear and present, it might be too late.”

Having provided a platform to pro-war talking points, Biden climate hit the talk display circuit to point out the lopsided testimony the himself had arranged in order to argue because that war. Determining Hussein’s intentions to be “like reading the entrails of goats,” Biden told NBC’s “Meet the Press,” and also what mattered much more was Hussein’s ability to usage WMDs, every little thing those intentions could be. That pointed to testimony in the July hearings to controversy it was clear the Iraq had such weapons.

“We have no choice but to remove the threat,” he said. “This is a male who’s severe danger to the world.”

While the mainstream press featured couple of skeptical and also anti-war voices in ~ the time, a variety of them assailed Biden for going along with the shrub administration.

“Biden apparently believes the he fulfills the constitutional duty of advise and consent by merely being the cheerleader because that the administration"s increasing chorus demanding war v Iraq,” composed Stanley Kutler in the Milwaukee journal Sentinel. “When and also how room the only questions in his repertoire.”


“A food of moderation and deliberation”

By autumn 2002, Bush showed up to have heeded Biden’s frequent exhortations for how to market the war.

On September 12, nearly a year come the work of the terrorist assaults that had actually sparked the march come war, bush went prior to the UN to make a situation for an invasion straight to the worldwide community. Biden praised him for doing “a very great job” in do that case with a “brilliant” speech, and again stressed the “this is the world’s fight,” though cautioning the “the worst alternative is going that alone, however it is one option.”

That September, Bush additionally finally asked Congress because that a war authorization. While the president backed an expansive resolution in the House, Biden and fellow international Relations Committee member Richard Lugar (R-Ind.) put forward their own rival resolution in the Senate that scaled earlier some of the home version’s much more alarming language and stressed the themes Biden had been articulating for the better part that a year. The Senate resolution restricted the use of pressure to Iraq, do dismantling WMDs the primary justification for war, and stressed the prominence of worldwide support (though reserving the ideal to plot unilaterally if the UN defense Council moved too slowly).

“We are trying to offer the chairman the power that he needs and get a big vote,” Biden explained.

Bush easily routed Biden by do a compromise with autonomous House minority Leader prick Gephardt that swung momentum behind the residence resolution. Deciding it was as well late, and also that there to be no way of stopping its passage, Biden just resigned self to the compromise residence resolution.

“In this place, everybody"s pretty useful at the finish of the day,” that said.

Bush ultimately won end Biden by incorporating number of of his suggestions right into the last resolution and also a decided he gave on October 7, 2002, in which that painted Iraq together a “grave threat to peace” developing an “arsenal that terror.” He had “made a compelling case,” stated Biden, who was “very pleased with his rationale the he to adjust out.”

While Biden supposedly wavered in ~ the last minute on his promise to actors his vote, he eventually fell in line, arguing the resolution would “give the president the type of inert he needs” to acquire Security board of directors backing. ~ above October 11, Biden was among 77 senators that voted come give shrub the authorization to wage war on Iraq, joining fellow Democrats such as Hillary Clinton, lining Schumer, harry Reid and also Dianne Feinstein. Twenty-one autonomous senators, including cock Durbin, Ron Wyden and also Patrick Leahy, voted against it.

“At each pivotal moment, has chosen a course of moderation and also deliberation,” Biden said on the Senate floor. “I believe he will continue to execute so … the president has actually made it clean that war is neither brewing nor inevitable.”

A month later, Biden sailed to a 6th term come the Senate v 58 percent the the vote.

“Powerful and irrefutable”

Biden wasn’t as eager to tout his leading role in the lead-up come the Iraq war in front of every audiences.

On November 11, 2002, Biden gave a decided at a meeting of the Trotter Group, an company of African-American columnists. Probably owing to solid black opposition come the war, including the NAACP board’s October 28, 2002, adoption of a resolution the opposite the invasion, Biden sounded really different notes in front of the audience. He denied there to be a straight link in between Hussein and al-Qaeda (“I don’t think about the war on Iraq the battle on terror”) and struck a much less hawkish keep in mind (“My hope is that us don’t need to get in Iraq”).

After chairing hearings filled with pro-war testimony, Biden said the Trotter group crowd the “the men who have to fight this battle don"t think it"s a great idea,” and also that law so would be “the dumbest point in the world.” discussing the battle authorization he had voted for, he claimed that Republicans had actually taken “something that nobody, consisting of the president, believes is an brewing danger and moved it increase in the election cycle,” and that that reluctantly supported the final resolution in order to offer then-Secretary the State Colin Powell leverage to acquire a resolution the end of the UN the would slow the administration’s march come war.

Yet also as that painted himself as a war opponent, Biden’s role in do the war occur wasn’t finished.

In December 2002, Biden took on a expedition to Germany and the Middle eastern with Republican Sen. Chuck Hagel to cobble with each other a coalition for the brewing war. He very first flew to Germany to satisfy with one Iraqi resistance leader, then headed to Jordan to accomplish with its monarch, before stopping in Israel and also Qatar. The Delaware Republican Party sent out him its ideal wishes.

“We great the senator great luck and also hope he continues to assistance the chairman on foreign-policy matters,” that is chairman said.

At one point, Biden speak to the Kurd conference in Kurdish-controlled north Iraq, sculpted out in the wake up of the very first Gulf War. Biden made clear to the Kurds, longtime enemies of Hussein’s regime, that the unified States had actually their back.

“We will stand through you in your effort to construct a unified Iraq,” the told them, adding that “the hills are no your only friends,” play off a local saying.

As Colin Powell all set to present claimed evidence of Iraq’s WMD regime to the UN in February—a factually flawed resolve that Powell two years later on would call a “blot” ~ above his record—Biden hyped the presentation to the press, saying the management “has evidence now the can change people"s minds.”

“I understand there"s sufficient circumstantial evidence that if this to be a jury trial, I can convict you,” the said. After Powell’s address, Biden referred to as his situation “very powerful and i think irrefutable,” and also told him, “I to be proud come be linked with you.”

At the exact same time, Biden spent much of the remainder of the month top up to intrusion painting himself together its opponent. He criticized bush for everything however the yes, really decision to remove Hussein: for failing to do a sufficiently solid case to the public, for no securing much more international buy-in for the invasion, for maintaining Congress the end of the loop and also for grossly lackluster planning for postwar Iraq.

“As every hour goes by, ns think the chance of war is increasing,” he said in beforehand March, 5 months after ~ voting come give shrub the strength to attack Iraq. “I was hoping that wasn"t, hope there was a shot at doing this peacefully, but that look at slimmer and also slimmer.”

Yet even after shrub failed come secure the international teamwork Biden had actually spent months insisting to be necessary, the absence of assistance wasn’t sufficient to convince Biden to give up his support. As shrub issued one ultimatum come Hussein on in march 17—leave or be invaded—Biden was behind him.

“I support the president,” he said after meeting v Bush and also other officials before the ultimatum. “Diplomacy over staying clear of war is dead. ... I perform not see any type of alternative. The is no as if we can back away now.”

Biden shown himself together someone who had been powerless to avoid the conflict.

“A lot of Americans, myself included, are really concerned around how we acquired to this phase and around all the lost methods for diplomacy,” he said. “But we space where we are. ... Let loose the dogs of war. I"m confident we will certainly win.” He and also the rest of the democrats voted to pass a Senate resolution 99-0 sustaining Bush and commending the troops.

Months after ~ the battle was launched and also Hussein to be deposed, any type of reservations Biden claimed to have actually had about the war showed up to melt away.

“I, because that one, thought we should have gone in Iraq,” he told CNN in June 2003, while noting that no all Democrats had been as enthusiastic about invading the country.

With the much-ballyhooed WMDs failing to materialize, Biden actors himself as a skeptic around the administration’s claims about their existence.

“I additionally said at the time, together far ago as August, that I thought the administration was exaggerating the risk of tools of fixed destruction,” he told CNN.

During an figure on “Fox News Sunday” later on that month, he told organize Tony snow that he had actually never believed the bush administration’s rhetoric ~ above the issue, and that it had actually erred in exaggerating the threat, together there was enough grounds to invade Iraq based on the weapons it to be reported to have actually in 1998.

“So girlfriend think, looking ago on it, still, that it to be a simply war, in your opinion?” request Snow.

“Oh, I perform think it was a simply war,” stated Biden.

After playing a clip the then-presidential candidate Howard Dean boasting that his opposition come the war even at the elevation of its popularity, snow asked Biden if Dean’s position have to be the consensus view that the autonomous Party.

“No,” Biden flatly replied.

Even as the war initiative rapidly go awry in the months that followed, through U.S. Soldier deaths proceeding to climb after major combat operations were declared over on might 1 and terrorist strikes becoming a regular feature that Iraqi life, Biden ongoing to urge that war had actually been the best course the action.

“I poll to enter Iraq, and I"d vote to perform it again,” he stated at a July 2003 hearing.

As cultivation numbers that Democrats, and also even members of the general public, turned versus the war, Biden rebuked them, implicitly and also explicitly.

“In mine view, anyone that can"t identify that the people is much better off there is no is the end of touch,” he stated two days later.

“Contrary come what part in mine party might think, Iraq to be a problem that had actually to be faced sooner quite than later,” that insisted.

An progressively lonely voice in a party the would soon make common cause with the growing anti-war movement, Biden continued to earlier Bush.

“The chairman made well,” that concluded top top July 31. “I commend the president.”

No regrets

In the eye of the public, a poll for the resolution that gave bush the government to wage battle on Iraq is sufficient to cast serious doubt on a candidate’s judgment, together Hillary Clinton learned in 2016. However the truth is, Joe Biden walk a lot much more than cast a vote.

As one experienced and respected voice on international policy, a an effective Democrat, and also someone widely viewed as a dove because of his opposition to the Vietnam war, Biden’s backing of regime adjust in Iraq was an essential to Bush’s effort of selling the publicly on the war. Biden’s insistence that Hussein do a severe threat come the united States, possessed WMDs and needed come be removed from strength helped create momentum for the increasing pro-war campaign. And also as chair the the Senate international Relations Committee, rather than inquiry the prominent voices of doubt, including an elderly members of the U.S. Military, Biden stack his Iraq hearings with voices in commitment with Bush’s fallacious situation for war.

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Hillary Clinton’s hawkishness—including her poll for the Iraq war—was one of several components that likely contributed to she 2016 loss come Donald trump in an essential traditional autonomous states. But past arguments around electability, the next president will inherit a volatile world on the brink the several various conflicts, including a feasible showdown through Iran. When voters select the next autonomous nominee, they’ll need to decide whether who who aided lead the march to battle in Iraq is really the finest person to take it on Trump—and guide U.S. Foreign policy as president.


This investigation was supported by the Leonard C. Goodman Institute because that Investigative Reporting.

Branko Marcetic is a staff writer at Jacobin magazine and also a 2019-2020 Leonard C. Goodman Institute because that Investigative report fellow. He hails indigenous Auckland, new Zealand, wherein he got his master in American history, a truth that proceeds to puzzle everyone who meets him. You have the right to follow him on Twitter in ~