Uncle Joe has never been much for apologies. Whether it was his backing of the ‘90s crime bill that helped fuel mass incarceration, or his mistreatment of Anita Hill during the Clarence Thomas hearings, Biden has been loathe to admit wrong and make amends. Thus it was a bit of a surprise this weekend when the former vice president apologized for his insensitive remarks about segregationists; the very comments that prompted a fierce debate exchange with fellow candidate Kamala Harris. That’s all well and good, but since it’s in foreign policy that American emperors (read: presidents) wield near unilateral power, it’s time for Biden to plea for the electorate’s forgiveness on perhaps the worst mistake of his career: his support and vote for the Iraq War back in 2002.
Biden bills himself as an experienced foreign policy guru, as ready on day one to “handle the world.” His record on the 2003 invasion of Iraq – the most critical (and disastrous) global decision of the 21st century – suggests otherwise. Back in October 2002, when Congress essentially rubber-stamped President George W. Bush’s preordained rush to war, Biden, along with fellow establishmentarians Hillary Clinton and Chuck Schumer, was one of 28 Democrats to vote with the majority. It was a colossal error, a foreign policy own goal that forever destabilized the Middle East and fueled the rise of ever more numerous and radicalized Islamist terror groups. The blood of some 5,000 U.S. troops, to say nothing of hundreds of thousands of Iraqis, is, in part, on Biden’s hands.
Though perhaps half of this country got Iraq wrong, Biden – as a long time member of the Senate Foreign Relations committee – should’ve known better and be held to a higher standard. Whether his vote was about politics, poor judgment, or both, it should give pause to Democratic primary voters. Consider all that might not have unfolded without the Iraq invasion that Biden blessed off on. It’s not only the lives and treasure that’d have been preserved, but America’s overall (now tarnished) reputation on the Arab and Muslim "street." Without the embarrassingly euphemistically titled Operation Iraqi Freedom, there’d have been no ISIS (formed and germinated in US military prisons in Iraq), probably no Islamist takeover of Eastern Syria and Northern and Western Iraq, and no need for an American troop presence in Syria, Jordan, and various other Arab World locales. It’s hard to overestimate how much better would have been a world without the US regime change war of choice in Iraq. Now that’s a Biden, and mainstream Dem, liability.
Which is why running to the right – in other words, more establishment interventionist – of President Donald Trump on foreign affairs is a recipe for disaster and perhaps defeat. Though the Donald has rarely followed through since entering the Oval Office, in 2016 he ran on the rather popular promise of no more "dumb" new wars in the Mideast. That sensible position resonated with a sizable portion of the war-weary electorate, including many conservatives and Republicans. And why should that be a surprise? After all, her early support for the Iraq War almost certainly cost Hillary the 2008 primary with Barack Obama (who, as a little known state senator, criticized the impending invasion) and certainly didn’t help her any in the epic 2016 contest with Trump. If Biden gets the primary nod from Democratic voters, expect his Iraq War vote to come back and haunt Uncle Joe as much or more than his busing gaffes or decades of handsy encounters with the opposite sex.
What’s needed is a truly progressive, alternative foreign policy vision based on restraint, redeployment, and military de-escalation. Such a global platform should unite progressives’ with their natural allies on these matters: libertarian Republicans. No Dem candidate can hope to strip some of the Rand Paul wing’s vote from Trump without placing ending the forever wars at the forefront of campaign promises. That alone should probably rule out Biden as a viable candidate. Joe’s time has passed. He’s a relic of a (hopefully) bygone era of segregationist alliances, the Dems’ ’80s-90s tack to the right, and debunked "liberal" militarist interventionism. Trump, a truly seasoned political street fighter, would hammer away at Biden’s questionable judgment on the key foreign policy decision of this century: the absurd Iraq debacle. Count on it.
And, if matters do unfold as I predict, and Trump ride’s his anti-mainstream, populist outsider foreign policy pronouncements to another four years in the White House, Biden, and the Democratic base will have gotten exactly what they deserve.
Danny Sjursen is a retired U.S. Army officer and regular contributor to Antiwar.com. His work has appeared in the LA Times, The Nation, Huff Post, The Hill, Salon, Truthdig, Tom Dispatch, among other publications. He served combat tours with reconnaissance units in Iraq and Afghanistan and later taught history at his alma mater, West Point. He is the author of a memoir and critical analysis of the Iraq War, Ghostriders of Baghdad: Soldiers, Civilians, and the Myth of the Surge. Follow him on Twitter at @SkepticalVet.
Copyright 2019 Danny Sjursen