For the second consecutive Democratic debate, Joe Biden has failed to come to terms about his critical role in supporting the illegal, unnecessary, and predictably disastrous U.S. invasion and occupation of Iraq.
There is nothing new about this. Biden has a long history of inaccurate claims regarding that oil-rich country. For example, in the lead-up to the critical Senate vote authorizing the invasion, Biden used his role as chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee to insist that Iraq somehow reconstituted a vast arsenal of chemical and biological weapons, a nuclear weapons program and sophisticated delivery systems that had long since been eliminated.
Polls at the time showed that the only reason Americans would support going to war would be if Iraq constituted a threat, so it was to the advantage of war proponents to make people think that Iraq – which, according to former U.N. inspectors and others, had reached at least qualitative disarmament – had somehow obtained such potentially dangerous military capabilities.
In the recent second Democratic debate, however, Biden took his lies about Iraq to new heights by claiming, “From the moment ‘shock and awe’ started, from that moment, I was opposed to the effort, and I was outspoken as much as anyone at all in the Congress.” He claimed that his strong support for the Authorization of the Use of Military Force that made George W. Bush’s invasion possible was somehow not really an endorsement of the use military force, but a means to pressure Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein to allow United Nations inspectors to return to Iraq.
That was patently untrue. More than three months after UN inspectors returned, Biden defended the imminent launch of the invasion by saying, “I support the president. Diplomacy over avoiding war is dead. … I do not see any alternative. It is not as if we can back away now.” He added, “Let loose the dogs of war. I’m confident we will win.”
He then co-sponsored a resolution supporting Bush and the invasion.
Despite the fact that three months of unfettered inspections had revealed none of the chemical weapons, biological weapons, nuclear programs, or sophisticated delivery systems Bush and Biden claimed Iraq possessed, Biden insisted in May 2003 that, “There was sufficient evidence to go into Iraq.”
The following month, after the Bush administration conceded that there were no “weapons of mass destruction” to be found, Biden told CNN “I, for one, thought we should have gone in Iraq,” adding his disappointment that other Democrats weren’t as supportive. A couple of weeks later, on “Fox News Sunday,” even while acknowledging that Iraq didn’t actually have the weapons, weapons systems and weapons programs he claimed, Biden insisted, “I do think it was a just war.”
At a hearing in July 2003, he categorically stated, “I voted to go into Iraq, and I’d vote to do it again.” Days later, in the face of growing outrage by fellow Democrats about being misled into what was already becoming a bloody counterinsurgency struggle, Biden insisted, “In my view, anyone who can’t acknowledge that the world is better off without [Saddam Hussein] is out of touch…. Contrary to what some in my party might think, Iraq was a problem that had to be dealt with sooner rather than later.” Despite Bush’s case for the war now unarguably based on falsehoods, Biden insisted that Bush had made a good case for invading and “I commend the president.”
More than a year later, as the death toll mounted, Biden insisted, in regard to his support for the invasion, “I still believe my vote was just.” Indeed, throughout the remainder of his Senate career, he was a steadfast supporter of Bush’s bloody counterinsurgency war, rejecting calls for even a timetable for withdrawal.
Despite all this evidence contradicting Biden’s claim in the latest Democratic presidential debate, pundits largely applauded the former vice president’s performance and few of the fact-checkers noted his lie.
This is particularly inexcusable in light of the fact that Biden also misled the public about Iraq during the first round of Democratic debates in June. MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow pointed out his support for the Iraq War and asked, “Why should voters trust your judgment when it comes to making a decision about taking the country to war the next time?” He refused to answer. Instead, he made the bizarre claim: “I was responsible for getting 150,000 combat troops out of Iraq.” While it is true that President Barack Obama asked him to oversee negotiations and other meetings regarding implementing the Status of Forces Agreement signed by President Bush, the US was required to withdraw those troops by the end of 2011 regardless.
In fact, Obama and Biden tried to convince the Iraqi government to allow US troops to stay longer, but the Iraqis refused. (Ironically, both Republicans and Democratic hawks have tried to blame Obama for the subsequent rise of ISIS because he didn’t keep troops in Iraq. However, if he had done so, it would have turned into an illegal occupation and American forces would have likely faced armed resistance from the Iraqis they were supposedly there to protect.)
In a previous article, I wrote in some detail about how Biden had been calling for a US invasion of Iraq since 1998, pushed the war authorization through the Democratic-controlled Senate, and abused his role as chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee to suppress testimony by scholars, former UN inspectors, and other knowledgeable authorities opposed to the war. However, it is his support for the invasion long after it became evident that Iraq was not actually a threat to its neighbors – much less the United States – which raises the question as to whether his motivation was not in fact about national security as he claimed, but about oil and empire.
Indeed, after the US conquest, he began pushing the dangerous and destabilizing divide-and-rule strategy of splitting Iraq into three countries along ethnic and sectarian lines.
There are those who insist that, despite his unwillingness to formally apologize for his support for the invasion and his false claims in the lead-up to the war about Iraq’s military procurement, he is a changed man and he would not abuse the office of president to invade another oil-rich country on false pretenses. His failure to even acknowledge his support for the invasion and the war that followed, however, gives a strong impression that he cannot be trusted to not do something like that again.
Stephen Zunes is a professor of politics and international studies at the University of San Francisco. A regular contributor to The Progressive he serves as a senior policy analyst for the Institute for Policy Studies. Reprinted with permission from TruthOut.