Democratic presidential candidate and former Vice President Joe Biden (Getty/Sean Rayford)

Biden claims he was against Iraq war from the beginning — the record says otherwise

Former veep's claims that he turned against Iraq war in 2003 described as "flat-out lying" and "obviously bulls**t"


Eoin Higgins
September 4, 2019 9:00AM (UTC)
This article originally appeared at Common Dreams. It is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 License. Feel free to republish and share widely.

Count his role in supporting the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq as another part of Joe Biden's long political career that the former vice president — who voted for the war as a senator — doesn't quite remember correctly.

In an interview with NPR published Tuesday morning, Biden told reporter Asma Khalid that he opposed the war from the very moment it began in March of 2003 despite voting for its authorization just months earlier.

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Biden said that he believed then-President George W. Bush's claim that Bush needed the threat of war to pressure Iraq to give up its weapons program and therefore voted for the authorization to use military force. But once Bush unleashed the "shock and awe" bombing campaign on the country, the former senator said he had a drastic change of heart.

"Immediately, that moment it started, I came out against the war at that moment," said Biden.

As Khalid pointed out in her report from the interview, that's not backed up by the historical record:

In multiple public remarks made after the invasion began in 2003, Biden openly supported the effort. Biden publicly said his vote was a mistake as early as 2005, but not immediately when the war began in 2003.

"Nine months ago, I voted with my colleagues to give the president of the United States of America the authority to use force, and I would vote that way again today," Biden said in a speech at the Brookings Institution on July 31, 2003. "It was a right vote then, and it'll be a correct vote today."

In a statement, Bush spokesperson Freddy Ford told NPR that Biden was misremembering the events in question.

"I'm sure it's just an innocent mistake of memory," said Ford, "but this recollection is flat wrong."

Biden's continued support for military action — even if he was publicly "against" the war — is no better, Stephen Zunes wrote in April:

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Biden supported the subsequent bloody counter-insurgency war for the rest of his Senate career, speaking out against bringing the troops home or even setting a timetable for withdrawal. He even became a major advocate of splitting Iraq along ethnic and sectarian lines, seen by most people familiar with the region as very dangerous and irresponsible.

The question asked by NPR was simple, wrote Splinter's Paul Blest on Tuesday, "but because this is Joe Biden giving an interview in the year 2019, he was physically unable to get through the whole thing without saying something that was obviously bullshit."

At The Nation, former Salon editor Joan Walsh wondered if Biden's gaffes were enough to sink his presidency or if a focus on President Trump would be enough to save the Biden campaign.

"Maybe Biden thinks toughing this one out will keep the press focused on the bigger issue: Trump's manifest incompetence and corruption," Walsh mused.

Progressive critics of Biden, unwilling to let the former vice president's rewriting of history slide, were less forgiving.

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"Biden is flat-out lying," tweeted In These Times editor Sarah Lazare.

Progressive writer Henry Kraemer concurred: "Biden claiming to have been against the Iraq War from the start is arguably the most outlandish lie any Democrat has told this campaign," he said.

Arab-American Institute founder James Zogby said that Biden's memory on the war wasn't "a mistake or a gaffe."

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"It's a whopper," said Zogby.

The former vice president could, of course, be trying to cover for polling on his support for the war that, as Politico reported in May, likely raises concerns for the Biden campaign:

Nearly 3 in 10 Democrats said they were turned off by his Iraq War vote, and more than 40 percent of participants between the ages of 18 and 29 said his record on the issue made them less likely to support him.

Even if one takes Biden's comments at face value, trusting the administration ahead of the war betrays a gullibility that is "alarming," said Rolling Stone's Jamil Smith.

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"He voted to authorize military force because Bush 45 'looked him in the eye' and said they needed to go look for Saddam's nuclear program," Smith tweeted. "This is what Biden is saying to defend the vote. My goodness."

Jacobin's Micah Uetrich made the case that "in a just world" Biden would have been tried for war crimes due to his role in supporting the war.

Biden's comments weren't his first that have raised doubts about his commitment to accuracy. Over the summer the former vice president has been criticized for a completely inaccurate recounting of a war story, for describing Keene, New Hampshire, as a town in Vermont, and for claiming that Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy were assassinated in the "late '70s" (both men were killed in 1968).


Eoin Higgins

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