Joe Biden won't tell the truth about his Iraq war record — and he hasn't for years

Biden keeps saying he opposed the 2003 Iraq invasion. That's a lie. In fact, he was a huge enabler and cheerleader

Published January 16, 2020 7:00AM (EST)

Vice President Joe Biden speaks during the Democratic presidential primary debate at Drake University on January 14, 2020 in Des Moines, Iowa.  Six candidates out of the field qualified for the first Democratic presidential primary debate of 2020, hosted by CNN and the Des Moines Register. (Scott Olson/Getty Images)
Vice President Joe Biden speaks during the Democratic presidential primary debate at Drake University on January 14, 2020 in Des Moines, Iowa. Six candidates out of the field qualified for the first Democratic presidential primary debate of 2020, hosted by CNN and the Des Moines Register. (Scott Olson/Getty Images)

Earlier versions of this article appeared at Common Dreams and Consortium News. It is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 License. Feel free to republish and share widely.

It may fit with official agendas to focus on the dispute between Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren at this week's Democratic primary debate. At least partly, that's because it lets former Vice President Joe Biden off the hook on Iraq, just as there is finally some attention to foreign policy. People hear the word "mistake" and want it to end there, but Biden's actual position on the Iraq invasion is indefensible. Biden and his surrogates, such as former Secretary of State John Kerry, continue to claim that he did not favor the 2003 invasion of Iraq. This is false.

Sen. Bernie Sanders' camp has just highlighted a video of Biden speaking at the Brookings Institution in July 2003, after the invasion, in which he expresses support for "finishing this job" in Iraq and says: "The president of the United States is a bold leader and he is popular."


As far as showing Biden's support for the war, that video is the tip of the iceberg.

In that address to Brookings (video) Biden makes brazen pro-war falsehoods, claiming that Saddam Hussein "violated every commitment that he made. He played cat and mouse with the weapons inspectors. He failed to account for the huge gaps in weapons declarations that were documented by UN weapons inspectors and submitted by them to the UN Security Council in 1998, and every nation in that Council believed he possessed those weapons at that time. He refused to abide by any conditions."

Pack of lies 

That's a pack of lies. The Iraqi government released a massive amount of information in 2002. It agreed to allow UN weapons inspectors in well before the congressional vote that authorized war — a vote that Biden has claimed was justifiable to give Bush a stronger hand in getting inspectors into Iraq.

Additionally, the prior weapons inspection regime, UNSCOM, was ended in 1998 not because Saddam Hussein kicked them out, but because then President Bill Clinton ordered them withdrawn on the eve of his scheduled impeachment vote to make way for the Desert Fox bombing campaign. 

It's fitting that the Biden camp has put Kerry on this issue since Kerry's falsifications regarding Iraq are remarkably similar to Biden's. Kerry might be the Democratic senator whose record helped the Iraq war as much as Biden's. This notably led to his contortions in the 2004 election when he was the Democratic nominee and lost to George W. Bush.

When I questioned Kerry in 2011 about his vote for the Iraq invasion, he said, "I didn't vote for the Iraq war. I voted to give the president authority that he misused and abused. And from the moment he used it, I opposed that." 

Another lie. Kerry actually attacked the notion of a withdrawal from Iraq at that point, even saying in December of 2003: "I fear that in the run-up to the 2004 election the administration is considering what is tantamount to a cut-and-run strategy," effectively taking a position even more militaristic than that of Bush. Also see from August 2004 from CNN: "Kerry stands by 'yes' vote on Iraq war."

It's remarkable how little scrutiny Biden has gotten for his role in the Iraq invasion. Sanders has mostly criticized Biden's vote, but beyond that, Biden was chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. He has been criticized by leading analysts and weapons inspectors for the hearings he presided over that led to war.

Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, viewed by many as an antiwar candidate, has outright let Biden off the hook. At a debate last year, Gabbard said of Biden: "He was wrong — he said he was wrong."

Thus, Biden may be positioned to become the Democratic nominee — and face Trump in the general election — with minimal scrutiny for his major role in the worst policy decision of our lifetimes. He's also in a worse position to take on Trump's phony "America First" isolationism than Hillary Clinton was in 2016.

In September's Democratic Party debate hosted by ABC News, Biden lied about his Iraq record, just as he did at the first two debates.


In the July debate, Biden claimed: "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."

When he first said that, it received virtually no scrutiny except from Mideast scholar Stephen Zunes, who authored "Biden Is Doubling Down on Iraq War Lies." In that piece, Zunes outlined much of Biden's record, including his insistence in May 2003 — months after the Iraq invasion — that "[t]here was sufficient evidence to go into Iraq."

In the September debate, Biden said that he had voted for the Iraq invasion authorization to "to allow inspectors to go in to determine whether or not anything was being done with chemical weapons or nuclear weapons."

But the congressional vote happened on Oct. 11, 2002 (see Biden's speech then).

And by that time Iraq had agreed to allow weapons inspectors back in. On Sept. 16, 2002, The New York Times reported: "U.N. Inspectors Can Return Unconditionally, Iraq Says." (This was immediately after a delegation organized by the Institute for Public Accuracy — where I work — had gone to Iraq.)

Independent journalist Michael Tracey, who interviewed Biden in New Hampshire last fall, reported that Biden made the ridiculous claim that he opposed the invasion of Iraq even before it started. Said Biden: "Yes, I did oppose the war before it began." See Tracey's piece: "Joe Biden's Jumbled Iraq War Revisionism" and video.

Biden initially backed a bill, along with Republican Sen. Richard Lugar, that would have somewhat constrained Bush's capacity to launch an invasion of Iraq completely at his whim. But the Bush administration opposed the measure. One might have thought that opposition would lead Biden to conclude that Bush's insistence on having no constraints was a reason not to write him a blank check. But Biden ultimately voted for the legislation giving Bush the complete license he wanted.

Resolution backing Bush

Bush ended up launching the war by telling the UN to get the weapons inspectors out — thus forcing an end to their work — before launching a bombing campaign. Immediately, Biden co-sponsored a resolution backing Bush.

Tracey writes, "It's unclear whether the Delaware senator genuinely believes the tale he is currently telling, or if it's the product of his apparent cognitive decline." But Biden has been lying about Iraq for years and years and years and years. He was chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in 2002 and presided over hearings that were called rigged at the time by actual critics of the Iraq invasion.

Still, Biden's voluminous deceits on Iraq — which he's adding to by the day — have yet to be adequately examined. Biden told Tim Russert on "Meet the Press" in 2007 of Saddam Hussein's alleged weapons of mass destruction: "The real mystery is, if he, if he didn't have any of them left, why didn't he say so?"

Of course the Iraqi government, in 2002 and before, had been pleading that it had disarmed. And it was widely mocked by the U.S. government and media for such claims.

Saddam Hussein told Dan Rather on "60 Minutes" in February 2003:

I believe that that [the U.S. military preparations in the Gulf] were, in fact, done partly to cover the huge lie that was being waged against Iraq about chemical, biological and nuclear weapons. And it was on that basis that Iraq actually accepted [the U.N.] Resolution — accepted it, even though Iraq was absolutely certain that what it had said — what the Iraqi officials … had kept saying, that … Iraq was empty, was void of any such weapons — was the case. But Iraq accepted that resolution … in order not to allow any misinterpretation of its position … in order to make the case absolutely clear that Iraq was no longer in possession of any such … weapons. [See from FAIR: "Saddam's 'Secret.'"]

But such remarks from Iraq were derided. On Nov. 13, 2002, The New York Times reported: "U.S. Scoffs at Iraq Claim of No Weapons of Mass Destruction." The Bush administration, the newspaper reported in the piece, "dismissed Saddam Hussein's contention today that he possesses no weapons of mass destruction as a fabrication. But President Bush's advisers said they would not be taunted into revealing the intelligence they had gathered to contradict him until after Iraq delivered a full accounting of weapons stores in early December."

Similarly, The International Herald Tribune on Dec. 9, 2002, ran the headline, "Senators dismiss Iraqi arms declaration to UN," which reported: "Copies of a 12,000-page Iraqi declaration on banned weapons reached UN offices in Vienna on Sunday and were en route to the United Nations in New York for analysis, but senior U.S. senators of both parties dismissed its contents as lies. And they spoke of a likely war that they said would have surprisingly broad backing."

These senators did this without even having access to the documents.

The piece continued: "Senator Richard Lugar, Republican of Indiana, incoming chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, said that he assumed the Iraqi report would 'totally be an obfuscation.' The Democratic vice-presidential candidate in 2000, Senator Joseph Lieberman of Connecticut, called the declaration 'probably a 12,000-page, 100-pound lie.'" The piece also quoted Biden saying that Bush was likely to "have all that he needs, all the help, all the bases in the Middle East" and a coalition "larger than anyone anticipated."

What Biden did was to help ensure war happened while trying to wash his hands of responsibility for it. He helped build the car for Bush, filled it up with gas, saw that Bush was drunk, gave him license to do what he wanted — and then told him to be responsible while he handed him the keys. Eventually, Biden pretended he was shocked that the streets were littered with mangled bodies.

Biden is the exact opposite of Sen. Wayne Morse, one of only two senators who voted against the Tonkin Gulf Resolution — a false pretext used by Lyndon Johnson to dramatically escalate the Vietnam War in 1964. To those — like Biden in 2002 — who argued that you have to back the president, Morse responded that they didn't understand the Constitution or their responsibilities as senators:

Why not give the president a vote of confidence? This was the lingo of the reservationists: We've got to back our president. Since when do we have to back our president, or should we, when the president is proposing an unconstitutional act? And so these reservationists said that although I'm going to back my president, I want to show him I have confidence in him. I want to warn him I'm not giving him a blank check. This doesn't mean that I don't expect him to consult me in the future. This doesn't mean that the president can go ahead and send additional troops over there without consulting me, a senator of the United States. And you know, I most respectfully, but used language that they understood, said that's just nonsense. I want to say to my colleagues in the Senate, you're being consulted right now.

Would that Biden understood his responsibilities as well.

By Sam Husseini

Sam Husseini is an independent journalist. His website is here. He's on Twitter: @samhusseini.

MORE FROM Sam Husseini