As Branco Marcetic wrote in “Inthesetimes”, Bernie Sanders has used Biden’s record to draw a contrast with his own opposition to the Iraq War. Rep. Seth Moulton, another 2020 candidate, has called for Biden to admit he was wrong for casting the vote. And a recent POLITICO/Morning Consult poll showed more than 40 percent of respondents between 18 and 29 were less likely to back Biden because of it. But to say the now-Democratic frontrunner voted for the Iraq War doesn’t fully describe his role in what has come to be widely acknowledged as the most disastrous foreign policy decision of the 21st century. A review of the historical record shows Biden didn’t just vote for the war—he was a leading Democratic voice in its favor and played an important role in persuading the public of its necessity and, more broadly, laying the groundwork for Bush’s invasion.
In the wake of September 11th, Biden stood as a leading Democratic voice on foreign policy, chairing the powerful Senate Foreign Relations Committee. As President Bush attempted to sell the U.S. public on the war, Biden became one of the administration’s steadfast allies in this cause, backing claims about the supposed threat posed by Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein and insisting on the necessity of removing him from power.
Biden did attempt to placate Democrats by criticizing Bush on procedural grounds while largely affirming his case for war, even as he painted himself as an opponent of Bush and the war in front of liberal audiences. In the months leading up to and following the invasion, Biden would make repeated, contradictory statements about his position on the issue, eventually casting himself as an unrepentant backer of the war effort just as the public and his own party began to sour on it.
Biden hadn’t always been a hawk on Iraq. He had voted against the first Gulf War in 1991, though even his opposition to that war had been tepid at best, focused mainly on badgering George H.W. Bush into having Congress rubber-stamp a war Bush had already made clear he was intent on waging with or without its approval.
In 1996 Biden criticized Republican claims that then-President Bill Clinton wasn’t being tough enough on Iraq amid calls to remove Saddam Hussein from power, labeling an ouster “not a doable policy.” Before the War on Terror drove U.S. foreign policy, Biden criticized Bush during his first year in office for the then-president’s hawkish position on missile defense.
September 11th changed all this. Only one day before the attacks, at a speech in front of the National Press Club, Biden had called Bush’s foreign policy ideas “absolute lunacy” and charged that his missile defense system proposal would “begin a news arms race.” But the nearly 3,000 Americans who were killed on U.S. soil that day upended the political consensus. Bush’s approval rating shot up to a historic 90 percent, and any elected officials who failed to match the president’s zeal for military retribution became vulnerable to accusations of being “soft on terror.”
“Count me in the 90 percent,” Biden said in the weeks after the attack. There was “total cohesion,” he said, between Democrats and Republicans in the challenges ahead. “There is no daylight between us.”
In November 2002, just a little over a year following the World Trade Center attacks, Biden faced re-election amidst a political climate in which the Bush administration had incited nationalist sentiment over the issue of terrorism. In October 2001, Biden had been criticized in Delaware newspapers for comments that were perceived as potentially weak, warning that the United States could be seen as a “high-tech bully” if it failed to put boots on the ground in Afghanistan and instead relied on a protracted bombing campaign to oust the Taliban.
Consequently, Biden, then deemed by the New Republic to be the Democratic Party’s “de facto spokesman on the war against terrorism,” quickly became a close ally of the Bush administration in its prosecution of that war. The White House installed a special secure phone line to Biden’s home, and he and three other members of Congress met privately with Bush in October 2001 to come up with a positive public relations message for the war in Afghanistan.
Biden’s stance on Iraq soon began to change, too. In November 2001, Biden had batted away suggestions of regime change, saying the United States should defeat al-Qaeda and Osama bin Laden before thinking about other targets. By February 2002, he appeared to have creaked opened the door to the possibility of an invasion.
“If Saddam Hussein is still there five years from now, we are in big trouble,” he told a crowd of 400 Delaware National Guard officers that month at the annual Officers Call event.
“It would be unrealistic, if not downright foolish, to believe we can claim victory in the war on terrorism if Saddam is still in power,” he said around the same time, echoing the language of hawks like Connecticut Sen. Joe Lieberman.
Biden soon developed the position he would hold for the following 13 months leading into Bush’s March 2003 invasion of Iraq: While the Bush administration was entirely justified in its plans to remove Hussein from power in Iraq, it had to do a better job of selling the inevitable war to the U.S. public and the international community.
“There is overwhelming support for the proposition that Saddam Hussein should be removed from power,” he said in March 2002, while noting that divisions remained about how exactly that would be done. If the administration wanted his support, Biden continued, they would have to make “a complete and thorough case” that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction (WMDs) and to outline what they envisioned a post-Hussein Iraq would look like.
It was a stance well-calibrated for the political climate. Biden could continue to point to disagreements with the administration for liberal audiences, even if they were merely procedural, while putting his weight behind the ultimate goal of war with Iraq. At the same time, Biden’s apparent criticisms doubled as advice for the administration: If you want buy-in from liberals for your war, this is what you’ll have to do.“I don’t know a single informed person who is suggesting you can take down Saddam and not be prepared to stay for two, four, five years to give the country a chance to be held together,” Biden recounted telling Bush privately in June 2002. It was a talking point he would repeat often over the next year, that regime change in Iraq was the correct thing to do, but would require a long-term commitment from the United States after Hussein’s removal.
During frequent television appearances, Biden didn’t just insist on the necessity of removing Hussein from power, but appeared to signal to the Bush administration on what grounds it could safely seek military action against Iraq.When Bush’s directive to the CIA to step up support for Iraqi opposition groups and even possibly capture and kill Hussein was leaked to the Washington Post in June, Biden gave it his approval. Asked on CBS’s “Face the Nation” if the plan gave him any pause, Biden replied: “Only if it doesn’t work.”
“If the covert action doesn’t work, we’d better be prepared to move forward with another action, an overt action, and it seems to me that we can’t afford to miss,” he added.
“Prominent Democrats endorse administration plan to remove Iraqi leader from power,” ran the subsequent Associated Press headline.A month later in July, Biden affirmed that Congress would back Bush in a pre-emptive strike on Iraq in the event of a “clear and present danger” and if “the president can make the case that we’re about to be attacked.”
Asked on “Fox News Sunday” the same month if a discovery that Hussein was in league with al-Qaeda would justify an invasion, Biden replied: “If he can prove that, yes, he would have the authority in my view.”
“And this will be the first time ever in the history of the United States of America that we have essentially invaded another country preemptively to take out a leadership, I think justifiably given the case being made.”
These themes would be used by the Bush administration in the months ahead to sell the war to the American public. The non-existent ties between Hussein and al-Qaeda became one of the most high-profile talking points for the war’s proponents. And the Bush administration would publicize the supposedly imminent threat Hussein posed to the United States, including then-National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice’s infamous September declaration that “we don’t want the smoking gun to be a mushroom cloud.”
By July Biden appeared to rule out a diplomatic solution to the conflict. “Dialogue with Saddam is useless,” he said.
It was also in July 2002 that Biden carried out one of his most consequential actions in the lead-up to the Iraq War when he held 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 about the stakes of the conflict and the logistical issues involved in waging it. At the time, the pro-war stance shared by the administration, much of the press, and Democrats like Biden was by no means unanimous. Many of the United States’ closest allies in Europe (apart from Tony Blair’s British government) were wary of the war drums beating from Washington, as were many Arab states. In July, King Abdullah II of Jordan, a U.S. ally in the Middle East, called the idea of an invasion “somewhat ludicrous.”
The same month, the Houston Chronicle reported, based on interviews with anonymous officials, that a number of senior military officials, including members of the joint chiefs of staff, were in disagreement with the White House’s drive for war with Iraq, and believed that Hussein posed no immediate threat to the United States. The day before the hearings, Scott Ritter, the former chief weapons inspector at the UN, cautioned that it was far from “inevitable” that Iraq had restarted its weapons program, and warned that “Biden’s open embrace of regime removal in Baghdad” threatened to make the hearings “devolve into a political cover” for Congress to authorize Bush’s war.
Yet as Stephen Zunes reported for The Progressive in April 2019, none of these views were aired at Biden’s hearings, which opened with Biden stating that WMDs “must be dislodged from Saddam, or Saddam must be dislodged from power,” and that “if we wait for the danger from Saddam to become clear, it could be too late.” Ritter himself was never invited to testify. Neither were other experts critical of the Bush narrative on Iraq, including Rolf Ekéus, the former executive chairman of the United Nations Special Commission, the inspection regime set up after the Gulf War to deal with WMDs, and former UN Assistant Secretary-General Hans Von Sponeck, who complained that he was “very agitated by the deliberate distortions and misrepresentations” that made it “look to the average person in the U.S. as if Iraq is a threat to their security.” According to Biden, Bush later thanked him for the hearings.
By Zunes’ count, none of the 18 witnesses who were called objected to the idea that Hussein had WMDs, and all three witnesses who testified on the subject of al-Qaeda claimed the organization received direct support from Iraq—the very red line Biden had said would give Bush the authority to invade the country. Out of the 12 witnesses who discussed an invasion, half were in favor and only two opposed. Biden himself said throughout the hearings that Iraq was a national security threat.It was largely up to Republicans on the committee—namely Lincoln Chafee and Chuck Hagel—to voice skepticism about a war effort. Ritter accused Biden and other members of Congress of having “preordained a conclusion that seeks to remove Saddam Hussein from power regardless of the facts.” Indeed, on the day of the hearings, Biden had co-authored a New York Times op-ed suggesting that continued “containment” of Hussein “raises the risk that Mr. Hussein will play cat-and-mouse with inspectors while building more weapons,” and that “if we wait for the danger to become clear and present, it may be too late.”
Having given a platform to pro-war talking points, Biden then hit the talk show circuit to cite the lopsided testimony he himself had arranged in order to argue for war. Determining Hussein’s intentions was “like reading the entrails of goats,” Biden told NBC’s “Meet the Press,” and what mattered more was Hussein’s ability to use WMDs, whatever those intentions might be. He pointed to testimony in the July hearings to argue it was clear that Iraq had such weapons.“We have no choice but to eliminate the threat,” he said. “This is a guy who’s an extreme danger to the world.”
While the mainstream press featured few skeptical and anti-war voices at the time, a number of them assailed Biden for going along with the Bush administration.“Biden apparently believes that he fulfills the constitutional function of advise and consent by merely being the cheerleader for the administration’s rising chorus demanding war with Iraq,” wrote Stanley Kutler in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. “When and how are the only questions in his repertoire.”
- source : Tehrantimes