Presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Barack
Obama's selection of Joseph Biden as his running mate constitutes a stunning
betrayal of the antiwar constituency who made possible his hard-fought victory
in the Democratic primaries and caucuses.
The veteran Delaware senator has been one the leading congressional supporters
of U.S. militarization of the Middle East and Eastern Europe, of strict economic
sanctions against Cuba, and of Israeli occupation policies.
Most significantly, however, Biden, who chaired the Senate Foreign Relations
Committee during the lead-up to the Iraq War during the latter half of 2002,
was perhaps the single most important congressional backer of the Bush administration's
decision to invade that oil-rich country.
Shrinking Gap Between Candidates
One of the most important differences between
Obama and the soon-to-be Republican presidential nominee John McCain is that
Obama had the wisdom and courage to oppose the U.S. invasion of Iraq. Obama
and his supporters had been arguing correctly that judgment in foreign policy
is far more important than experience; this was a key and
likely decisive argument in the Illinois senator's campaign against Sen.
Hillary Clinton, who had joined McCain in backing the Iraq war resolution.
However, in choosing Biden, who, like the forthcoming Republican nominee,
has more experience in international affairs but notoriously poor judgment,
Obama is essentially saying that this critical difference between the two prospective
presidential candidates doesn't really matter. This decision thereby negates
one of his biggest advantages in the general election. Of particular concern
is the possibility that the pick of an establishment figure from the hawkish
wing of the party indicates the kind of foreign policy appointments Obama will
make as president.
Obama's choice of Biden as his running mate will likely have a hugely negative
impact on his once-enthusiastic base of supporters. Obama's supporters had
the fact that he did not blindly accept the Bush administration's transparently
false claims about Iraq being an imminent danger to U.S. national security
interests that required an invasion and occupation of that country. At the
same time Biden was joining his Republican colleagues in pushing through a
Senate resolution authorizing the invasion, Obama was speaking
at a major antiwar rally in Chicago, correctly noting that Iraq's war-making
ability had been substantially weakened and that the international community
could successfully contain Saddam Hussein from any future acts of aggression.
In Washington, by contrast, Biden was insisting that Bush was right and Obama
was wrong, falsely claiming that Iraq under Saddam Hussein – severely weakened
by UN disarmament efforts and comprehensive international sanctions – somehow
constituted both "a long-term threat and a short-term threat to our national
security" and was an "extreme danger to the world." Despite the absence of
any "weapons of mass destruction" or offensive military capabilities, Biden,
when reminded of those remarks during an interview last year, replied,
"That's right, and I was correct about that."
Biden Shepherds the War Authorization
It is difficult to overestimate the critical
role Biden played in making the tragedy of the Iraq war possible. More than
two months prior to the 2002 war resolution even being introduced, in what
was widely interpreted as the first
sign that Congress would endorse a U.S. invasion of Iraq, Biden declared
on Aug. 4 that the United States was probably going to war. In his powerful
position as chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, he orchestrated
a propaganda show designed to sell the war to skeptical colleagues and the
American public by ensuring that dissenting voices would not get a fair hearing.
As Scott Ritter, the former chief UN weapons inspector, noted
at the time, "For Sen. Biden's Iraq hearings to be anything more than a
political sham used to invoke a modern-day Gulf of Tonkin resolution-equivalent
for Iraq, his committee will need to ask hard questions – and demand hard facts
– concerning the real nature of the weapons threat posed by Iraq."
It soon became apparent that Biden had no intention of doing so. Biden refused
to even allow Ritter himself – who knew more about Iraq's WMD capabilities
than anyone and would have testified that Iraq had achieved at least qualitative
disarmament – to testify. Ironically, on Meet
the Press last year, Biden defended his false claims about
Iraqi WMDs by insisting that "everyone in the world thought he had them. The
weapons inspectors said he had them."
Biden also refused to honor requests by some of his Democratic colleagues
to include in the hearings some of the leading antiwar scholars familiar with
Iraq and Middle East. These included both those who would have reiterated Ritter's
conclusions about nonexistent Iraqi WMD capabilities as well as those prepared
to testify that a U.S. invasion of Iraq would likely set back the struggle
against al-Qaeda, alienate the United States from much of the world, and precipitate
bloody urban counter-insurgency warfare amid rising terrorism, Islamist extremism,
and sectarian violence. All of these predictions
ended up being exactly what transpired.
Nor did Biden even call some of the dissenting officials in the Pentagon
or State Department who were willing to challenge the alarmist claims of their
ideologically driven superiors. He was willing, however, to allow Iraqi defectors
of highly dubious credentials to make false testimony about the vast quantities
of WMD materiel supposedly in Saddam Hussein's possession. Ritter has
correctly accused Biden of having "preordained a conclusion that seeks
to remove Saddam Hussein from power regardless of the facts and … using these
hearings to provide political cover for a massive military attack on Iraq."
Supported an Invasion Before Bush
Rather than being a hapless victim of the Bush
administration's lies and manipulation, Biden was calling for a U.S. invasion
of Iraq and making false statements regarding Saddam Hussein's supposed possession
of "weapons of mass destruction" years before President George W. Bush even
came to office.
As far back as 1998, Biden was calling for a U.S. invasion of Iraq. Even though
UN inspectors and the UN-led disarmament process led to the elimination of
Iraq's WMD threat, Biden – in an effort to discredit the world body and make
an excuse for war – insisted that UN inspectors could never be trusted to do
the job. During Senate hearings on Iraq in September of that year, Biden
told Ritter, "As long as Saddam's at the helm, there is no reasonable prospect
you or any other inspector is ever going to be able to guarantee that we have
rooted out, root and branch, the entirety of Saddam's program relative to weapons
of mass destruction."
Calling for military action on the scale of the Gulf War seven years earlier,
he continued, "The only way we're going to get rid of Saddam Hussein is we're
going to end up having to start it alone," telling the Marine veteran "it's
going to require guys like you in uniform to be back on foot in the desert
taking Saddam down."
When Ritter tried to make the case that President Bill Clinton's proposed
large-scale bombing of Iraq could jeopardize the UN inspections process, Biden
condescendingly replied that decisions on the use of military force were "beyond
your pay grade." As Ritter predicted, when Clinton ordered UN inspectors out
of Iraq in December of that year and followed up with a four-day bombing campaign
known as Operation Desert Fox, Saddam was provided with an excuse to refuse
to allow the inspectors to return. Biden then conveniently used Saddam's failure
to allow them to return as an excuse for going to war four years later.
Biden's False Claims to Bolster War
In the face of widespread skepticism over administration
claims regarding Iraq's military capabilities, Biden declared that President
Bush was justified in being concerned about Iraq's alleged pursuit of weapons
of mass destruction. Even though Iraq had eliminated its chemical weapons arsenal
by the mid-1990s, Biden insisted categorically in the weeks leading up to the
Iraq war resolution that Saddam Hussein still had chemical weapons. Even though
there is no evidence that Iraq had ever developed deployable biological weapons
and its biological weapons program had been eliminated some years earlier,
Biden insisted that Saddam had biological weapons, including anthrax, and that
"he may have a strain" of smallpox. And, even though the International Atomic
Energy Agency had reported as far back as 1998 that there was no evidence whatsoever
that Iraq had any ongoing nuclear program, Biden insisted Saddam was "seeking
Biden, "One thing is clear: These weapons must be dislodged from Saddam,
or Saddam must be dislodged from power." He did not believe proof of the existence
of any actual weapons to dislodge was necessary, however, insisting that "If
we wait for the danger from Saddam to become clear, it could be too late."
He further defended President Bush by falsely claiming that "He did not snub
the UN or our allies. He did not dismiss a new inspection regime. He did not
ignore the Congress. At each pivotal moment, he has chosen a course of moderation
In an Orwellian twist of language designed to justify the war resolution,
which gave President Bush the unprecedented authority to invade a country on
the far side of the world at the time and circumstances of his own choosing,
Biden claimed that "I do not believe this is a rush to war. I believe it is
a march to peace and security. I believe that failure to overwhelmingly support
this resolution is likely to enhance the prospects that war will occur."
It is also important to note that Biden supported an invasion in the full
knowledge that it would not be quick and easy and that the United States would
have to occupy Iraq for an extended period, declaring, "We must be clear with
the American people that we are committing to Iraq for the long haul; not just
the day after, but the decade after."
Biden's Current Position
In response to the tragic consequences of the
U.S. invasion and the resulting weakening of popular support for the war, Biden
has more recently joined the chorus of Democratic members of Congress criticizing
the administration's handling of the conflict and calling for the withdrawal
of most combat forces. He opposed President Bush's escalation ("surge") of
troop strength early last year and has called for greater involvement by the
United Nations and other countries in resolving the ongoing conflicts within
However, Biden has been the principal congressional backer of a de facto partition
of the country between Kurdish, Sunni Arab, and Shia Arab segments, a proposal
opposed by a solid majority of Iraqis and strongly denounced by the leading
Sunni, Shia, and secular blocs in the Iraqi parliament. Even the U.S. State
Department has criticized Biden's plan as too extreme. A cynical and dangerous
attempt at divide-and-rule,
Biden's ambitious effort to redraw the borders of the Middle East would likely
make a violent and tragic situation all the worse.
Yet it is Biden's key role in making possible the congressional authorization
of the 2003 U.S. invasion that elicits the greatest concern among Obama's supporters.
While more recently expressing regrets over his vote, he has not formally apologized
and has stressed the Bush administration's mishandling of the post-invasion
occupation rather than the illegitimacy of the invasion itself.
Biden's support for the resolution was not simply poor judgment, but a calculated
rejection of principles codified in the UN Charter and other international
legal documents prohibiting aggressive wars. According to Article VI of the
Constitution, such a rejection also constitutes a violation of U.S. law as
well. Biden even voted against an amendment sponsored by fellow Democratic
Sen. Carl Levin that would have authorized U.S. military action against Iraq
if the UN Security Council approved the use of force and instead voted for
the Republican-backed resolution authorizing the United States to go to war
unilaterally. In effect, Biden has embraced the neoconservative view that the
United States, as the world's sole remaining superpower, somehow has the right
to invade other countries at will, even if they currently pose no strategic
Given the dangerous precedent set by the Iraq war resolution, naming one of
its principal supporters as potentially the next vice president of the United
States has raised serious questions regarding Obama's commitment to international
law. This comes at a time when the global community is so desperately hoping
for a more responsible U.S. foreign policy following eight years of Bush.
Early in his presidential campaign, Obama pledged to not only end the war
in Iraq, but to also challenge the mindset that got the United States into
Iraq in the first place. Choosing Biden as his running mate, however, raises
doubts regarding Obama's actual commitment to "change we can believe in."
Reprinted courtesy of Foreign Policy in