Originally appeared at The American Conservative.
John Kerry supports Biden for the Democratic nomination, and he has been acting as a campaign surrogate to defend Biden’s vote for the Iraq war authorization in 2002. Kerry also voted for the 2002 AUMF, so he has his own reason for wanting to spin Biden’s record as something other than what it was. NBC News quoted Kerry as saying this:
“It was a mistake to have trusted them, I guess, and we paid a high price for it,” Kerry added. “But that was not voting for the war.”
Kerry appeared on Face the Nation today to defend Biden against Bernie Sanders’ criticism of the former vice president’s support for the war:
— Bo Erickson CBS (@BoKnowsNews) January 12, 2020
Kerry’s argument is ridiculous. He and other hawkish Democratic senators that voted for the 2002 AUMF want to spin their votes as voting for “leverage,” but in fact they were voting to give the president the authority to order attacks on the Iraqi government. That is voting for war, and there is nothing else that it could be. Biden’s public statements about the war show that he didn’t turn against it after the invasion happened, because in the end he wasn’t opposed to Bush’s decision to invade. Months after the invasion, Biden said, “I, for one, thought we should have gone in Iraq.” This isn’t something the Sanders campaign is making up. This is Biden’s record, and Kerry’s weak spin just compounds the problem.
The text of the joint resolution that Kerry and Biden voted for is unambiguous. The third section of the resolution states clearly that they are giving the president their authorization to use force if he deems it necessary:
(a) AUTHORIZATION- The President is authorized to use the Armed Forces of the United States as he determines to be necessary and appropriate in order to —
(1) defend the national security of the United States against the continuing threat posed by Iraq; and
(2) enforce all relevant United Nations Security Council resolutions regarding Iraq.
The resolution then makes a point of saying that this authorization is intended to fulfill the requirement for specific statutory authorization contained in the War Powers Resolution. There is no way to interpret this as anything other than giving the president a blank check to initiate a war against Iraq. Kerry and Biden signed off on that, and it was only later when the war that Bush launched started to become a liability that they cooked up the excuse that they had been tricked. Hiding behind the “pledges” that Bush gave them is a pitiful defense, and it shows that more than 17 years after they cast these votes Kerry and Biden still won’t take responsibility and own up to their failure.
Biden didn’t have to try inventing a record of being a war opponent when he wasn’t one, but for some reason that is what he has chosen to do. Last year, he said, “That moment it started, I came out against the war at that moment.” That is false, and Biden knew it was false. Biden leans heavily on his foreign policy experience to make the case for his candidacy, but his willingness to misrepresent his record on Iraq will give people good reason to question why they should trust him with such a powerful position.
Biden could have acknowledged his vote for war for what it was, admitted that he made a terrible mistake, and then explain what that experience taught him. That might or might not be good enough to convince the voters, but it would have the virtue of being credible and decent. Instead we have the spectacle of another former senator who also voted for the Iraq war making lame excuses for Biden’s bad decision. That guarantees that the issue won’t go away, and Biden’s absurd defenses of his record open him up to charges of misleading voters. Near the end of his appearance on Face the Nation, Kerry says, “Joe has told the truth, people know that,” but on this issue in particular we know that Biden has been lying about his original position on the Iraq war because he realizes what a political liability it is for him.
Daniel Larison is a senior editor at The American Conservative, where he also keeps a solo blog. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and is a columnist for The Week. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Chicago, and resides in Dallas. Follow him on Twitter. This article is reprinted from The American Conservative with permission.