Joe Biden's Iraq War Vote Was Not Nothing
Over the past week, criticism of Joe Biden's vote to authorize use of military force in Iraq has ramped up. The Sanders campaign called his refusal to admit he was wrong to have voted that way "appalling" and on Sunday, #JoeVotedForTheWar was trending on Twitter nearly all day.
Also on Sunday, Biden campaign surrogate John Kerry appeared on "Meet the Press," claiming that the Sanders campaign "distorted" Biden's vote on Iraq and made up a whole bunch of things about that vote that absolutely never happened.
.@JohnKerry on @BernieSanders criticism of @JoeBiden’s vote authorizing the use of force in Iraq: “Bernie is distor… https://t.co/mxBFvhjfvc— Face The Nation (@Face The Nation)1578846014.0
It was very clear that what we were doing was listening to a president that made a pledge, that he was going to do diplomacy, he was going to exhaust diplomacy to build a coalition, and ultimately we learned, as Joe did and I did, that the intelligence was distorted.
Oh really? So why wasn't it called the Authorization for Use Of Diplomacy To Build A Coalition and not the Authorization for Use Of Military Force Against Iraq? It was right there in the damn title. That's what was very clear.
Right from the very beginning it was absolutely clear that the Bush administration intended to go to war. Right from the very beginning there were people, UN weapons inspectors and others, saying that it was functionally impossible for there to be any working "weapons of mass destruction" in Iraq.
If Biden says he trusted the Bush administration to handle this in some fabulously responsible way, he is either lying or he is the dumbest person to ever walk the earth. I mean, it wasn't even the "right" country — Iraq had absolutely nothing to do with the September 11 attacks. They did not attack us.
Kerry was eager to classify Biden's vote as a mistake that was a result of being misled by the Bush Administration:
Kerry added that the vote "was not a vote especially to go to war; it was a vote for the president to have leverage with respect to getting Saddam Hussein back to the […] inspections." "I think we were let down, and Joe has said many times it was a mistake, obviously, to trust the words of the administration who didn't follow through on what they said they were going to do," Kerry said.
If John Kerry and Joe Biden both actually believed that, then they were idiots. That is all I can say. But I don't believe they did. At the time, anyone who wasn't totally jazzed for war was essentially branded a traitor, a kook, or a petulant child who didn't understand how the real world worked. It was an actual scandal when politicians were seen out without flag pins. Liberal MSNBC actually fired Phil Donahue for being opposed to the war. Biden and Kerry supported the war because at the time that is what all of the "fair-minded" Democrats were doing. [Editrix's note: Nancy Pelosi actually voted against it, and it's weird that some people online are really invested in lying that she supported it to make her more centrist and terrible. Editrix out.] All of the good, statesmanlike Democrats who felt that George W. Bush deserved the benefit of the doubt on this and who didn't want to look unpatriotic or unserious. Who thought, as those types often do, that if they just let Republicans have their way on everything, they would be so grateful that they wouldn't actually go through with it.
But Joe Biden did not just vote for the Iraq War; it wasn't just one mistaken vote. He was a cheerleader for it. He repeated the Bush administration's propaganda at Senate hearings that he organized, leading up to the authorization vote:
The attacks of 9/11 have forever transformed how Americans see the world. Through tragedy and pain, we have learned that we cannot be complacent about events abroad. We cannot be complacent about those who espouse hatred for us. We must confront clear danger with a new sense of urgency and resolve. [...]
In my judgment, President Bush is right to be concerned about Saddam Hussein's relentless pursuit of weapons of mass destruction and the possibility that he may use them or share them with terrorists. Other regimes hostile to the United States and our allies already have or seek to acquire weapons of mass destruction. What distinguishes Saddam is that he has used them against his own people and against Iran. And for nearly four years now Iraq has blocked the return of UN weapons inspectors.
Here he is, in 2003, at the Brookings Institute of all places, mocking Democrats who didn't support the war.
He also voted in favor of the PATRIOT Act. Which is to say, this wasn't some "Whoopsie daisy! I voted to allow Bush to use military force for the purpose of pressuring the UN to get inspectors into Iraq, and then immediately regretted it as soon as he actually invaded" thing. He was there the whole time, every step of the way, legitimizing a bullshit war. He can say he was lied to or misled, but there was never any solid proof that the "weapons of mass destruction" existed and plenty of proof that they did not, and you don't send people to off to die in a war on "evidence" that flimsy.
It's not nothing. This isn't being petty and unfair to Joe Biden. People are dead. People's children are dead. People are injured. People came back with PTSD. And we're still there. And as much as we can and should blame George W. Bush for that, there were a lot of Democrats who were complicit. Joe Biden is one of them.
People fuck up all the time. Hell, Bernie Sanders fucked up with his initial vote to authorize the invasion of Afghanistan. But here's what he said about that:
"Well, only one person, my good friend, Barbara Lee, was right on that issue," responded Sanders. "She was the only person in the House to vote against the war in Afghanistan. She was right. I was wrong. So was everybody else in the House."
Is that hard? I feel like that's not hard. I don't expect any more out of Joe Biden than that, I really don't. I'm not suggesting he wear a hair shirt or walk around flagellating himself with a cat 'o' nine tails or perform any other acts of bodily mortification to atone for his sin. I just want him to say "I was wrong." I want him to understand why he was wrong and what led him to being wrong and I want him to talk about that and what he wishes he had done instead. That's not weakness, it's strength. It's growth. It's actual leadership.
It is also, frankly, a better look than standing by an obviously bad decision in a way that absolutely no one who was alive at that time is going to be fooled by.
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Robyn Pennacchia is a brilliant, fabulously talented and visually stunning angel of a human being, who shrugged off what she is pretty sure would have been a Tony Award-winning career in musical theater in order to write about stuff on the internet. Follow her on Twitter at @RobynElyse