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Joe Biden continues to defend his record on the Iraq War as he seeks the Democratic presidential nomination, lately claiming he opposed the war the moment it started.
In an NPR interview aired Sept. 3, host Asma Khalid asked Biden to respond to criticism about the Iraq War, particularly sending troops into the country.
"I let my record stand. I think my record has been good. I think the vast majority of the foreign policy community thinks it's been very good. For example, I got a commitment from President Bush he was not going to go to war in Iraq. He looked me in the eye in the Oval Office; he said he needed the vote to be able to get inspectors into Iraq to determine whether or not Saddam Hussein was engaged in dealing with a nuclear program," Biden said.
"He got them in, and before we know it, we had a shock and awe. Immediately, the moment it started, I came out against the war at that moment," Biden continued. "Now, the judgment of my trusting the president to keep his word on something like that, that was a mistake. And I apologize for that."
Is it true that Biden immediately came out against the war the moment it started? No.
Biden’s recounting of his position doesn’t match the public comments he made right before and after the war started. During that time, Biden acknowledged frustrations with how the United States was heading into war, but said he supported the president. Biden for years stood by his vote for a resolution that paved the way for the war, even though he also criticized the Bush administration’s strategy — saying the United States went to war too soon, without enough troops, and without enough countries supporting the effort.
Path to Iraq War
In 2002, President George W. Bush argued that Iraqi president Saddam Hussein had chemical and biological weapons, sought nuclear weapons, supported terrorism, and threatened peace.
In October 2002, then-U.S. Sen. Biden voted in favor of a resolution that authorized Bush to enforce ''all relevant'' United Nations Security Council resolutions on Iraq and if needed, to use military force against Iraq.
In a Senate floor speech before voting for the resolution, Biden said that "failure to overwhelmingly support" the resolution was "likely to enhance the prospects that war will occur." The objective of the resolution was to compel Iraq to destroy its weapons of mass destruction, Biden said.
Biden left open the possibility that Hussein might "miscalculate" and "misjudge" U.S. resolve. In that event, Biden said, use of military force might be needed, with the support of others, or alone if it came to that.
"If it comes to war," Biden said, "the president, I am confident, will go to the American people. In a speech last week he made a compelling case that Iraq's failure to disarm is our problem as well as the world's. But as I said, he has not yet made the case to the American people that the United States may have to solve this problem alone or with relatively few people or has he told us of the sacrifices that such a course of action will involve. I am confident that he will do so if and when it proves necessary."
The United States invaded Iraq on March 20, 2003, and the war officially ended in late 2011. No weapons of mass destruction were found.
CNN interviewed Biden on March 19, 2003, as U.S.-led troops pushed closer to the Iraqi border. Then-CNN anchor Judy Woodruff asked Biden if Senate Democratic Minority Leader Tom Daschle had gone "over the line" by saying that he regretted that one life would be lost because Bush failed at diplomacy.
"No, I think what you saw is a sense of frustration," Biden said, adding that the frustration related to "the lost opportunities of maybe being able to do this with others, maybe, if we had others with us, not even having to go to war."
Woodruff also pressed Biden on comments by other Democratic lawmakers who said they supported the troops, but reserved the right to criticize Bush.
"I support the president. I support the troops. We should make no distinction," Biden said. "We should have one voice going out to the whole world that we're together. There's plenty to criticize this president for. Let's get this war done."
Biden also said that at a caucus meeting that day, his suggestion was to send a message that "when that first tank crosses that line, we should be on the floor of the United States Senate and every capital in the world hear one voice from both parties, saying, we support the troops. We support the president. And this is the single most important thing we do, and show it by our actions."
So despite frustrations on how the United States was going into war, lawmakers should ultimately support the president, Biden said.
Biden’s comments after the war started
A week after the war started, Biden in a Senate floor statement said he supported a concurrent resolution that expressed the United States’ gratitude to other nations who were supporting the United States in disarming Iraq.
"God willing, this war will continue to go well... casualties on all sides will be few... and victory will be swift," Biden said March 27, 2003. "And working with the international community, we will put Iraq on the path to a pluralistic and democratic society."
At a Brookings Institution event in July 2003, about four months after the Iraq started, Biden embraced his vote, but also criticized the Bush administration.
"Nine months ago, I voted with my colleagues to give the president of the United States of America the authority to use force, and I would vote that way again today," Biden said.
Biden said it was the correct vote because Hussein for more than a decade had defied U.N. security resolutions, failed to account for huge gaps in weapons declarations documented by U.N. weapons inspectors, and refused to abide by conditions set for him.
Still, the Bush administration erred in its approach to Hussein, Biden added.
"For me, the issue was never whether we had to deal with Saddam, but when and how we dealt with Saddam," Biden said July 2003. "And it's precisely the when and how that I think this administration got wrong. We went to war too soon. We went to war with too few troops. We went to war without the world, when we could have had many with us, and we're paying the price for it now."
Biden in a 2004 op-ed again justified his vote and cast blame on the Bush administration’s actions.
Authorizing use of force "made sense," Biden wrote, because Hussein had "spent a decade playing cat and mouse with the U.N. inspectors sent to verify his compliance with the Security Council's demands."
"I've asked myself many times whether there is more Congress could and should have done to slow the rush to war, even after we authorized the use of force, but the truth is that many of us repeatedly warned the administration about the mistakes it was making," Biden added.
In a November 2005 interview on NBC’s "Meet the Press," Biden was asked if his 2002 vote was a mistake.
"It was a mistake," Biden said. "It was a mistake to assume the president would use the authority we gave him properly. … We gave the president the authority to unite the world to isolate Saddam. And the fact of the matter is, we went too soon. We went without sufficient force. And we went without a plan."
Biden spokesman Andrew Bates said that Biden as senator called for investigation of the Bush administration’s "intelligence failures and blasted their abandonment of diplomacy and extremely flawed prosecution of the war."
"He worked in good faith with the Bush administration to ensure that the United Nations weapons inspections in Iraq could resume, which is why he voted yes," Bates said. "However, his good faith was not reciprocated and even once inspections were back on track the Bush administration plunged the nation into war."
Referring to the Iraq War, Biden said, "immediately, the moment it started, I came out against the war at that moment."
That’s not the case. The public record shows that immediately before and after the United States invaded Iraq in March 2003, Biden supported the president. He also on multiple occasions for years justified his vote on a resolution that authorized the use of force against Iraq.
Biden lamented that the United States did not have the support of more nations and gradually criticized the Bush administration’s strategy. But his claim of an "immediate" opposition to the war isn’t accurate.
We rate his statement False.
NPR interview with Joe Biden, aired Sept. 3, 2019
Email and phone interview, Andrew Bates, Biden spokesman, Sept. 4, 2019
George W. Bush White House archive, President Bush Outlines Iraqi Threat, Oct. 7, 2002
C-SPAN, Biden's Floor Speech on Iraq War, Oct. 10, 2002
CNN Transcripts, U.S.-Led Troops Push Closer to Iraq Hours Away from War; Interview with Hans Blix, March 19, 2003
Mrt.com, Associated Press story — Daschle: Bush Diplomacy Fails 'Miserably', March 16, 2003
Internet Archive Wayback Machine, Senator Biden's Floor Statement on Iraq, March 27, 2003
The New Republic, Fires Next Time, Joe Biden op-ed, June 28, 2004
NBC Meet the Press transcript for Nov. 27, 2005 show
C-SPAN, Brookings Institution event, July 31, 2003
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