Joe Biden is not my first pick for the Democratic nomination. There are a few reasons for that, but one very big concrete one.
Of course I’ll vote for Biden if he becomes the Dem nominee against the current incumbent. And if I thought Biden were the only Democrat who could defeat Donald Trump, of course I’d support him for the nomination. But I don’t think current polling on that matter is terribly relevant, as I’ve expressed many times. Some of the things the anti-Biden crowd is upset about, like his comment that in the old days he was willing to work with some old racist Southern Democrats (not on civil-rights matters, but on other stuff, to get liberal things done) doesn’t bother me much.
But the big, specific mark against Biden in my book is that he voted, in 2002, to authorize the 2003 U.S. war against Iraq.
One of the biggest things I’m looking for in a president is one who won’t get us into big, dumb, morally wrong wars, in which our soldiers die and we kill a lot of innocent people, for oil, for domination of the Mideast, to assert the right of the United States to use its military to take out any government in the world that that it finds offensive. Saddam Hussein was a monstrous dictator. But there will continue to be monstrous undemocratic regimes, and many of them are and will continue to be on good terms with the United States. (Hello, our good friend Saudi Arabia).
A colossal blunder
Like the Vietnam War, the war in Iraq was a colossal, hubristic, imperialist blunder. And Biden, who sat on, and later chaired, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, voted to give then-President George W. Bush the authority to start the war, which Bush soon did.
If you think “everyone” voted that way, you’d be wrong. The majority of Democrats in the House voted against the authorization, and almost half of the Senate Democrats – including both Minnesotans, Paul Wellstone and Mark Dayton – voted no. Only one other of the now-current Democratic presidential candidates was in Congress for that vote. Bernie Sanders, who was in the House at the time, voted no. I’ve always given Sanders credit for that vote.
To be extra fair to Biden, he said at the time that he didn’t vote to authorize Bush to start the war because he wanted the war, but because he hoped Bush would use the authorization to force Saddam Hussein to cooperate with U.N. weapons inspectors. That didn’t work out. Saddam allowed the inspectors to inspect. They found no hidden WMDs (because there weren’t any). And Bush, with the benefit of the authorization Biden had supported, started the way anyway, relying for legal authority on the resolution that Biden had supported.
Donald Trump, by the way, claims to have opposed the Iraq war but cannot produce a single instance where he said so publicly, and the few public remarks he made about it during the run-up were incoherently favorable to the idea of the war. Nevertheless, he occasionally repeats the old lie that he expressed opposition to the war.
Biden has been a solid liberal during his long and excellent career as a senator and as vice president. Several of the things that are being used against him, such as the fact that he worked with segregationist senators on some matters (although he was never anywhere near being a segregationist himself and was on the pro-civil rights side of almost every issue that came up during his long career) do not bother me much. Those comments are being taken out of context and twisted to imply, falsely, that Biden was some kind of segregation sympathizer or enabler, which is wrong and silly.
No compelling explanation
But the power of the president to decide what’s worth having a war over – that’s a big deal to me. That makes Biden’s Iraq war vote a big deal to me. And I haven’t heard an explanation for it from Biden that I find compelling.
Interestingly, if you look at the full list of the Senate vote on the Iraq War authorization, (you can find it in this Wikipedia article), almost all of the Democrats who harbored presidential ambitions voted for the war. Subsequent Democratic presidential aspirants – John Kerry, John Edwards, Joe Lieberman, Tom Harkin, Christopher Dodd, and Hillary Clinton, who was in the Senate at the time, all voted, like Biden, to authorize the war, and I’ve always held that vote against them, although I certainly voted for Kerry against Bush in 2004 and Clinton against Trump in 2016 and dearly wish she had won the election.
The Iraq war was between a blunder and a crime, justified by a lie, and that was known or knowable at the time.
Biden, by the way, became a critic of the Iraq war and called his vote a “mistake,” although he did not push to require a U.S. withdrawal.