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More serious mark against Biden: his Iraq war vote

Joe Biden
REUTERS/Leah Millis
Joe 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 Iraq war.

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.

Comments (46)

  1. Submitted by RB Holbrook on 07/11/2019 - 09:28 am.

    Biden has never been a “solid liberal.” He sided with the segregationists during the busing controversies of the 70s, and on reproductive rights, he is a recent convert to the pro-choice side.

  2. Submitted by Hiram Foster on 07/11/2019 - 10:19 am.

    The point of scapegoats is to bear all our guilts and take them into the wilderness. It’s always awkward when they come back.

    • Submitted by Ron Gotzman on 07/11/2019 - 01:51 pm.

      I do not know why you came up with this analogy….but…

      According to Jewish tradition – were not the scapegoats pushed over a cliff so they would not come wandering back into the camp or the reported scarlet scarf that adorned the scapegoat was miraculously turned white?

      • Submitted by Paul Brandon on 07/12/2019 - 09:32 am.

        One can find something in the Tanach to support virtually anything.
        If I want the. current. meaning of a word I use a dictionary.

  3. Submitted by James Hamilton on 07/11/2019 - 12:50 pm.

    Biden would have been a great candidate in other times, despite his mistakes. 2016 would have been one of those times. It seems he is in the front-runner decline at the moment, with Harris or Warren the most likely candidate.

  4. Submitted by Ray Schoch on 07/11/2019 - 12:53 pm.

    I’m inclined toward Hiram Foster rather than RB Holbrook on this one. I don’t mind “recent converts” as allies, and to a degree, I think it useful to keep in mind that we’re all products of our times and experiences. In some ways, “scapegoat” is an excellent term to characterize how Biden is being cast by some of his critics. Biden is not my first choice of Democratic candidate, either, but pretty much anyone in the current Democratic scrum would be preferable to the Current Occupant.

    I Biden wins the nomination, I’ll support him. If someone else wins the nomination, I’ll support that candidate, too.

    • Submitted by RB Holbrook on 07/12/2019 - 08:58 am.

      I don’t mind recent converts. My issue is that it is inaccurate to characterize Biden as having always been a “solid liberal.”

      And yes, I would vote for him in 2020 if he should be the nominee.

    • Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 07/12/2019 - 12:10 pm.

      The problem with recent converts is they have no advantage of those who didn’t need to be converted in the first place. And the fact that one had be converted at all typically points to a intellect or mentality that is prone to mistakes. So you may get convert on the LAST war, but it’s still the same guy when the next one breaks the horizen, and the best predictor of future behavior it past behavior.

  5. Submitted by Dennis Wagner on 07/11/2019 - 01:04 pm.

    You know there is an old saying. Where does good judgement come from? experience, where does experience come from? bad judgement! Food for thought.

    • Submitted by William Hunter Duncan on 07/12/2019 - 08:10 am.

      Bad judgement is when I plant tomatoes and peppers to early. Voting for war in Iraq was hubris, and hundreds of thousands of people died, and trillions of dollars were wasted.

      I can plant new vegetables, no problem. Who among our elite has been sanctioned or exiled for their disastrous imperialism, that has cost so much for so long, with such unlimited blowback? Keep in mind the increasing privatized, self-justifying war machine has grown well beyond accountability since 9/11, with no sign that it can or will be reigned in. That is how empires collapse. That is so much more than bad judgement.

      • Submitted by Dennis Wagner on 07/12/2019 - 03:25 pm.

        Perhaps we should condemn what 297 out of 436 folks in the house as well as 77 out of 100 in the senate. Point being all those that voted for, should be further disqualified for anything but dog catcher? John McCain is now a loser not a war hero? Point being if you were at the pointy end of the stick what would you have done? The answer being, folks like us were not there, i.e. we didn’t have the cajones to get involved in the first place,

      • Submitted by Dennis Wagner on 07/12/2019 - 07:18 pm.

        Yeah, I know some folks have never made a bad decision in their life. What is the other part of that saying, build a thousand houses do they call you the house builder? No, but have 1 too many drinks some night you are a drunkard forever! Last I checked lots of folks still like those republicans that voted for the war, don’t they have the majority in the Senate?

        • Submitted by William Hunter Duncan on 07/13/2019 - 11:37 am.


          It has been basically a blank check for military/security since 9/11. Congress effectively gave President Obama the right to kill or disappear American citizens without trial. Congress has not changed anything about that in the time of Trump. The Presidents since 9/11 and the privatized war machine have waged war in 100 different countries without Congressional debate and next to no oversight. That imperialist warmongers is what I am talking about, not one vote 16 years ago. Biden not only voted for that war, he has supported unquestioningly that unaccountable war machine since, and shows every sign that he will not only not question it, he will give it free reign to pursue regime change in Russia.War, war and more war.

          • Submitted by Dennis Wagner on 07/13/2019 - 05:13 pm.

            WHC, Just an FYI, I am not a military imperialist, I fully realize the defense budget is probably about 50-60% higher than I would like, and has been for a very long time, If these are the best of times why sky rocketing budget deficits? We have a corrupt system, and the supreme court just said hey we are good with it. Point being, you can scream from all the battlements you want, but we are not going to change this trend by putting up some far left wing progressive! Lots of folks like far right wing fascists, they said so in 2016, and said so for the senate in 2018, Reality is what reality is, Deal with it!

            • Submitted by William Hunter Duncan on 07/14/2019 - 10:02 am.


              Like I have said elsewhere, the origin of the word fascism is the unification of Corporations and the State in an attempt to advance the imperialism of the Nation. If one takes that seriously, that pretty well describes America, most Dems and Repubs alike. That would effectively explain the profound pathology the American economy has become, from the privatized eternal war machine, to Health Care, to higher education, to industrial ag, to prison labor, to social media/State Intelligence total information capture. Perverse incentives on the way toward total global domination as the goal – except the limitlessness espoused by this so-called capitalism will collapse the biosphere long before that happens.

              • Submitted by Dennis Wagner on 07/15/2019 - 08:55 pm.

                For some reason you don’t seem to get it. We are where we are, we start from where we are to get to where we want to be. If you aren’t driving the car, or influencing the driving of the car, chances are pretty slim we are going to even head into the direction we want to be going. Philosophize all you want,

  6. Submitted by John Evans on 07/11/2019 - 01:33 pm.

    Biden has been fairly liberal on social issues. But on economic issues, the senator from Delaware sided consistently with the financial industry. He bears a clear share of the blame for creating the conditions that gave Big Finance more power and fewer restrictions, and drew us into the worst economic crisis in several generations.

    On social issues, this country is very divided, but on average, it’s kind of moderate. On Economic issues, the electorate is less divided, and actually much more liberal than the media would have you believe. Biden is to the right of most Americans on economic issues, as is much of the Democratic establishment.

    So it seems like the smart thing would be to nominate a candidate who is regarded as a social moderate, but falls clearly to the left of Biden on economic issues.

    • Submitted by Vicki Barnes on 07/11/2019 - 02:22 pm.

      Biden is from Delaware, where they have more LLCs registered than citizens. They have a special corporate court that deals with corporate legal issues operating with extended hours, so as to be more convenient for their businesses. It takes less identifying information to start an LLC in DE than it does to register to vote or get a library card. In fact, you can start your LLC with no principal name whatsoever. Trafficking, money laundering and foreign corporations find havens there. Do not rely on Joe Biden to strengthen our Republic. He is for continuing the slow corporate and billionaire coup we have been undergoing for the last 40+ years.

  7. Submitted by William Hunter Duncan on 07/11/2019 - 01:34 pm.

    I would not vote for Biden (or Trump), for many of the same reasons I did not vote for Hillary:

    1. He will resurrect neoliberal trade agreements TPP/TTIP/TISA, which subjugate Minnesota and America to an international corporate tribunal.

    2. He will continue neoliberal economics that have been so disastrous for working people, local economics and community, and the earth, yet so very beneficial to corporations, banks and Billionaires.

    3. He will continue neoconservative, increasingly privatized, regime change war profiteering with a continued focus on Russia with much worse consequences than Iraq.

    4. He will continue to allow the ruination of the land, waters, pollinators and rural economics with unquestioning support for corporatized, industrial agriculture.

    5. I can’t be shamed for refusing to vote for evil, in the way of voting for the ‘lesser of two evils.’

    • Submitted by Henry Johnson on 07/11/2019 - 03:54 pm.

      Donnie Trump loves ya!, all it takes for him to win for sure is more people like you!

      Keep sticking to those principles and the wonderful feeling of pride it gives you, while the world goes further into fascism as a result.

      Bush and his Iraq war, the subject of this article, were given to us by all those who just had to vote for Nader instead of Gore, because he wasn’t pure enough for them either, probably like Clinton wasn’t pure enough for you in 2016.

      Bush won Florida by only 587 votes, while over 100,000 votes were wasted on Ralph Nader in that state, and he was an ultra-liberal who I doubt got more than a handful of conservatives votes for.

      So with Bush we got the Iraq war which caused God knows how many deaths, life-crushing injuries, massive destruction, and 5.9 trillion dollars out of the US treasury..

      But at least the purists can bask in the pride they feel in not lowering themselves to vote for someone who is “the lesser of two evils”.

      Enjoy the feeling – while the rest of the world suffers as a result.

      • Submitted by William Hunter Duncan on 07/11/2019 - 08:00 pm.


        I repeat this list to any Dem or Liberal who might listen, but many ignore the list and just call me a purist. Never mind the original use of the word fascism refers to the unification of corporations and the State (in an effort to take over the world) which people like me are fond of pointing out, pretty much describes both parties at this point.

        See, Trump won not because of people like me, but because the dem party sold out working class Americans to neoliberal corporatist globalization, banks and illegal immigration, while condescending to them like it is their fault they didn’t become computer programmers or whatever.

        Blaming people like me, or Russia, or the electoral college – anything but looking inward at dem policy/ideology – is a great way however to keep losing elections.

      • Submitted by Jackson Cage on 07/12/2019 - 08:09 am.

        Henry, thank you, thank you thank you!!! I’m confused by the ideological purists who find compromise to be a dirty word. They fail to realize every Presidential winner is lucky to get 50% of the vote. It seems they can’t acknowledge that means half the country rejects their views. So, a true effective leader will campaign for his ideas but compromise to get as much of them enacted as he or she can.

        • Submitted by William Hunter Duncan on 07/12/2019 - 11:01 am.

          By compromise do you mean: by voting for Hillary (or Uncle Joe), selling out working class people to corporations, banks and billionaires, polluting the land and waters, exterminating pollinators, feeding eternal war profiteering, excusing racketeering in Health Care and Edu….just so Trump doesn’t do the same?

          • Submitted by Paul Brandon on 07/13/2019 - 01:54 pm.

            Some of us were around in 1968 when we learned the hard way that there WAS a difference between Humphrey and Nixon.

            • Submitted by William Hunter Duncan on 07/13/2019 - 03:27 pm.


              Uncle Joe is more like Nixon than Humphrey. In fact, Nixon signed the clean air and clean water acts, which I would expect nothing so important coming out of an Uncle Joe Admin. He won’t sign any “climate change” legislation that isn’t written by the very polluters responsible, and habitat loss, pollinator extinction, chemical pollution including income inequality and privatized warmongering will continue apace.

      • Submitted by Brian Simon on 07/12/2019 - 09:42 am.

        Funny how establishment dems blame liberal/progressive voters for not compromising their values rather than questioning why they nominate such mediocre candidates. Perhaps the establishment “moderates” should compromise rather than the liberals/progressives. For example, Obama beat Hillary through appeal to the left & handily beat McCain & Romney. Clinton couldn’t beat Trump, of all people. And you think the liberals are the problem here? Wake up.

    • Submitted by Pat Terry on 07/12/2019 - 02:34 pm.

      This comment is the very definition of elitism. For a lot of people who depend on the protections of the ACA, electing someone like Trump is a matter of life and death. For others, their basic civil rights are at stake. You are fortunate to live a life of such privilege that those kinds of concerns don’t affect you or anyone you know.

      • Submitted by William Hunter Duncan on 07/13/2019 - 11:52 am.


        So by your definition, being anti-war/anti-imperialism, anti-pollution, anti-corporation/for working people, arguing to take better care of the earth, is elitist?

        My bad. I thought that is what a Dem like Paul Wellstone used to stand for?

        You know, income inequality soared in the time of Obama, just as it has since Reagan, the ACA notwithstanding. Dems don’t get to stand for the ACA and civil rights and then act superior, when they are mostly supportive of elitist economics that impoverish so many people of every ethnicity/gender, unquestioning of imperialist/corporatist warmongering, hollowing out the rural economy, letting industrial ag pollute the land and waters and exterminate pollinators, etc pathology.

  8. Submitted by Paul Yochim on 07/11/2019 - 01:39 pm.

    It is amazing how far an apology will get someone. He will say that it was a wrong decision and all will be well. He has a much bigger problem with Kamala Harris as well as presenting himself as “Common Man” Joe. As a $500,000 beneficiary to an S corp loophole that his former boss (Barack Obama) tried to close as well as benefiting from the Trump tax cuts, he is hardly the “common man” that he likes to portray.

    Regarding race and his treatment of women, just ask Anita Hill.

  9. Submitted by Charles Thompson on 07/11/2019 - 02:31 pm.

    Joe’s sell by date is long past.

  10. Submitted by Kurt Anderson on 07/11/2019 - 02:56 pm.

    I think his yes vote on the 2005 bankruptcy amendments, which favored his Delaware-based credit industry at the expense of unfortunate debtors, rivals or outstrips any other of his dubious votes. And this is not just hindsight – a major news magazine saw it coming five years earlier:,9171,44550,00.html

    Also, his shameless defense of the Delaware Bankruptcy Carnival (in which cases get filed there based on the corporate articles, regardless of where the company actually operates) is standard fare from a Delaware politician but hardly befits a presidential candidate.

    Populist schnopulist !

  11. Submitted by Brian Simon on 07/11/2019 - 03:03 pm.

    My issue with Biden is that he’s out of date. He still talks about finding common ground with Republicans as though the Senate still existed like it did in 1984. This despite the GOPs efforts to completely undermine the Obama admin while Biden was VP. Does he really not recall McConnell’s intransigence over the Garland nomination? As McConnell himself would say, there’s no education in the 2nd kick of a mule. Yet Biden lines up for more rounds of taking a hoof.

  12. Submitted by Paul Yochim on 07/11/2019 - 04:18 pm.

    The worst thing anyone can do to a liberal is imply racism and that is what Senator Harris did. Joe Biden does not like being backed into a corner. Instead of explaining that he was a junior senator and decorum at the time dictated that he work with those he opposed, he came out swinging blindly. He did hide the fact that Eastland and Talmadge were democrats and he needed their support on bills.

    • Submitted by Paul Brandon on 07/11/2019 - 04:54 pm.

      In Biden’s defense, Harris blindsided him.
      It’s a political truism that competing candidates in the same party don’t destroy each other — one of them will eventually run, and will need the support of the others.
      Harris’s scorched earth attack would have been more appropriate against Trump.
      Against a fellow Democrat she should have supported her own qualifications, not attacked her opponents.
      She clearly modeled her politics after Trump’s behavior in the 2016 primaries.

      • Submitted by RB Holbrook on 07/11/2019 - 05:22 pm.

        Senator Harris said what needed to be said, regardless of whether it was against a fellow Democrat.

        I understand how the Senate used to work, and I understand that working with some unsavory types was how the system worked in those days. That, in itself, does not bother me. Biden’s praise for those unsavory types can also be written off as another gaffe. When dealing with the memories of people like that, it’s best to keep quiet.

        What Biden needs to recognize is the terrible baggage of his opposition to school busing. The busing fights of the 70s were ugly episodes at a time when many of us were convinced that the nation had overcome the worst of its racism. We hadn’t. Racism was just given glib excuses and a populist veneer. Biden was in the thick of opposition to busing, and he needs to stop dancing around it.

      • Submitted by Brian Simon on 07/12/2019 - 06:29 am.

        Did Harris blindside him, or was he underprepared to defend his long record that hasn’t aged well? It’s obvious, to anyone, that he is vulnerable on a wide range of issues, as outlined in several posts above. He walked into the debate unprepared to defend his record; meanwhile Harris, et al needed to both stand out from the crowd & dig into Biden’s lead. He should have seen it coming.

      • Submitted by Paul Yochim on 07/13/2019 - 07:44 am.

        Joe Biden was unprepared . He thinks that as a VP for the first black president he is untouchable on race and no one there is smart enough to look at his past and opposition to school integration.

        Kamala Harris did her research.

    • Submitted by Paul Brandon on 07/12/2019 - 02:12 pm.

      The point remains that Harris may have helped to re-elect Trump, and did not present a compelling case why one should vote for -her-, rather than simply -anyone-but-Biden-.

  13. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 07/12/2019 - 12:26 pm.

    Biden’s history is riddled with bad judgment, and he typically refuses to recognize his errors unless someone nearly twists his arm off. Even then he tends flub any apology or recognition he attempts. This does not bode well for a guy who want’s keep making big decisions.

    His “explanation” for his war powers vote is simply ridiculous. Anyone who was paying attention knew that Bush el al wanted to invade Iraq the day after Sep 11, 2001. Bush went out of his way to demand a connection with Saddam despite no evidence whatsoever. Why would he do that if he was seeking some kind of peaceful resolution to something?

    At the end of the day Biden is telling us his big mistake was to trust Bush… well this is the guy who keeps promising us that he knows Republicans like no one else knows Republicans… anyone could have to told that Bush and his fellow Republicans were NOT to be trusted. I’m sorry but you either thought it was a good idea to invade Iraq, or you were idiot if you thought you could trust George W. Bush and Dick Cheney. Those guys were planning the Iraq invasion before the Taliban were driven out of Kabul. If I know that, how could Biden have NOT known it?

  14. Submitted by John Evans on 07/12/2019 - 01:58 pm.

    So it seems as though pro-Biden Democrats value winning and are willing to compromise quite a bit in order to win. Here’s a compromise that you may want to think long and hard about.

    In negotiations with McConnell, Biden seems very willing to offer cuts in Social Security and Medicare. Obama actually made that offer, but McConnell and Paul Ryan rejected it, because they thought that, with Republican control of both houses, they could force even deeper cuts.

    So ask yourself, are you willing to nominate a candidate who you know is willing to allow cuts to your Social Security and Medicare?

    A secondary question: Is that really a winning strategy?

  15. Submitted by Dennis Wagner on 07/13/2019 - 11:05 am.

    Real question is not the color of the drapes in the oval office, its do you want another 4 years of Trump? Forest through the trees, Something less than perfect is something significantly better than horrendously bad.

    • Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 07/14/2019 - 05:01 pm.

      Several of the Democratic candidates are capable of defeating Trump. Trump will not be a great challenge, he’s an historically unpopular president with the worse track record in history. This isn’t just about beating Trump it’s about electing a president that will move this country away from the circular trap of bipartisan failure. Merely replacing Trump is lowest bar. The only way Democrats can snatch defeat our of the jaws of victory is by putting another meets minimum requirement candidate on the ballot who neither inspires or energizes voters. If democrats put another candidate like THAT on the ballot, a significant percentage of voters may just decide they’d rather put up with another 4 years of Trump than replace him with place holder of some kind. Simply not being Trump is the riskiest possible strategy for defeating Trump.

      • Submitted by Dennis Wagner on 07/16/2019 - 06:16 pm.

        Well as they say this is an opinion column! Hillary was just tp Hillary, and Biden is just to Biden, end of the day you need centrist/independent/left leaning votes, and you are going to get them by putting a far left candidate on the firing line, Is that stuff legal in SLP?

        • Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 07/18/2019 - 08:26 am.

          Dennis, there are no far left candidates in the Democratic field, we just have some liberal candidates for change. Warren and Sander’s are just good old fashioned FDR liberals, they’re not “far” anything.

          Sure, for radical “centrists” anything beyond a minor tweak of the status quo is a “radical” idea of some kind, but that’s a warped interpretation of reality that yields perpetual crises.

  16. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 07/14/2019 - 05:04 pm.

    There was a nice opinion piece in the NYT’s a few days ago: “Joe Biden, Closet Republican: He’s the liberal Bob Dole, the looser Mitt Romney, the supposedly safe bet who’s owed a shot.”

    Democrats can’t keep putting candidates on the ballot who supported the Iraq War, no matter how briefly, and claim they’ve got good judgment, it just doesn’t compute.

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