Fact-Check: Joe Biden Claims Bush Tricked Him into Voting for Iraq War

Former Democratic presidential candidate Delaware Senator Joe Biden (L) gestures after being asked to stand behind the presidential podium after US President George W. Bush signed the Second Chance Act of 2007 at the Eisenhower Executive Office Building next to the White House in Washington, DC, on April 9, 2008. …
SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images

In Joe Biden’s endless quest to win the Democratic presidential nomination—having failed in 1988 and 2008, he’s hoping that the third time is the charm—Biden is now saying that the only reason he voted in support of the Iraq War back in 2002 was that he trusted then-President George W. Bush.  In other words, in Biden’s new telling, it’s Bush’s fault for lying to him.  

As Biden said on Saturday:

The mistake I made was trusting President Bush, who gave me his word he was using it for the purpose of getting inspectors in to see what was going on, whether they were producing nuclear weapons.

It was, indeed, a big question back then, whether or not Saddam Hussein would allow inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Commission into Iraq.  Much time was spent going back and forth on what sites and areas the inspectors could, or could not, inspect.  And yet everyone knew that the Bush administration wanted to do invade Iraq, not only to eliminate the threat of weapons of mass destruction (there weren’t any, of course), but also as part of its larger neoconservative vision of nation-building Middle East countries into peaceable democracies (the same approach that was then being tried, without much success, in Afghanistan). 

So in 2019, Biden is being—how to say this politely?—not entirely truthful when he adds:

My mistake was looking a man in the eye who hadn’t lied to me and said, I’m not going to take us to war, this is merely to get inspectors in.

So again: Biden is portraying himself as not an Iraq hawk at all, but simply as someone too trusting.  Such naivety might seem like a strange affect for a man who turned 60 in 2002, having already served in the Senate for five terms, including long stints on the Foreign Relations Committee.  Indeed, in 2002, he was the chairman of that august committee.  

To put the matter another way, if Biden can be bamboozled like this, well, maybe Biden isn’t so smart.

Of course, there’s another possibility, other than what Biden is saying now.  That other possibility—which, in fact, fits the available evidence to a “t”—is that Biden was an eager supporter of the Iraq War. 

To help settle this matter, we might turn to the unforgiving lefties at Jacobin magazine.  In a July 11 article headlined, “Joe Biden Was One of the Iraq War’s Most Enthusiastic Backers,” author Branko Marcetic recalls that in the wake of 9/11, Biden “quickly became a close ally of the Bush administration in its prosecution of that war.” 

In February 2002, Biden told a Delaware audience, “If Saddam Hussein is still there five years from now, we are in big trouble.” During that time, the senator  also said, “It would be unrealistic, if not downright foolish, to believe we can claim victory in the war on terrorism if Saddam is still in power.” 

As Marcetic observes, Biden’s pro-war hawkishness was “well calibrated for the political climate.”  These were times, after all, when public support for the Bush administration and its Iraq War policy was running high.  

And oh, by the way, did we mention that Biden was up for re-election in 2002?  In a moderate state?  

After the Iraq War began in March 2003, Biden was still aboard the Bush train. Indeed, if anything, he was more clear-eyed than the Bush administration about the long-term commitment that the war entailed; as he said, “I don’t know a single informed person who is suggesting you can take down Saddam and not be prepared to stay for two, four, five years to give the country a chance to be held together.”

Yet by 2008, after the war had turned south, and after he was done running just in Delaware, Biden sang a different tune.  In that year, he was instead running for president, seeking the votes of left-leaning Democratic activists.  And so was now distancing himself from Iraq. As he said on February 25, 2008: 

The original sin was starting a war of choice before we finished a war of necessity.  And we’re paying a terrible price for diverting our forces and resources to Iraq from Afghanistan. 

We can observe that Biden could have said, We’re paying a terrible price for my “aye” vote.  We can further observe that if Biden had truly thought the problem of the Iraq War was that George W. Bush had lied to him in 2002, he has had plenty of opportunities, in past years, to make such a claim.   

Yet now, 18 years later, he’s spinning a different line—that his bad vote for the war was Bush’s fault.  

We might observe that Biden’s attempt to talk his way out of a jam is similar to his attempt to talk his way out of his past position on school busing; that is, what he’s saying now contradicts what he said then. 

Unfortunately for Biden, on the matter of Iraq, as on the matter of school busing, everyone has access to Google.  So for those who might not trust Jacobin’s assessment of Biden’s war record, and who wish to do their own fact checking, here are some other places to look. 

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