Last week Joe Biden told NPR that he was “immediately” opposed to the Iraq War after the invasion began in 2003. After a Washington Post fact check found statements from 2003 and 2004 contradicting Biden’s claims, a Biden staffer said the former vice president “misspoke.”
Biden rationalized his vote in 2002 to authorize military force in Iraq. He claimed then-President George W. Bush promised him the vote would be used to get UN weapons inspectors in the country, not go to war.
“[Bush] 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 told NPR. “He got them in and before you know it, we had ‘shock and awe.’”
NPR contacted Bush’s office to ask about the supposed encounter between the former president and Biden. Bush spokesman Freddy Forde said in an email, “I’m sure it’s just an innocent mistake of memory, but this recollection is flat wrong.”
Biden made a similar claim during the second Democratic presidential primary debate on July 21st. “I did make a bad judgment, trusting the president saying he was only doing this to get inspectors in and get the U.N. to agree to put inspectors in. From the moment ‘shock and awe’ started, from that moment, I was opposed to the effort, and I was outspoken as much as anyone at all in the Congress and the administration.”
During the run-up to the invasion of Iraq Biden was the Chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee. On October 9th 2002, Biden argued that an attack on Iraq would not be “preemptive” but it would be enforcing UN resolutions Saddam Hussein signed to end the first Gulf War.
“If the world decides it must use force for his [Saddam Hussein’s] failure to abide by the terms of surrender then it is not preempting, it is enforcing. It is enforcing. It is finishing a war that he reignited,” Biden said before Congress in 2002. “So, for lord’s sake, anybody who decides to vote for this resolution, please do not rest it on this cockamamie notion of preemption. You will rue the day, if that is a precedent we establish. For our own safety’s sake, you will rue the day.” The authorization of military force for Iraq was signed into law on October 16th 2002, seven days after Biden’s speech.
In a speech at the Brookings Institute on July 31st 2003, Biden said, “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. It was the right vote then and it would be a correct vote today.”
Biden wrote an op-ed for the New Republic that was published on June 28th 2004. The opening sentences read, “A year and a half ago, I voted to give President Bush the authority to use force in Iraq. I still believe my vote was just — but the president’s use of that authority was unwise in ways I never imagined.”
In an interview with Meet the Press in November 2005, Biden admitted his vote was a mistake, “It was a mistake to assume the president would use the authority we gave him properly.” Biden does not express opposition to the war, only criticism of Bush’s strategy, “We went too soon. We went without sufficient force. And we went without a plan.”
Biden’s Senior Advisor Anthony Blinken issued a statement to the Washington Post, “Vice President Biden misspoke by saying that he declared his opposition to the war immediately. He opposed the way we went to war and the way the war was being carried out. He has for many years called his vote a mistake and takes full responsibility for it.”