2020 Democratic front-runner Joe Biden’s Iraq War vote in 2002 is resonating 18 years later, making him the latest candidate forced to explain the post-9/11 decision giving the Bush administration permission to invade the Middle Eastern country.
Biden, 77, voted to authorize U.S. forces against Saddam Hussein’s Iraqi regime in 2002 but later changed his position. As President Barack Obama’s No. 2, Biden oversaw the withdrawal of almost 150,000 troops from the country in 2011, a move critics argue facilitated the rise of the Islamic State.
The former vice president told a voter in Iowa this month that he was against the conflict “from the very moment” it began in 2003, regurgitating a claim his own team has debunked in the past. Biden in October 2002 was chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, which he twice helmed during his 36-year Senate career representing Delaware.
Now, strategists for Sen. Bernie Sanders, 78, who’s been drawing sharper contrasts between himself and center-left Biden, are seizing on the stumble, releasing a video on Tuesday highlighting the vote as a key difference between the pair.
The video was foreshadowed last weekend when Sanders senior adviser Jeff Weaver skewered the former vice president for refusing “to admit he was dead wrong on the Iraq War.”
The seemingly unprovoked attack, a preview of the final weeks ahead of the first-in-the-nation caucuses on Feb. 3, didn’t go unnoticed by the Biden campaign. And it’s hardly unprecedented. In 2004, Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts, facing a challenge from the left by former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean, had to defend his “yes” vote on the Iraq War, leading to his infamous contortion.
In 2008, the Iraq war vote proved to be a defining difference between then-Sens. Hillary Clinton of New York and Barack Obama of Illinois. Obama and supporters repeatedly hammered his Democratic primary rival over her support for the Iraq endeavor, and he won. And four years ago, Sanders brandished the Iraq vote against Clinton, who ended up the Democratic nominee.
Now Kerry, who succeeded Biden as chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee before becoming an Obama administration secretary of state, is firing back at Sanders for misrepresenting Biden’s record.
“It was very clear that what we were doing was listening to a president who made a pledge that he was going to do diplomacy, that he was going to exhaust diplomacy, build a coalition. And ultimately, we learned, as Joe did and I did, that the intelligence was distorted,” Kerry said.
He added, “Joe was against what they were doing. The vote was not a vote specifically to go to war. It was a vote for the president to have leverage with respect to getting Saddam Hussein back to the negotiating table, back to the inspections, excuse me. And I think we were let down, and Joe has said many times that it was a mistake.”
Kerry’s remarks provoked outrage from Sanders supporters, who latched onto old videos of Biden backing the Iraq effort in a Senate floor speech and an address at the Brookings Institute. They also promoted a #JoeVotedForTheWar hashtag on Twitter.
This is now the fourth Democratic primary cycle in which Congress’s decision to green-light the Bush administration’s invasion of Iraq has been an issue, starting in 2004.
With heightened tensions in the Middle East, especially after President Trump’s decision to kill Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Quds Force leader Gen. Qassem Soleimani and the Iranian attack on two Iraqi military bases housing U.S. troops, Biden’s rivals for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination are picking at the scab as he seeks to leverage his foreign policy experience at a time of global security concerns.