Biden and Other Democrats Helped Colin Powell Spread George W. Bush’s Iraq Lies

While the death of former Secretary of State and retired Gen. Colin Powell has elicited praise-filled eulogies in the mainstream media and officials in Washington, many Americans still carry bitter feelings over Powell’s support for the illegal, unnecessary and predictably disastrous war in Iraq. In particular, critics cite his February 2003 speech before the UN Security Council in which he put forward a litany of demonstrably false statements in making the case that Iraq had compiled a dangerous arsenal of “weapons of mass destruction” and was actively supporting the al-Qaeda terrorist network. [FULL LINK]

INTERVIEW: Biden’s Sponsorship of the Invasion of Iraq

The Scott Horton Show. Skip ahead to 29:30 for Zunes’ segment.
Stephen Zunes talks about Joe Biden’s shameful history helping to advocate for the invasion of Iraq in 2002 and 2003. These days he claims he was caught up in the aftermath of 9/11 and was simply mistaken about the intelligence, like everyone else who voted for the war. But Zunes reminds us that Biden was chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee at that time, with a Democratic-majority congress. With his influence, he probably could have stopped the war single-handedly. If that weren’t enough, Zunes says that Biden was actually advocating “boots on the ground” to depose Saddam Hussein before 9/11. On this issue alone, Biden should be disqualified from the presidency, and Zunes and Scott expect a poor showing in the general election, should he end up with the Democratic nomination.

Biden’s Support of Iraq War Shows How He Would Run the White House

[Truthout & OpEd News.org] Supporters of presidential candidate and former Vice President Joe Biden are probably hoping that Democratic voters will see his key role in pushing through the Iraq War authorization as simply a “mistake” which should not be a factor in the 2020 presidential race. Indeed, Biden now claims that, “From the moment [the invasion] started … I was opposed to the effort, and I was outspoken as much as anyone at all in the Congress” despite his statements at the time and subsequently that he supported Bush’s decision to invade even after inspectors returned and no “weapons of mass destruction” were found. Not only was Biden one of the most important Democratic supporters of the Iraq War, but that support says much about the kind of president he would be…

Biden Has Defended US Allies’ Use of Lethal Force Against Civilians

[Truthout November 4, 2019] On an October evening in 2002, while quietly embroidering on the porch of her home in Nablus in the West Bank, 60-year-old Shaden Abu Hijleh was shot and killed by Israeli occupation forces. A grandmother and community activist involved in promoting the arts, women’s and children’s advocacy, serving the needy and nonviolent resistance to the occupation, she had no links to any violent or extremist organizations. No protests or other violent disturbances were taking place nearby, and her killing is widely believed to have been a targeted assassination… Abu Hijleh and Saada were just two of scores of Palestinian activists murdered by Israeli assassins in the early 2000s…

Iraq: The Democrats’ War

The ongoing presence of over 50,000 US troops, many thousands of civilian employees and tens of thousands of US-backed mercenaries raises serious questions over the significance of the partial withdrawal of US forces from Iraq. The August 31 deadline marking the “end of US combat operations in Iraq” is not as real or significant a milestone as President Obama implied in his speech. Indeed, hearing for the umpteenth time that the US has “turned a corner” in Iraq, it makes one think that the country must be some kind of dodecahedron.

Nevertheless, with all the attention on the supposed withdrawal of US combat forces, it is important to acknowledge the forces that got us into this tragic conflict in the first place.

It was not just George W. Bush.

Had a majority of either the Republican-controlled House or the Democratic-controlled Senate voted against the resolution authorizing the invasion or had they passed an alternative resolution conditioning such authority on the approval of the use of force from the United Nations Security Council, all the tragic events that have unfolded as a consequence of the March 2003 invasion would have never taken place.

The responsibility for the deaths of over 4,400 American soldiers, the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Iraqi civilians, the waste of nearly one trillion dollars of our national treasury and the rise of terrorism and Islamist extremism that has come as a result of the US invasion and occupation of Iraq rests as much in the hands of the members in Congress who authorized the invasion as it does with the administration that requested the lawmakers’ approval. Indeed, the October 2002 resolution authorizing the invasion had the support of the majority of Democratic senators, as well as the support of the Democratic Party leadership in both the House and the Senate.

On this and other web sites – as well as in many scores of policy reports, newspaper articles, academic journals, and other sources – the tragic consequences of a US invasion of Iraq and a refutation of falsehoods being put forward by the Bush administration to justify it were made available to every member of the House and Senate (see, for example, “The Case Against a War with Iraq”). The 2002 vote authorizing the invasion was not like the vote on the 1964 Gulf of Tonkin resolution on the use of force against North Vietnam, for which Congress had no time for hearings or debate and for which most of those supporting it (mistakenly) thought they were simply authorizing limited short-term retaliatory strikes in response to a specific series of alleged incidents. In contrast, with regard to the resolution authorizing the use of force against Iraq, Congress had many months to investigate and debate the administration’s claims that Iraq was a threat as well as the likely implications of a US invasion; members of Congress also fully recognized that the resolution authorized a full-scale invasion of a sovereign nation and a subsequent military occupation for an indefinite period.

Violating International Legal Covenants

Those who voted in favor of the resolution authorizing the invasion of Iraq did so despite the fact that it violated international legal conventions to which the US government is legally bound to uphold. The resolution constituted a clear violation of the United Nations Charter that, like other ratified international treaties, should be treated as supreme law according to Article VI of the US Constitution. According to articles 41 and 42 of the UN Charter, no member state has the right to enforce any resolution militarily unless the UN Security Council determines that there has been a material breach of its resolution, decides that all nonmilitary means of enforcement have been exhausted and then specifically authorizes the use of military force.

This is what the Security Council did in November 1990 with Resolution 678 in response to Iraq’s ongoing violations of UN Security Council resolutions demanding its withdrawal from Kuwait, but the Security Council did not do so for any subsequent lesser Iraqi violations. The only other exception for the use of force authorized by the charter is in self-defense against armed attack, which even the Bush administration admitted had not taken place.

This effective renunciation of the UN Charter’s prohibition against such wars of aggression constituted an effective repudiation of the post-WW II international legal order. Alternative resolutions, such as one authorizing force against Iraq if authorized by the UN Security Council, were voted down by a bipartisan majority.

Concerned Scholars and Strategic Analysts

Members of Congress were also alerted by large numbers of scholars of the Middle East, Middle Eastern political leaders, former State Department and intelligence officials and others who recognized that a US invasion would likely result in a bloody insurgency, a rise in Islamist extremism and terrorism, increased sectarian and ethnic conflict, and related problems. Few people I know who are familiar with Iraq have been at all surprised that the US invasion became such a tragedy. Indeed, most of us were in communication with Congressional offices and often with individual members of Congress themselves in the months leading up to the vote warning of the likely consequences of an invasion and occupation. Therefore, claims by leading Democratic supporters of the war that they were unaware of the likely consequences of the invasion are completely false.

The resolution also contained accusations that were known or widely assumed to be false at that time, such as claims of Iraqi support for al-Qaeda terrorists responsible for the September 11, 2001, attacks against the United States. A definitive report by the Department of Defense noted that, not only did no such link exist, but that no such link could have even been reasonably suggested based on the evidence available at that time.

The resolution also falsely claimed that Iraq was “actively seeking a nuclear weapons capability.” In reality, Iraq had long eliminated its nuclear program, a fact that was confirmed in a report by the International Atomic Energy Agency in 1998, four years prior to the resolution.

Stay informed with free Truthout updates delivered straight to your email inbox. Click here to sign up.

The resolution also falsely claimed that Iraq at that time continued “to possess and develop a significant chemical and biological weapons capability.” In reality, as the US government now admits, Iraq had rid itself of its chemical and biological weapons nearly a decade earlier and no longer had any active chemical and biological weapons programs. This likelihood that Iraq no longer had operational chemical or biological weapons was brought to the attention of members of Congress by a number of top arms control specialists, as well as Scott Ritter, the American who headed UNSCOM’s efforts to locate Iraq’s possible hidden caches of chemical and biological weapons, hidden supplies or secret production facilities. As I have written elsewhere, academic journals, testimony by arms control inspectors, newspaper articles, reports from independent think tanks and countless other sources in the months leading up to the Congressional authorization vote provided a plethora of evidence suggesting that Iraq had achieved at least qualitative disarmament and was not a threat to its neighbors, much less the United States.

No Evidence

Virtually all of Iraq’s known stockpiles of chemical and biological agents had been accounted for, and the shelf life of the small amount of material that had not been accounted for – which, as it ends up, had also been destroyed – had long since expired and was therefore no longer of weapons grade. There was no evidence that Iraq had any delivery systems for such weapons, either. In addition, the strict embargo of that country, in effect since 1990, against imports of any additional materials needed for the manufacture of weapons of mass destruction (WMD), combined with Iraq’s inability to manufacture such weapons or delivery systems themselves without detection, made any claims that Iraq constituted any “significant chemical and biological weapons capability” as claimed in the resolution transparently false to anyone who cared to investigate the matter at that time. Indeed, even the classified full version of the 2002 National Intelligence Estimate, while grossly overestimating Iraq’s military capability, was filled with extensive disagreements, doubts and caveats regarding President Bush’s assertions regarding Iraq’s WMD, WMD programs and delivery systems.

The House and Senate members who now claim they were “misled” about Iraq’s alleged military threat have failed to explain why they found the administration’s claims so much more convincing than the many other reports made available to them from more objective sources that presumably made a much stronger case that Iraq no longer had offensive WMD capability. Curiously, except for one excerpt from a 2002 National Security Estimate released in July 2003 – widely ridiculed at the time for its transparently manipulated content – not a single member of Congress has agreed to allow me or any other strategic analyst any access to any documents they claim convinced them of the alleged Iraqi threat. In effect, they are using the infamous Nixon defense from the Watergate scandal, claiming that, while they have evidence to vindicate themselves, making it public would somehow damage national security. In reality, if such reports actually exist, they are clearly inaccurate, outdated and are in regard to a government no longer in existence and would, therefore, be of no threat to national security if made public.

International Opposition

The US invasion of Iraq was opposed by virtually the entire international community, including Iraq’s closest neighbors, who presumably had the most to be concerned about in terms of any possible Iraqi military threat. However, the members of Congress who voted to authorize the invasion were determined to make the case that the United States – with the strongest military the world has ever known and thousands of miles beyond the range of Iraq’s alleged weapons and delivery systems – was so threatened by Iraq that the United States had to launch an invasion, overthrow its government and occupy that country for an indefinite period.

This shows a frighteningly low threshold for effectively declaring war, especially given that, in most cases, these members of Congress had been informed by knowledgeable sources of the widespread human and material costs which would result from a US invasion. It also indicates that they would likely be just as willing to send American forces off to another disastrous war again, also under false pretenses. Indeed, those who voted for the war demonstrated their belief that:

the United States need not abide by its international legal obligations, including those prohibiting wars of aggression;
claims by right-wing US government officials and unreliable foreign exiles regarding a foreign government’s military capabilities are more trustworthy than independent arms control analysts and United Nations inspectors;
concerns expressed by scholars and others knowledgeable of the likely reaction by the subjected population to a foreign conquest and the likely complications that would result should be ignored; and, faith should instead be placed on the occupation policies forcibly imposed on the population by a corrupt right-wing Republican administration.
As a result, support for the 2002 Iraq war resolution is not something that can simply be forgiven and forgotten.

Democrats’ Responsibility

The Democrats who voted to support the war and rationalized for it by making false claims about Iraq’s WMD programs are responsible for allowing the Bush administration to get away with lying about Iraq’s alleged threat. For example, Bush correctly noted how “more than a hundred Democrats in the House and the Senate – who had access to the same intelligence – voted to support removing Saddam Hussein from power.” In a speech attacking anti-war activists, Bush noted, “Many of these critics supported my opponent [Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry] during the last election, who explained his position to support the resolution in the Congress this way: ‘When I vote to give the President of the United States the authority to use force, if necessary, to disarm Saddam Hussein, it is because I believe that a deadly arsenal of weapons of mass destruction in his hands is a threat and a grave threat, to our security.'”

The resolution also claimed that “the risk that the current Iraqi regime will either employ those weapons to launch a surprise attack against the United States … or provide them to international terrorists who would do so … combine to justify action by the United States to defend itself.” In other words, those members of the House and Senate who supported this resolution believed, or claimed to believe, that an impoverished country, which had eliminated its stockpiles of banned weapons, destroyed its medium and long-range missiles and eliminated its WMD programs more than a decade earlier and had been suffering under the strictest international sanctions in world history for more than a dozen years, somehow threatened the national security of a superpower located more than 6,000 miles away. Furthermore, these members of Congress believed, or claimed to believe, that this supposed threat was so great that the United States had no choice but to launch an invasion of that country, overthrow its government and place its people under military occupation in the name of “self-defense,” regardless of whether Iraq allowed inspectors back into the county to engage in unfettered inspections to prove that the WMD, WMD programs and weapons systems no longer existed.

It’s also important to recognize that not everyone in Congress voted to authorize the invasion. There were the 21 Senate Democrats – along with one Republican and one Independent – who voted against the war resolution. And 126 of 207 House Democrats voted against the resolution as well. In total, then, a majority of Democrats in Congress defied their leadership by saying no to war. This means that the Democrats who did support the war, despite being overrepresented in leadership positions and among presidential contenders, were part of a right-wing minority and did not represent the mainstream of their party.

Despite this, the Democratic Party has largely rewarded their right-wing minority who did support the war. Since casting their fateful vote and making their false statements about WMD, Harry Reid (D-Nevada) was elected senate majority leader, John Kerry (D-Massachusetts) has been selected to head the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and, Dianne Feinstein (D-California) has been selected to chair the Senate Intelligence Committee. In the House, Steny Hoyer (D-Maryland) was elected House Majority leader and Howard Berman (D-California) was selected to chair the House Foreign Affairs Committee. And, in 2004, after the lies which led up to the war had already been exposed and US occupation troops were being dragged down into a bloody counterinsurgency war, the Democrats chose to nominate two pro-war senators – Kerry and John Edwards (D-North Carolina) – as their presidential and vice presidential candidates, both of whom at that time continued to defend their vote to authorize the invasion and to continue prosecuting the war. As a result, many anti-war Democrats refused to support their party’s nominees, resulting in their narrow defeat.

The Obama Administration

To his credit, Barack Obama – then an Illinois state senator who had no obligation to take a stand either way – took the initiative to speak at a major anti-war rally in Chicago in October 2002. While his future rivals for the 2008 Democratic presidential nomination Hillary Clinton, John Edwards, Christopher Dodd and Joe Biden were making false and alarmist statements that Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein was still a danger to the Middle East and US national security, Obama had a far more realistic understanding of the situation, stating: “Saddam poses no imminent and direct threat to the United States, or to his neighbors.”

Recognizing that there were alternatives to using military force, Obama called on the United States to “allow UN inspectors to do their work.” He noted, “that the Iraqi economy is in shambles, that the Iraqi military a fraction of its former strength and that in concert with the international community he can be contained until, in the way of all petty dictators, he falls away into the dustbin of history.”

Furthermore, unlike the Iraq war’s initial supporters, Obama recognized that “even a successful war against Iraq will require a US occupation of undetermined length, at undetermined cost, with undetermined consequences.” Understanding the dangerous consequences to regional stability resulting from war, Obama accurately warned that “an invasion of Iraq without a clear rationale and without strong international support will only fan the flames of the Middle East and encourage the worst, rather than best, impulses of the Arab world and strengthen the recruitment arm of al-Qaeda.”

Indeed, he referred to it as “a dumb war” and “a rash war,” nothing less than a “cynical attempt by Richard Perle and Paul Wolfowitz and other armchair, weekend warriors in this administration to shove their own ideological agendas down our throats, irrespective of the costs in lives lost and in hardships borne.”

It was this prescience, contrasted with Hillary Clinton’s blind support for the Iraq war, that played a decisive role in Obama upsetting her for the Democratic Party’s 2008 presidential nomination. Indeed, as a candidate for president, Obama promised that not only would he end the Iraq war, he would “end the mindset that led to the Iraq war.”

Unfortunately, the majority of President Obama’s appointees to key positions dealing with foreign policy – Biden, Hillary Clinton, Robert Gates, Dennis Blair, Janet Napolitano, Richard Holbrooke and Rahm Emanuel – have been among those who represent that very mindset.

Their support for the invasion of Iraq was not simply a matter of misjudgment. Those who supported the war demonstrated a dismissive attitude toward fundamental principles of international law and disdain for the United Nations Charter and international treaties which prohibit aggressive war. They demonstrated a willingness to either fabricate a nonexistent threat or naively believe transparently false and manipulated intelligence claiming such a threat existed, ignoring a plethora of evidence from weapons inspectors and independent arms control analysts who said that Iraq had already achieved at least qualitative disarmament. Perhaps worst of all, they demonstrated an incredible level of hubris and stupidity in imagining that the United States could get away with an indefinite occupation of a heavily populated Arab country with a strong history of nationalism and resistance to foreign domination.

Nor does it appear that they were simply fooled by the Bush administration’s manufactured claims of an Iraqi threat. For example, Napolitano, after acknowledging that there were not really WMD in Iraq as she had claimed prior to the invasion, argued, “In my view, there were lots of reasons for taking out Saddam Hussein.” Similarly, Clinton insisted months after the Bush administration acknowledged the absence of WMD that her vote in favor of the resolution authorizing the invasion “was the right vote” and was one that, she said, “I stand by.”

Clearly, then, despite their much-touted “experience,” these Obama appointees demonstrated, through their support for the Bush administration’s invasion and occupation of Iraq, a profound ignorance of the reality of the Middle East and an arrogant assumption that peace, stability and democratic governance can be created through the application of massive US military force.

Given that the majority of Democrats in Congress, a larger majority of registered Democrats nationally and an even larger percentage of those who voted for Obama opposed the decision to invade Iraq, it is particularly disappointing that Obama would choose his vice president, chief of staff, secretary of state, secretary of defense, secretary of Homeland Security and special envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan from the right-wing minority who supported the war.

The most striking examples of Obama’s betrayal of his anti-war constituency have been his appointments to the influential positions of vice president and secretary of state.

Biden

It is difficult to overestimate the critical role Biden played in making the tragedy of the Iraq war possible. More than two months prior to the 2002 war resolution even being introduced, in what was widely interpreted as the first sign that Congress would endorse a US invasion of Iraq, Biden declared on August 4 that the United States was probably going to war. In his powerful position as chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, he orchestrated a propaganda show designed to sell the war to skeptical colleagues and the America public by ensuring that dissenting voices would not get a fair hearing.

As Scott Ritter, the former chief UN weapons inspector, noted at the time, “For Sen. Biden’s Iraq hearings to be anything more than a political sham used to invoke a modern-day Gulf of Tonkin resolution-equivalent for Iraq, his committee will need to ask hard questions – and demand hard facts – concerning the real nature of the weapons threat posed by Iraq.”

It soon became apparent that Biden had no intention of doing so. Biden refused to even allow Ritter himself – who knew more about Iraq’s WMD capabilities than anyone and would have testified that Iraq had achieved at least qualitative disarmament – to testify. Ironically, on “Meet the Press” in 2007, Biden defended his false claims about Iraqi WMD by insisting that “everyone in the world thought he had them. The weapons inspectors said he had them.”

Biden also refused to honor requests by some of his Democratic colleagues to include some of the leading anti-war scholars familiar with Iraq and Middle East (myself included) in the hearings. These involved both those who would have reiterated Ritter’s conclusions about nonexistent Iraqi WMD capabilities as well as those prepared to testify that a US invasion of Iraq would likely set back the struggle against al-Qaeda, alienate the United States from much of the world and precipitate bloody, urban, counterinsurgency warfare amid rising terrorism, Islamist extremism and sectarian violence. All of these predictions ended up being exactly what transpired.

Nor did Biden even call some of the dissenting officials in the Pentagon or State Department who were willing to challenge the alarmist claims of their ideologically-driven superiors. He was willing, however, to allow Iraqi defectors of highly dubious credentials to make false testimony about the vast quantities of WMD materiel supposedly in Saddam Hussein’s possession. Ritter correctly accused Biden of having “preordained a conclusion that seeks to remove Saddam Hussein from power regardless of the facts and … using these hearings to provide political cover for a massive military attack on Iraq.”

Rather than being a hapless victim of the Bush administration’s lies and manipulation, Biden was calling for a US invasion of Iraq and making false statements regarding Saddam Hussein’s supposed possession of WMD years before President George W. Bush even came to office.

As far back as 1998, Biden was calling for a US invasion of that oil rich country. Even though UN inspectors and the UN-led disarmament process had led to the elimination of Iraq’s WMD threat, Biden – in an effort to discredit the world body and make an excuse for war – insisted that UN inspectors could never be trusted to do the job. During Senate hearings on Iraq in September of that year, Biden told Ritter, “As long as Saddam’s at the helm, there is no reasonable prospect you or any other inspector is ever going to be able to guarantee that we have rooted out, root and branch, the entirety of Saddam’s program relative to weapons of mass destruction.”

Calling for military action on the scale of the Gulf War seven years earlier, he continued, “The only way we’re going to get rid of Saddam Hussein is we’re going to end up having to start it alone.” He told the Marine veteran, “it’s going to require guys like you in uniform to be back on foot in the desert taking Saddam down.”

When Ritter tried to make the case that President Bill Clinton’s proposed large-scale bombing of Iraq could jeopardize the UN inspections process, Biden condescendingly replied that decisions on the use of military force were “beyond your pay grade.” As Ritter predicted, when Clinton ordered UN inspectors out of Iraq in December of that year and followed up with a four-day bombing campaign known as Operation Desert Fox, Saddam was provided with an excuse to refuse to allow the inspectors to return. Biden then conveniently used Saddam’s failure to allow them to return as an excuse for going to war four years later.

In the face of widespread skepticism over administration claims regarding Iraq’s military capabilities, Biden declared that President Bush was justified in being concerned about Iraq’s alleged pursuit of WMD. Even though Iraq had eliminated its chemical weapons arsenal by the mid-1990s, Biden insisted categorically in the weeks leading up to the Iraq war resolution that Saddam Hussein still had chemical weapons. Even though there is no evidence that Iraq had ever developed deployable biological weapons and its biological weapons program had been eliminated some years earlier, Biden insisted that Saddam had biological weapons, including anthrax and that “he may have a strain” of small pox. And, even though the International Atomic Energy Agency had reported as far back as 1998 that there was no evidence whatsoever that Iraq had any ongoing nuclear program, Biden insisted Saddam was “seeking nuclear weapons.”

Said Biden, “One thing is clear: These weapons must be dislodged from Saddam, or Saddam must be dislodged from power.” He did not believe proof of the existence of any actual weapons to dislodge was necessary, however, insisting that “If we wait for the danger from Saddam to become clear, it could be too late.” He further defended President Bush by falsely claiming, “He did not snub the U.N. or our allies. He did not dismiss a new inspection regime. He did not ignore the Congress. At each pivotal moment, he has chosen a course of moderation and deliberation.”

In an Orwellian twist of language designed to justify the war resolution, which gave President Bush the unprecedented authority to invade a country on the far side of the world at the time and circumstances of his own choosing, Biden claimed, “I do not believe this is a rush to war. I believe it is a march to peace and security. I believe that failure to overwhelmingly support this resolution is likely to enhance the prospects that war will occur.”

It is also important to note that Biden supported an invasion in the full knowledge that it would not be quick and easy and that the United States would have to occupy Iraq for an extended period, declaring, “We must be clear with the American people that we are committing to Iraq for the long haul; not just the day after, but the decade after.”

Despite all this, Obama offered him the vice presidency and has given him a leading role in his administration’s foreign policy.

Clinton

The most critical foreign policy appointment is that of secretary of state. For this position and despite enormous skepticism regarding the war among most State Department veterans, President Obama chose Clinton, one of the Senate’s most outspoken supporters of Bush’s Iraq policy. In order to justify her vote to authorize the US invasion of Iraq in October 2002, despite widespread and public skepticism expressed by arms control experts over the Bush administration’s claims that Iraq had somehow rearmed itself, Senator Clinton was insisting that Iraq’s possession of biological and chemical weapons was “not in doubt” and was “undisputed.” She also falsely claimed that Iraq was “trying to develop nuclear weapons.”

Nonexistent WMD were not the only false claims Clinton made to justify a US invasion of Iraq. For example, she insisted that Saddam had given aid, comfort and sanctuary to al-Qaeda terrorists

Even after US forces invaded and occupied Iraq and confirmed that Iraq did not have WMD, active WMD programs, offensive delivery systems or ties to al-Qaeda as she and other supporters of the war had claimed, Clinton defended her vote to authorize the invasion anyway. As a result, she essentially acknowledged that Iraq’s alleged possession of WMD was not really what motivated her vote to authorize the war after all, but was instead a ruse to frighten the American people into supporting the invasion. Her actual motivation appears to have been about oil and empire.

During the first four years following the invasion, Clinton was a steadfast supporter of Bush administration policy. When Rep. John Murtha (D-Pennsylvania) made his first call for the withdrawal of US forces from Iraq in November 2005, she denounced his effort, calling a withdrawal of US forces a big mistake. In 2006, when Senator Kerry sponsored an amendment that would have required the redeployment of US forces from Iraq in order to advance a political solution to the growing sectarian strife, she voted against it. She came out against the war only when she began her presidential campaign, recognizing that public opinion had turned so decisively in opposition that there was no hope of her securing the Democratic nomination unless she changed her position.

She has also decried Iran’s “involvement in and influence over Iraq,” an ironic complaint for someone who voted to authorize the overthrow of the anti-Iranian secular government of Saddam Hussein despite his widely predicted replacement by pro-Iranian Shiite fundamentalist parties. She also went on record repeating a whole series of false, exaggerated and unproven charges by Bush administration officials regarding Iranian support for the Iraqi insurgency, even though the vast majority of foreign support for the insurgency had come from Saudi Arabia and other Arab countries, and that the majority of the insurgents are fanatically anti-Iranian and anti-Shiite.

Where’s the Hope?

A foreign policy team like this in charge raises serious questions as to whether Obama – despite his admirable anti-war position during the period leading up to the invasion – can really get us out of Iraq. His August 31 speech failed to condemn the decision to go to war or the politicians of both parties who lied about the alleged Iraqi threat.

Nor is it likely that the US Congress, the leadership of which is largely composed of pro-war Democrats and pro-war Republicans, will provide pressure to accelerate the withdrawal or demand that all troops be out by next year as promised. The way the Democratic Party has essentially rewarded those who made possible the needless sacrifice of American lives, treasure and credibility in the world leaves little incentive for those like Clinton, Biden, Kerry, Reid, Feinstein, Berman and Hoyer to get us out of Iraq and little disincentive for leading us into another senseless and tragic war.

http://www.truth-out.org/iraq-the-democrats-war63120

http://www.commondreams.org/view/2010/09/11-4

Biden’s Hawkish Record

When Barack Obama picked Joe Biden as his running mate, he drew sharp criticism from his anti-war base because of Biden’s support for the U.S. invasion of Iraq, his flagrantly false claims about the alleged Iraqi threat, and the abuse of his position as chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee to suppress antiwar testimony before Congress prior to the invasion.

A look at the senator’s 35-year record on Capitol Hill indicates that Iraq was not an isolated case and that Biden has frequently allied with more hawkish Democrats and Republicans. This was considered particularly significant since Obama and other leading Democrats have acknowledged that the choice of Biden was largely because of his foreign policy leadership.

Thus far, however, it appears that Biden has largely played the role of a loyal vice-president, which is actually consistent with his history of not making waves against the prevailing viewpoint.

Though generally seen as being on the hawkish wing of the Democratic party, Biden never consistently allied with neoconservative intellectuals or the unreconstructed militarists who so heavily influenced the foreign policies of the Bush administration. Indeed, Biden often took some rather nuanced positions and, rather than being a right-wing ideologue, was generally recognized by his colleagues as being knowledgeable and thoughtful in addressing complex foreign policy issues, even if often taking more hard-line positions than the increasingly progressive base of his party.

For example, he called for diplomatic engagement with the Iranian government and — unlike Hillary Clinton and some other Democratic senators — voted against the Kyl-Lieberman amendment, which was widely interpreted as potentially paving the way for war with Iran. Biden challenged the Republicans’ unconstitutional insistence that the executive has the power to wage war without consent of Congress, even going so far as to threaten impeachment proceedings against President George W. Bush if he attacked Iran without congressional authorization. He also raised strong objections to some of the Bush administration’s efforts to develop new nuclear weapons systems and abrogate existing arms-control treaties. He helped lead the fight against Bush’s nomination of the far-right John Bolton to be U.S. ambassador to the United Nations.

During the 1980s, Biden opposed aid to the Nicaraguan Contras and vigorously challenged Reagan administration officials during the Iran-Contra hearings (in contrast to the tepid leadership of the special committee chairman, Democratic Senator Daniel Inouye of Hawaii.) He was also a cosponsor of a 1997 resolution that would have effectively banned the U.S. production and deployment of landmines, an initiative taken despite objections from the Clinton administration.

Yet Biden’s progressive foreign policy positions have often been the exception rather than the norm. In fact, his positions have sometimes been so inconsistent as to defy clear explanation. For example, Biden voted against authorizing the 1991 Gulf War — which the UN Security Council legitimized as an act of collective security against the illegal Iraqi conquest of Kuwait — but then voted in favor of authorizing the 2003 invasion of Iraq, which the UN Security Council didn’t approve, and was an illegitimate war of aggression.

Center-Right Agenda

On most foreign policy issues, Biden allied with congressional centrists and conservatives. For example, despite all the recent media attention given to Biden’s working-class roots and his support for labor, and despite his more recent opposition to the Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA), Biden largely embraced corporate-backed neoliberal globalization, particularly during the 1990s. Biden voted to ratify the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and the World Trade Organization (WTO), which have both proven so devastating for American workers and have so greatly contributed to increased inequality and environmental damage worldwide.

Despite Biden’s support for the principle of “free trade,” even with some governments that suppress labor rights, Biden supported tough economic sanctions against Cuba. He even opposed Obama’s restrained proposals for loosening restrictions on the right of Americans to travel to that socialist country and the right of Cuban-Americans to provide remittances for family members still living there.

Biden aggressively pushed for NATO expansion eastward. He supported NATO membership for the former Soviet republic of Georgia, despite that government’s attacks on South Ossetia and the risks that such a formal military alliance could drag U.S. forces into a war in the volatile Caucasus region. Biden correctly criticized Russia for its military incursion deep into Georgian territory and its disproportionate use of force. But in rhetoric reminiscent of the darkest days of the Cold War, he incorrectly assigned all the blame for last year’s war on the Russians, failing even to mention the Georgian assault on the South Ossetian capital that provoked it. While condemning Moscow for its efforts “to subvert the territorial integrity” of Georgia, Biden seemed to have forgotten that he was a key cosponsor (along with Senators McCain and Lieberman) of a Senate resolution introduced in 2007 that called for active U.S. support for the independence of the autonomous Serbian region of Kosovo.

Biden was perhaps the Senate’s most outspoken supporter of the 1999 U.S. war on Yugoslavia. He teamed up with McCain as one of the two principal sponsors of the resolution authorizing the 11-week bombing campaign of Serbia and Montenegro, which short-circuited efforts by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe and pro-democracy Serbian groups to resolve the crisis nonviolently. Biden’s efforts to use Serbian oppression of Kosovar Albanians as an excuse for advancing post-Cold War U.S. hegemony in Eastern Europe became apparent in his insistence that “if we do not achieve our goals in Kosovo, NATO is finished as an alliance.”

In addition to stacking his Senate committee’s hearings prior to the Iraq war vote with fabricators of WMD claims and supporters of a U.S. invasion, Biden often failed to use his platform to ask tough questions during confirmation hearings for many of the Bush administration’s more controversial nominees. For example, during John Negroponte’s three confirmation hearings Biden avoided any questions regarding the controversial official’s alleged support for right-wing death squads while ambassador to Honduras during the 1980s.

As ranking Democrat on the Foreign Relations Committee during the 1990s, Biden teamed up with the right-wing Republican chairman Jesse Helms (R-NC) to try to squash efforts by Russell Feingold (D-WI) and other liberals to end U.S. military training of Indonesian counterinsurgency forces repressing occupied East Timor. Biden was among a minority of Democrats to support increasing military aid — in the name of anti-narcotics efforts but in reality for counter-insurgency operations — to Colombia’s repressive government. He even voted against an amendment that would have transferred some of the money to support effective but underfunded drug treatment programs in the United States.

Biden also was among a minority of Senate Democrats to vote against a resolution that would have required the administration to certify, prior to selling or otherwise providing cluster bombs to a foreign government, that they would not be used in civilian areas.

Despite embracing much of the Bush administration’s alarmist rhetoric about Iran’s nuclear program, Biden’s actual concerns regarding nonproliferation are rather suspect. For example, he voted against a number of proposed amendments that would have strengthened provisions of the nuclear cooperation agreement with India designed to insure that U.S. assistance would not help India’s nuclear weapons program.

While opposing some Reagan-era weapons programs, such as the Pershing II missile, Biden supported full funding of the Trident D-5 Submarine Missile Program a full decade after the end of the Cold War for which it was designed. He has also voted against a series of amendments that would have redirected wasteful military spending to support domestic education programs and limited war profiteering by military contractors with links to the current administration. Biden has also been a strong advocate of increasing military spending even beyond the Bush administration’s bloated levels.

Far Right Agenda on Israel/Palestine

In addition to Iraq (on which he was among the minority of congressional Democrats who voted to authorize the illegal invasion of that oil-rich country and supported continued unconditional war funding even after most Democrats had switched to an anti-war position), the foreign policy issue with which Biden has most closely aligned himself with right-wing Republicans is Israel. Long opposed to Palestine’s right to exist as an independent country, he came around to supporting the idea of creating some kind of Palestinian state alongside Israel only after the Bush administration and the Israeli government went on record accepting the idea. Similarly, Biden has long insisted that it isn’t the Israeli occupiers, but the Palestinians under occupation, who constitute the “one…side that can impact on ending [the conflict.]”

Biden has defended extra-judicial killings by Israeli forces in the occupied territories, Israel’s illegal settlements in the West Bank, Israel’s annexation of greater East Jerusalem and other Arab territories seized by military force, and collective punishment against Palestinian civilians in retaliation for crimes committed by the radical Hamas movement.

When Bush goaded Israel into attacking Lebanon during the summer of 2006 — blocking international efforts to impose a cease fire even as civilian casualties mounted into the hundreds — Biden argued that the Bush administration didn’t back Israel quickly or vehemently enough. As the outcry from human rights groups and UN agencies mounted over the widespread devastation inflicted on Lebanon’s civilian infrastructure, Biden declared “we’re left with no option here, in my view, but to support Israel in what is a totally legitimate self-defense effort.”

Following the war, Biden blocked investigations into Israeli violations of the U.S. Arms Export Control Act despite a report provided to his Senate committee from the State Department indicating that there was considerable evidence of widespread use of U.S.-supplied cluster bombs against civilian targets. His refusal to allow for such congressional oversight does not give much hope that, now that he is in the executive branch himself, he is being much of an advocate for the Obama administration upholding its legal obligations either.

Obama has pledged to make facilitating an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement a priority as president, but — as a senator — Biden argued that the United States should not take any role in the peace process that isn’t coordinated with the Israeli government. Indeed, Biden explicitly insists that that there should be “no daylight between us and Israel” and that “the idea of being an ‘honest broker’… like some of my Democratic colleagues call for, is not the answer.”

Unfortunately, there’s little to suggest that any mediating party has ever successfully facilitated a peace settlement between two hostile nations without being an honest broker. Indeed, Biden strongly objected to findings by the bipartisan Iraq Study Group, headed by former Secretary of State James Baker and widely supported by the majority of the foreign policy establishment. The Group’s report emphasized the importance of the United States pressing for an Israeli-Palestinian peace settlement in order to restore its credibility in the greater Middle East.

Democrats Unify Around Biden

Even the party’s left wing largely refused to support proposals challenging the Biden nomination from the floor of the Democratic National Convention in Denver. Prominent Democratic antiwar stalwarts such as Rep. Lynne Woolsey (D-CA) and Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA) — in the name of “party unity” — rejected calls by some delegates for a roll-call vote in which Biden would be pitted against an antiwar challenger for the vice-presidential nomination

The residual grumblings from antiwar Democrats, and threats to defect to the campaigns of Green Party nominee Cynthia McKinney or independent Ralph Nader in response to the Biden nomination largely evaporated, however, when Republican nominee John McCain announced his choice of Alaska Governor Sarah Palin as his running mate. Despite Biden’s history of notoriously poor judgment on some foreign policy issues, the veteran senator’s knowledge and experience began to look increasingly important compared with his strikingly inexperienced, unknowledgeable, and extremely right-wing Republican counterpart.

For example, in one of the few public statements Palin had made on the Iraq war, she insisted that the invasion was part of “God’s plan” and that prosecuting the war is “a task that is from God.” In contrast, the Roman Catholic church (of which Biden is a member) and virtually every mainline Protestant denomination came out in opposition to the U.S. invasion of Iraq. Only the right-wing fundamentalist denominations went on record supporting it. While Biden’s support for the 2002 Iraq war resolution did put him on the side of right-wing Christian fundamentalists on the critical question of what constitutes a just war, he has never claimed the invasion of that oil-rich country was part of God’s plan.

Similarly, while Biden’s hard-line views regarding Israel also put him at odds with the moderate positions taken by the Catholic Church and the mainline Protestant denominations, Palin goes so far as to embrace the dispensationalist wing of Christian Zionism. As such, she believes that a militarily dominant Israel is a necessary requisite for the second coming of Christ and the Israeli government should therefore not be pressed to withdraw from any occupied Arab lands.

Biden as Vice-President

Biden has demonstrated a greater-than-average willingness to shift to more moderate positions if the prevailing pressure is from the left. His growing skepticism over Bush policy in Iraq, his calls for the withdrawal of most American combat forces, his outspoken opposition to the surge when it was put forward last year, and his tough questioning of General David Petraeus in hearings before his committee has undoubtedly been a reflection of the growing antiwar sentiment within the Democratic Party.

When Biden first ran for the Senate in 1972, he was willing to represent the prevailing mood at the time in strongly denouncing the Vietnam War, calling for an immediate withdrawal of U.S. forces, and voting against aiding the dictatorial South Vietnamese government of Nguyen Van Thieu. The following decade, his initial support for U.S. backing of the repressive junta in El Salvador was reversed in the face of growing opposition to U.S. intervention in Central America. While not among the first to endorse the proposed freeze on the research, testing, development and deployment of new nuclear weapons and nuclear weapons systems, he did throw his weight behind the initiative as the nuclear freeze campaign grew in popular support.

As a result, continued advocacy by peace and human rights activists for a more enlightened foreign policy can likely minimize the damage that Biden might otherwise have on the Obama administration’s foreign policy.

In addition, Obama may have selected the hawkish Biden as his running mate primarily as a political maneuver to enhance his chances of winning the November election rather than having him play a leading role on his foreign policy team.

Like Dick Cheney, Biden pushed for an invasion of a country on the far side of the world that was no threat to us, misled the public regarding nonexistent “weapons of mass destruction,” and sought to silence critics of the war. However, even assuming the worst regarding Biden’s hawkish worldview, he clearly is not using his office in the same manner. Though he has brought into the Obama administration a certain gravitas on foreign affairs as a result of his knowledge and experience, the fact remains that Biden — unlike his predecessor — is serving a president who is quite intelligent and who is quite capable of making his own decisions on the critical foreign policy issues facing the United States.

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/stephen-zunes/bidens-hawkish-record_b_214873.html

What the Prospective VPs Got Wrong

The October 3 debate between Alaska Governor Sarah Palin and Delaware Senator Joe Biden was disturbing for those of us hoping for a more enlightened and honest foreign policy during the next four years. In its aftermath, pundits mainly focused on Palin’s failure to self-destruct and Biden’s relatively cogent arguments. Here’s an annotation of the foreign policy issues raised during the vice-presidential debate, which was packed with demonstrably false and misleading statements.

Getting the Facts Wrong on Iraq

PALIN: I am very thankful that we do have a good plan and the surge and the counterinsurgency strategy in Iraq that has proven to work… You guys opposed the surge. The surge worked. Barack Obama still can’t admit the surge works.

Obama actually has claimed that the surge worked. This makes both he and Palin wrong, however. The decline in violence in Iraq in recent months has largely resulted from a shift in the alignment of internal Iraqi forces and the tragic de facto partitioning of Baghdad into sectarian enclaves. What’s more, the current relative equilibrium is probably temporary. The decision by certain Sunni tribal militias that had been battling U.S. forces to turn their weapons against al-Qaeda-related extremists took place before the surge was even announced. Similarly, militant opposition leader Muqtada al-Sadr’s unilateral ceasefire resulted from internal Shia politics rather than any U.S. actions.

PALIN: And with the surge that has worked we’re now down to pre-surge numbers in Iraq.

This is completely untrue. Prior to the “surge” in January 2007, the United States had approximately 132,000 troops in Iraq. Currently, there are 146,000 troops in Iraq. This is less than at the surge’s peak, but the decline had to do with the fact that U.S. forces could not be realistically maintained at that level, not from a decision to pull down the number of forces because of any success.

For no apparent reason, Biden didn’t challenge Palin on this clear misstatement.

BIDEN: With regard to Iraq, I gave the president the power [in the October 2002 Iraq War Resolution]. I voted for the power because he said he needed it not to go to war but to keep the United States, the UN in line, to keep sanctions on Iraq and not let them be lifted.

This was perhaps the most seriously misleading statement of the entire debate.

Palin correctly countered with the fact that “it was a war resolution.” Indeed, the resolution supported by Biden explicitly stated that “The president is authorized to use the Armed Forces of the United States as he determines to be necessary and appropriate.” Biden certainly knew that.

It’s also hard to imagine that Biden actually believed Bush’s claim that it was necessary to “keep sanctions on Iraq and not let them be lifted.” There was absolutely no serious effort in the UN or anywhere else at that time to lift any sanctions against Iraq in a manner that could have conceivably aided Iraq’s ability to make war, develop “weapons of mass destruction,” or in any other way strengthen Saddam Hussein’s regime.

It’s particularly disturbing that a man who may well be the next vice president seems to think that the United States has the right to try to “to keep the UN in line.” The United States is legally bound — by a signed and ratified international treaty pursuant to Article VI of the U.S. Constitution — to provisions of the UN Charter. And the charter prohibits wars of aggression, such as the U.S. invasion of Iraq. The UN’s job is to keep nation-states in line regarding international law, which the Iraq War — made possible in part through Biden’s vote in support its authorization — was one of the most serious and blatant violations since the world body’s establishment in 1945.

In any case, at the time of the Iraq War resolution, the UN had for well over a decade imposed the most comprehensive disarmament regime in history and had already successfully disarmed Iraq of its biological and chemical weapons; its biological, chemical and nuclear weapons programs; and its long-range delivery systems. Furthermore, at the time of the resolution and as a result of pressure from the UN, Iraq had already agreed to the return of UN inspectors under strict modalities guaranteeing unfettered access to confirm Iraq’s disarmament. As a result, Biden’s belief that the United States had to “keep the UN in line” is indicative of his contempt for the UN Charter and the post-World War II international legal order, thereby raising serious questions regarding Obama’s judgment in choosing him as his running mate.

PALIN: I know that the other ticket… opposed funding for our troops in Iraq and Afghanistan.

In reality, Biden has consistently supported unconditional funding for Bush’s war in Iraq and Afghanistan, even as evidence of torture, widespread killings of civilians, the resulting insurgency, and other problems have become apparent. Furthermore, as Biden pointed out, John McCain also voted against “funding for our troops” when the appropriation was tied to certain conditions he disliked. Similarly, Obama’s votes against other appropriations bills were because he had objections to certain provisions.

PALIN: We cannot afford to lose against Al-Qaeda and the Shia extremists who are still there, still fighting us, but we’re getting closer and closer to victory. And it would be a travesty if we quit now in Iraq.

There was no heavily-armed al-Qaeda or Shia extremists in Iraq until the Bush administration — backed by Senators McCain and Biden — decided to invade that country and overthrow Saddam Hussein, who had prevented such groups from emerging. Prior to the invasion, authorities on Iraq repeatedly pointed out the possibility of such extremists gaining influence in Iraq. If the Republicans were actually concerned about the rise of such extremist groups, they would never have supported the war in the first place. This is simply an excuse to defend the long-planned indefinite occupation of Iraq to control its natural resources and maintain a permanent U.S. military presence in this strategically important region. Claims of being “closer and closer to victory” have been made by Republican leaders ever since the initial invasion in March 2003, and it remains doubtful whether a military victory can ever be achieved.

PALIN: Your plan is a white flag of surrender in Iraq and that is not what our troops need to hear today, that’s for sure. And it’s not what our nation needs to be able to count on.

As Biden pointed out, Prime Minister Nouri al–Maliki has pushed for a withdrawal plan that’s essentially the same as Obama’s. And public opinion polls show that a majority of Americans — including most U.S. troops currently in Iraq — prefer Obama’s plan over McCain’s open-ended indefinite commitment of U.S. forces. And Obama’s plan calls only for the redeployment of combat units, which would not be completed until well into 2010.

Much to the disappointment of those in the anti-war movement, Obama’s plan also calls for maintaining thousands of other U.S. troops within the country to ostensibly protect U.S. personnel, train Iraqi forces, and engage in counter-terrorism operations. Furthermore, Obama’s plan calls for stationing many tens of thousands of U.S. forces in neighboring countries for possible short-term incursions into Iraq.

To claim that this is the same as “a white flag of surrender” is demagoguery at its most extreme.

BIDEN: But let’s get straight who has been right and wrong: …John McCain was saying the Sunnis and Shias got along with each other without reading the history of the last 700 years.

McCain was indeed wrong about many things in regard to Iraq, but the fact is that Sunnis and Shias in Iraq largely did “get along” – until the U.S. invasion supported by Biden created the conditions that led to the subsequent sectarian conflict. Saddam’s secular regime did persecute Shia, but the widespread sectarian massacres of recent years were a direct consequence of the divide-and-rule policies of the U.S. occupation. Prior to the U.S. invasion, millions of Sunni and Shia Iraqis lived peacefully together in mixed neighborhoods, intermarriage was common (particularly in urban areas), and many in rural areas worshiped in the same mosques.

Furthermore, as with conflict in Northern Ireland, the inter-communal violence in Iraq hasn’t simply resulted from religious differences but has erupted over perceived national loyalties, with the Sunnis traditionally identifying with pan-Arabist nationalists and the U.S.-backed ruling Shia parties historically allying with Iran.

Distorting Iran

PALIN: Israel is in jeopardy of course when we’re dealing with Ahmadinejad as a leader of Iran. Iran claiming that Israel…should be wiped off the face of the earth. Now a leader like Ahmadinejad who is not sane or stable when he says things like that is not one whom we can allow to acquire nuclear energy, nuclear weapons. Ahmadinejad… seek[s] to acquire nuclear weapons and wipe off the face of the earth an ally like we have in Israel.

Ahmadinejad never said that “Israel should be wiped off the face of the Earth.” That idiom doesn’t even exist in the Persian language. The Iranian president was quoting the late Ayatollah Khomeini from more than 20 years earlier when, in a statement largely ignored at the time, he said that “the regime occupying Jerusalem should vanish from the pages of time.” While certainly an extreme and deplorable statement, the actual quote’s emphasis on the Israeli “regime” rather than the country itself and its use of an intransitive verb makes the statement far less threatening than Palin was trying to make it sound. As recently as the week before the debate, Ahmadinejad once again clarified that the statement was analogous to the way that the Soviet Union is today no longer on the map, emphasizing his desire for Israel’s dissolution as a state, not the country’s physical destruction. Biden inexplicably refused to challenge this apparently deliberate effort by Palin to make American viewers believe Iran is a greater and more imminent threat than it actually is.

Palin’s argument that nuclear energy is something the United States cannot “allow [Iran] to acquire” was rather bizarre since Iran has had nuclear power since the 1950s, as a result of a program initiated by the United States. The United States continued to be the primary supporter for Iran’s nuclear program through the 1970s.

Finally, as Biden observed, Ahmadinejad doesn’t control Iran’s security apparatus. Unlike in the United States, the Iranian president isn’t the commander-in-chief of the armed forces. Such responsibilities lie with the Supreme Leader, currently Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Indeed, the Iranian presidency is relatively weak compared with other centers of power in that regime.

PALIN: “Ahmadinejad, Kim Jong Il, the Castro brothers, others who are dangerous dictators are ones that Barack Obama has said he would be willing to meet without preconditions being met first. And an issue like that taken up by a presidential candidate goes beyond naiveté and goes beyond poor judgment. A statement that he made like that is downright dangerous. “…These dictators who hate America and hate what we stand for, with our freedoms, our democracy, our tolerance, our respect for women’s rights, those who would try to destroy what we stand for cannot be met with just sitting down on a presidential level as Barack Obama had said he would be willing to do. That is beyond bad judgment. That is dangerous… But diplomacy is hard work by serious people. It’s lining out clear objectives and having your friends and your allies ready to back you up there and have sanctions lined up before any kind of presidential summit would take place.”

As Biden observed, Obama never said he would meet with Ahmadinejad, but with Iranian leaders, presumably those with more power and less extremist views than the Iranian president. And, for reasons mentioned above, while Ahmadinejad is part of an oppressive, authoritarian regime, he is not, strictly speaking, a “dictator.”

Secondly, if it is really poor judgment and “downright dangerous” to meet with dictators without preconditions, why hasn’t Palin ever taken issue with decisions by such former Republican presidents as Eisenhower, Nixon, Ford, Reagan, and Bush, who met with dictators who were as bad or worse than the ones she mentioned and did so without self-defeating preconditions like those demanded by the current administration and by McCain? Indeed, President Bush himself has met with the king of Saudi Arabia, whose regime is far more repressive in terms of freedom, democracy, tolerance, and women’s rights than Castro’s Cuba: the rights of women under Castro have improved greatly relative to previous Cuban regimes, while the U.S.-backed family dictatorship in Saudi Arabia remains the most reactionary and misogynist regime on the planet; religious tolerance is Cuba is far greater than in Saudi Arabia, where non-Muslims are forbidden to worship openly; and, while individual freedom and electoral democracy is certainly quite limited in Cuba, that country still compares favorably to Saudi Arabia.

Finally, Palin’s insistence that the goal of the Cuban, North Korean, and Iranian regimes is to “destroy” America’s freedom, democracy, tolerance, and respect for women’s rights is completely inaccurate and ahistorical. The anti-Americanism of these regimes is rooted not in opposition to America’s values, but U.S. militarism and intervention in relation to those countries, which were taken not in defense of freedom and democracy, but in support for previous Cuban, Korean, and Iranian dictatorships. Biden, however, didn’t challenge Palin on this simplistic distortion.

Israel and its Neighbors

BIDEN: Here’s what the president [Bush] said when we said no. He insisted on elections on the West Bank, when I said, and others said, and Barack Obama said, “Big mistake. Hamas will win. You’ll legitimize them.” What happened? Hamas won.

Biden’s position of opposing democratic elections in Arab countries is quite disturbing and represents a significant step back from the Bush administration’s limited support for such elections. The lesson that should have been learned from Hamas’ victory in the January 2006 Palestinian parliamentary elections isn’t that the United States should oppose free elections. Instead, Biden should have recognized that Hamas’ victory came about as a direct result of U.S. policies, supported by Biden, that have provided Israeli occupation forces with the sufficient military, financial, and diplomatic support to engage in its ongoing repression and colonization in the Palestinian West Bank. It’s such policies that led to the rise of this radical Islamist group, which did not even exist until after a quarter century of U.S.-backed Israeli occupation and the failure of the United States to move the peace process forward in a manner that could have provided the Palestinians with any realistic hope that a viable Palestinian state would result.

Failure to prevent the Palestinian government from allowing all major Palestinian political parties from participating in a parliamentary election doesn’t “legitimize” Hamas. Unfortunately, Hamas was already seen as legitimate by the plurality of Palestinian voters who gave them their parliamentary majority.

PALIN: “We will support Israel[,]…this peace-seeking nation, and they have a track record of being able to forge these peace agreements…They succeeded with Egypt. I’m sure that we’re going to see more success there, also.”

Israel “succeeded” in its peace agreement with Egypt because, under pressure from the Carter administration, the Israeli government agreed to withdraw from all Egyptian territory captured in the 1967 war. By contrast, Israel — with the support of the Bush administration as well as Senators McCain and Biden — has refused to consider a complete withdrawal from Palestinian and Syrian territory despite assurances by Syrian, Palestinian, and other Arab leaders of full diplomatic relations and strict security guarantees in return.

The refusal of Israel to agree to a complete withdrawal from these occupied territories — even with minor and reciprocal border adjustments — as called for in a series of landmark UN Security Council resolutions and by virtually the entire international community, raises serious questions regarding Palin’s characterization of Israel as a “peace-seeking” nation.

BIDEN: When [in 2006] …along with France, we kicked Hezbollah out of Lebanon, I said and Barack said, “Move NATO forces in there. Fill the vacuum, because…if you don’t, Hezbollah will control it.” Now what’s happened? Hezbollah is a legitimate part of the government in the country immediately to the north of Israel.

Neither France nor the United States “kicked Hezbollah out of Lebanon.” France was the primary supporter of the August 2006 UN Security Council resolution — initially opposed by the United States because it wanted the devastating war to continue in the hopes of a more clear-cut Israeli victory — which required forces of Hezbollah’s armed militia to withdraw from areas south of the Litani River, located about 20 miles north of the Israeli border. Hezbollah forces withdrew and UN peacekeeping forces have moved into the area. (These forces include troops from NATO countries, but aren’t part of a NATO operation, which would have likely been unnecessarily provocative in a region that had suffered under the colonial rule of three NATO countries.) There’s no “vacuum” in the southernmost parts of Lebanon where the UN peacekeeping forces are stationed and Hezbollah does not “control it.”

In any case, there was never a serious attempt to kick Hezbollah — which is one of Lebanon’s largest political parties, not simply an armed militia — out of Lebanon as a whole.

Furthermore Hezbollah was already “a legitimate part of the government” of Lebanon during the time period referred to by Biden; the Lebanese government at that time included one Hezbollah cabinet member and a second cabinet minister of an allied party. It’s not “what’s happened” subsequent to the alleged failures of the Bush administration to push for the deployment of NATO forces, as Biden claimed. Biden actually knows this: he was a cosponsor of a Senate resolution in July 2006 that included the clause, “the Government of Lebanon, which includes representatives of Hezbollah,…”

BIDEN: Iran[’s] … proxies now have a major stake in Lebanon, as well as in the Gaza Strip with Hamas.

Neither the Palestinian Hamas nor the Lebanese Hezbollah are “proxies” of Iran.

Hamas evolved out of the Muslim Brotherhood, a Sunni movement that came into being decades before the Iranian revolution and that has had no significant ties with Iran. From Hamas’ founding in the early 1980s until just a few years ago, this Palestinian Islamist group’s primary outside funding came from Saudi Arabia and other Arab monarchies in the Gulf region that have traditionally been hostile to Iran. Since the U.S-led international sanctions against the Hamas-led branch of the Palestine Authority was launched in early 2006, Iran has contributed funds to help keep the government functioning, but this does not make Hamas an Iranian “proxy.”

By contrast, Iran played a significant role in the establishment of Hezbollah as an armed resistance movement against the Israeli occupation of southern Lebanon in the mid-1980s, and Iran has provided some funding and armaments for the militia. However, Hezbollah has long evolved into a populist political party with substantial support from Lebanon’s Shiite population — the country’s largest community — and follows its own agenda.

Afghanistan and Pakistan

PALIN: Barack Obama had said that all we’re doing in Afghanistan is air-raiding villages and killing civilians. And such a reckless, reckless comment and untrue comment, again, hurts our cause.

Obama never said that that is “all we’re doing in Afghanistan.” Furthermore, it’s well-documented by the Afghan government, independent journalists, reputable human rights groups, and even the U.S. military itself that U.S. air strikes on Afghan villages have killed civilians. Indeed, the civilian death toll is in the thousands and has been a major contributing factor in losing the hearts and minds of the Afghan population, particularly in the countryside. Strangely, however, Biden refused to defend Obama on this point.

BIDEN: There have been 7,000 madrassas built along that [Afghan-Pakistani] border. We should be helping them build schools to compete for those hearts and minds of the people in the region so that we’re actually able to take on terrorism …

A madrassa is a school. Most madrassas offer a general education with a special emphasis on Islamic principles. Only a small minority are affiliated with reactionary strains of Islam that preach the kind of doctrine that rationalizes terrorism. Biden’s comment simply reinforces Islamphobic bigotry.

It’s also important to note that most of the extremist madrassas in that area were started in the 1980s when the United States — in a policy Biden supported — armed and financed hard-line fundamentalist mujahideen fighters based in that border region who were then engaged in a war against the Communist regime and its Soviet backers then in power in Afghanistan.

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/stephen-zunes/what-the-prospective-vps_b_131836.html

The VP Debate: Dishonest Foreign Policies

The October 3 debate between Alaska Governor Sarah Palin and Delaware Senator Joe Biden was disturbing for those of us hoping for a more enlightened and honest foreign policy during the next four years. In its aftermath, pundits mainly focused on Palin’s failure to self-destruct and Biden’s relatively cogent arguments. Here’s an annotation of the foreign policy issues raised during the vice-presidential debate, which was packed with demonstrably false and misleading statements.

Getting the Facts Wrong on Iraq

PALIN: I am very thankful that we do have a good plan and the surge and the counterinsurgency strategy in Iraq that has proven to work… You guys opposed the surge. The surge worked. Barack Obama still can’t admit the surge works.

Obama actually has claimed that the surge worked. This makes both he and Palin wrong, however. The decline in violence in Iraq in recent months has largely resulted from a shift in the alignment of internal Iraqi forces and the tragic de facto partitioning of Baghdad into sectarian enclaves. What’s more, the current relative equilibrium is probably temporary. The decision by certain Sunni tribal militias that had been battling U.S. forces to turn their weapons against al-Qaeda-related extremists took place before the surge was even announced. Similarly, militant opposition leader Muqtada al-Sadr’s unilateral ceasefire resulted from internal Shia politics rather than any U.S. actions.

PALIN: And with the surge that has worked we’re now down to pre-surge numbers in Iraq.

This is completely untrue. Prior to the “surge” in January 2007, the United States had approximately 132,000 troops in Iraq. Currently, there are 146,000 troops in Iraq This is less than at the surge’s peak, but the decline had to do with the fact that U.S. forces could not be realistically maintained at that level, not from a decision to pull down the number of forces because of any success.

For no apparent reason, Biden didn’t challenge Palin on this clear misstatement.

BIDEN: With regard to Iraq, I gave the president the power [in the October 2002 Iraq War Resolution]. I voted for the power because he said he needed it not to go to war but to keep the United States, the UN in line, to keep sanctions on Iraq and not let them be lifted.

This was perhaps the most seriously misleading statement of the entire debate.

Palin correctly countered with the fact that “it was a war resolution.” Indeed, the resolution supported by Biden explicitly stated that “The president is authorized to use the Armed Forces of the United States as he determines to be necessary and appropriate.” Biden certainly knew that.

It’s also hard to imagine that Biden actually believed Bush’s claim that it was necessary to “keep sanctions on Iraq and not let them be lifted.” There was absolutely no serious effort in the UN or anywhere else at that time to lift any sanctions against Iraq in a manner that could have conceivably aided Iraq’s ability to make war, develop “weapons of mass destruction,” or in any other way strengthen Saddam Hussein’s regime.

It’s particularly disturbing that a man who may well be the next vice president seems to think that the United States has the right to try to “to keep the UN in line.” The United States is legally bound — by a signed and ratified international treaty pursuant to Article VI of the U.S. Constitution — to provisions of the UN Charter. And the charter prohibits wars of aggression, such as the U.S. invasion of Iraq. The UN’s job is to keep nation-states in line regarding international law, which the Iraq War — made possible in part through Biden’s vote in support its authorization — was one of the most serious and blatant violations since the world body’s establishment in 1945.

In any case, at the time of the Iraq War resolution, the UN had for well over a decade imposed the most comprehensive disarmament regime in history and had already successfully disarmed Iraq of its biological and chemical weapons; its biological, chemical and nuclear weapons programs; and its long-range delivery systems. Furthermore, at the time of the resolution and as a result of pressure from the UN, Iraq had already agreed to the return of UN inspectors under strict modalities guaranteeing unfettered access to confirm Iraq’s disarmament. As a result, Biden’s belief that the United States had to “keep the UN in line” is indicative of his contempt for the UN Charter and the post-World War II international legal order, thereby raising serious questions regarding Obama’s judgment in choosing him as his running mate.

PALIN: I know that the other ticket. . . opposed funding for our troops in Iraq and Afghanistan.

In reality, Biden has consistently supported unconditional funding for Bush’s war in Iraq and Afghanistan, even as evidence of torture, widespread killings of civilians, the resulting insurgency, and other problems have become apparent. Furthermore, as Biden pointed out, John McCain also voted against “funding for our troops” when the appropriation was tied to certain conditions he disliked. Similarly, Obama’s votes against other appropriations bills were because he had objections to certain provisions.

PALIN: We cannot afford to lose against al-Qaeda and the Shia extremists who are still there, still fighting us, but we’re getting closer and closer to victory. And it would be a travesty if we quit now in Iraq.

There was no heavily-armed al-Qaeda or Shia extremists in Iraq until the Bush administration — backed by Senators McCain and Biden — decided to invade that country and overthrow Saddam Hussein, who had prevented such groups from emerging. Prior to the invasion, authorities on Iraq repeatedly pointed out the possibility of such extremists gaining influence in Iraq. If the Republicans were actually concerned about the rise of such extremist groups, they would never have supported the war in the first place. This is simply an excuse to defend the long-planned indefinite occupation of Iraq to control its natural resources and maintain a permanent U.S. military presence in this strategically important region. Claims of being “closer and closer to victory” have been made by Republican leaders ever since the initial invasion in March 2003, and it remains doubtful whether a military victory can ever be achieved.

PALIN: Your plan is a white flag of surrender in Iraq and that is not what our troops need to hear today, that’s for sure. And it’s not what our nation needs to be able to count on.

As Biden pointed out, Prime Minister Nouri al–Maliki has pushed for a withdrawal plan that’s essentially the same as Obama’s. And public opinion polls show that a majority of Americans — including most U.S. troops currently in Iraq — prefer Obama’s plan over McCain’s open-ended indefinite commitment of U.S. forces. And Obama’s plan calls only for the redeployment of combat units, which would not be completed until well into 2010.

Much to the disappointment of those in the anti-war movement, Obama’s plan also calls for maintaining thousands of other U.S. troops within the country to ostensibly protect U.S. personnel, train Iraqi forces, and engage in counter-terrorism operations. Furthermore, Obama’s plan calls for stationing many tens of thousands of U.S. forces in neighboring countries for possible short-term incursions into Iraq.

To claim that this is the same as “a white flag of surrender” is demagoguery at its most extreme.

BIDEN: But let’s get straight who has been right and wrong: …John McCain was saying the Sunnis and Shias got along with each other without reading the history of the last 700 years.

McCain was indeed wrong about many things in regard to Iraq, but the fact is that Sunnis and Shias in Iraq largely did “get along” – until the U.S. invasion supported by Biden created the conditions that led to the subsequent sectarian conflict. Saddam’s secular regime did persecute Shia, but the widespread sectarian massacres of recent years were a direct consequence of the divide-and-rule policies of the U.S. occupation. Prior to the U.S. invasion, millions of Sunni and Shia Iraqis lived peacefully together in mixed neighborhoods, intermarriage was common (particularly in urban areas), and many in rural areas worshiped in the same mosques.

Furthermore, as with conflict in Northern Ireland, the inter-communal violence in Iraq hasn’t simply resulted from religious differences but has erupted over perceived national loyalties, with the Sunnis traditionally identifying with pan-Arabist nationalists and the U.S.-backed ruling Shia parties historically allying with Iran.

Distorting Iran

PALIN: Israel is in jeopardy of course when we’re dealing with Ahmadinejad as a leader of Iran. Iran claiming that Israel…should be wiped off the face of the earth. Now a leader like Ahmadinejad who is not sane or stable when he says things like that is not one whom we can allow to acquire nuclear energy, nuclear weapons. Ahmadinejad…seek[s] to acquire nuclear weapons and wipe off the face of the earth an ally like we have in Israel.

Ahmadinejad never said that “Israel should be wiped off the face of the Earth.” That idiom doesn’t even exist in the Persian language. The Iranian president was quoting the late Ayatollah Khomeini from more than 20 years earlier when, in a statement largely ignored at the time, he said that “the regime occupying Jerusalem should vanish from the pages of time.” While certainly an extreme and deplorable statement, the actual quote’s emphasis on the Israeli “regime” rather than the country itself and its use of an intransitive verb makes the statement far less threatening than Palin was trying to make it sound. As recently as the week before the debate, Ahmadinejad once again clarified that the statement was analogous to the way that the Soviet Union is today no longer on the map, emphasizing his desire for Israel’s dissolution as a state, not the country’s physical destruction. Biden inexplicably refused to challenge this apparently deliberate effort by Palin to make American viewers believe Iran is a greater and more imminent threat than it actually is.

Palin’s argument that nuclear energy is something the United States cannot “allow [Iran] to acquire” was rather bizarre since Iran has had nuclear power since the 1950s, as a result of a program initiated by the United States. The United States continued to be the primary supporter for Iran’s nuclear program through the 1970s.

Finally, as Biden observed, Ahmadinejad doesn’t control Iran’s security apparatus. Unlike in the United States, the Iranian president isn’t the commander-in-chief of the armed forces. Such responsibilities lie with the Supreme Leader, currently Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Indeed, the Iranian presidency is relatively weak compared with other centers of power in that regime.

PALIN: “Ahmadinejad, Kim Jong Il, the Castro brothers, others who are dangerous dictators are ones that Barack Obama has said he would be willing to meet without preconditions being met first. And an issue like that taken up by a presidential candidate goes beyond naiveté and goes beyond poor judgment. A statement that he made like that is downright dangerous. “…These dictators who hate America and hate what we stand for, with our freedoms, our democracy, our tolerance, our respect for women’s rights, those who would try to destroy what we stand for cannot be met with just sitting down on a presidential level as Barack Obama had said he would be willing to do. That is beyond bad judgment. That is dangerous…But diplomacy is hard work by serious people. It’s lining out clear objectives and having your friends and your allies ready to back you up there and have sanctions lined up before any kind of presidential summit would take place.”

As Biden observed, Obama never said he would meet with Ahmadinejad, but with Iranian leaders, presumably those with more power and less extremist views than the Iranian president. And, for reasons mentioned above, while Ahmadinejad is part of an oppressive, authoritarian regime, he is not, strictly speaking, a “dictator.”

Secondly, if it is really poor judgment and “downright dangerous” to meet with dictators without preconditions, why hasn’t Palin ever taken issue with decisions by such former Republican presidents as Eisenhower, Nixon, Ford, Reagan, and Bush, who met with dictators who were as bad or worse than the ones she mentioned and did so without self-defeating preconditions like those demanded by the current administration and by McCain? Indeed, President Bush himself has met with the king of Saudi Arabia, whose regime is far more repressive in terms of freedom, democracy, tolerance, and women’s rights than Castro’s Cuba: the rights of women under Castro have improved greatly relative to previous Cuban regimes, while the U.S.-backed family dictatorship in Saudi Arabia remains the most reactionary and misogynist regime on the planet; religious tolerance is Cuba is far greater than in Saudi Arabia, where non-Muslims are forbidden to worship openly; and, while individual freedom and electoral democracy is certainly quite limited in Cuba, that country still compares favorably to Saudi Arabia.

Finally, Palin’s insistence that the goal of the Cuban, North Korean, and Iranian regimes is to “destroy” America’s freedom, democracy, tolerance, and respect for women’s rights is completely inaccurate and ahistorical. The anti-Americanism of these regimes is rooted not in opposition to America’s values, but U.S. militarism and intervention in relation to those countries, which were taken not in defense of freedom and democracy, but in support for previous Cuban, Korean, and Iranian dictatorships. Biden, however, didn’t challenge Palin on this simplistic distortion.

Israel and its Neighbors

BIDEN: Here’s what the president [Bush] said when we said no. He insisted on elections on the West Bank, when I said, and others said, and Barack Obama said, “Big mistake. Hamas will win. You’ll legitimize them.” What happened? Hamas won.

Biden’s position of opposing democratic elections in Arab countries is quite disturbing and represents a significant step back from the Bush administration’s limited support for such elections. The lesson that should have been learned from Hamas’ victory in the January 2006 Palestinian parliamentary elections isn’t that the United States should oppose free elections. Instead, Biden should have recognized that Hamas’ victory came about as a direct result of U.S. policies, supported by Biden, that have provided Israeli occupation forces with the sufficient military, financial, and diplomatic support to engage in its ongoing repression and colonization in the Palestinian West Bank. It’s such policies that led to the rise of this radical Islamist group, which did not even exist until after a quarter century of U.S.-backed Israeli occupation and the failure of the United States to move the peace process forward in a manner that could have provided the Palestinians with any realistic hope that a viable Palestinian state would result.

Failure to prevent the Palestinian government from allowing all major Palestinian political parties from participating in a parliamentary election doesn’t “legitimize” Hamas. Unfortunately, Hamas was already seen as legitimate by the plurality of Palestinian voters who gave them their parliamentary majority.

PALIN: “We will support Israel[,]…this peace-seeking nation, and they have a track record of being able to forge these peace agreements…They succeeded with Egypt. I’m sure that we’re going to see more success there, also.”

Israel “succeeded” in its peace agreement with Egypt because, under pressure from the Carter administration, the Israeli government agreed to withdraw from all Egyptian territory captured in the 1967 war. By contrast, Israel — with the support of the Bush administration as well as Senators McCain and Biden — has refused to consider a complete withdrawal from Palestinian and Syrian territory despite assurances by Syrian, Palestinian, and other Arab leaders of full diplomatic relations and strict security guarantees in return.

The refusal of Israel to agree to a complete withdrawal from these occupied territories — even with minor and reciprocal border adjustments — as called for in a series of landmark UN Security Council resolutions and by virtually the entire international community, raises serious questions regarding Palin’s characterization of Israel as a “peace-seeking” nation.

BIDEN: When [in 2006] …along with France, we kicked Hezbollah out of Lebanon, I said and Barack said, “Move NATO forces in there. Fill the vacuum, because…if you don’t, Hezbollah will control it.” Now what’s happened? Hezbollah is a legitimate part of the government in the country immediately to the north of Israel.

Neither France nor the United States “kicked Hezbollah out of Lebanon.” France was the primary supporter of the August 2006 UN Security Council resolution — initially opposed by the United States because it wanted the devastating war to continue in the hopes of a more clear-cut Israeli victory — which required forces of Hezbollah’s armed militia to withdraw from areas south of the Litani River, located about 20 miles north of the Israeli border. Hezbollah forces withdrew and UN peacekeeping forces have moved into the area. (These forces include troops from NATO countries, but aren’t part of a NATO operation, which would have likely been unnecessarily provocative in a region that had suffered under the colonial rule of three NATO countries.) There’s no “vacuum” in the southernmost parts of Lebanon where the UN peacekeeping forces are stationed and Hezbollah does not “control it.”

In any case, there was never a serious attempt to kick Hezbollah — which is one of Lebanon’s largest political parties, not simply an armed militia — out of Lebanon as a whole.

Furthermore Hezbollah was already “a legitimate part of the government” of Lebanon during the time period referred to by Biden; the Lebanese government at that time included one Hezbollah cabinet member and a second cabinet minister of an allied party. It’s not “what’s happened” subsequent to the alleged failures of the Bush administration to push for the deployment of NATO forces, as Biden claimed. Biden actually knows this: he was a cosponsor of a Senate resolution in July 2006 that included the clause, “the Government of Lebanon, which includes representatives of Hezbollah,…”

BIDEN: Iran[’s] … proxies now have a major stake in Lebanon, as well as in the Gaza Strip with Hamas.

Neither the Palestinian Hamas nor the Lebanese Hezbollah are “proxies” of Iran.

Hamas evolved out of the Muslim Brotherhood, a Sunni movement that came into being decades before the Iranian revolution and that has had no significant ties with Iran. From Hamas’ founding in the early 1980s until just a few years ago, this Palestinian Islamist group’s primary outside funding came from Saudi Arabia and other Arab monarchies in the Gulf region that have traditionally been hostile to Iran. Since the U.S-led international sanctions against the Hamas-led branch of the Palestine Authority was launched in early 2006, Iran has contributed funds to help keep the government functioning, but this does not make Hamas an Iranian “proxy.”

By contrast, Iran played a significant role in the establishment of Hezbollah as an armed resistance movement against the Israeli occupation of southern Lebanon in the mid-1980s, and Iran has provided some funding and armaments for the militia. However, Hezbollah has long evolved into a populist political party with substantial support from Lebanon’s Shiite population — the country’s largest community — and follows its own agenda.

Afghanistan and Pakistan

PALIN: Barack Obama had said that all we’re doing in Afghanistan is air-raiding villages and killing civilians. And such a reckless, reckless comment and untrue comment, again, hurts our cause.

Obama never said that that is “all we’re doing in Afghanistan.” Furthermore, it’s well-documented by the Afghan government, independent journalists, reputable human rights groups, and even the U.S. military itself that U.S. air strikes on Afghan villages have killed civilians. Indeed, the civilian death toll is in the thousands and has been a major contributing factor in losing the hearts and minds of the Afghan population, particularly in the countryside. Strangely, however, Biden refused to defend Obama on this point.

BIDEN: There have been 7,000 madrassas built along that [Afghan-Pakistani] border. We should be helping them build schools to compete for those hearts and minds of the people in the region so that we’re actually able to take on terrorism …

A madrassa is a school. Most madrassas offer a general education with a special emphasis on Islamic principles. Only a small minority are affiliated with reactionary strains of Islam that preach the kind of doctrine that rationalizes terrorism. Biden’s comment simply reinforces Islamphobic bigotry.

It’s also important to note that most of the extremist madrassas in that area were started in the 1980s when the United States — in a policy Biden supported – armed and financed hard-line fundamentalist mujahideen fighters based in that border region who were then engaged in a war against the Communist regime and its Soviet backers then in power in Afghanistan.

http://www.fpif.org/articles/the_vp_debate_dishonest_foreign_policies

Biden’s Foreign Policy ‘Experience’

Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama’s choice of Joseph Biden as his running mate has drawn sharp criticism from many Democrats as a result of the Delaware senator’s support for the U.S. invasion of Iraq, his flagrantly false claims about the alleged Iraqi threat, and the abuse of his position as chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee to suppress antiwar testimony before Congress prior to the invasion.

A look at the senator’s 35-year record on Capitol Hill indicates that Iraq was not an isolated case and that Biden has frequently allied with more hawkish Democrats and Republicans. This is of particular significance, since Obama and other leading Democrats have acknowledged that the choice of Biden was largely because of his foreign policy leadership, thereby raising concerns that, as president, Obama may end up appointing people to important foreign affairs and security matters of a similar ideological orientation.

At the same time, Biden has not consistently allied with neoconservative intellectuals or the unreconstructed militarists who have so heavily influenced the foreign policies of the Bush administration and the foreign policy positions of Republican presidential nominee John McCain. Indeed, Biden has often taken some rather nuanced positions and, rather than being a right-wing ideologue, is generally recognized by his colleagues as being knowledgeable and thoughtful in addressing complex foreign policy issues, even if often taking more hard-line positions than the increasingly progressive base of his party.

For example, he has called for diplomatic engagement with the Iranian government and — unlike Clinton and some other Democratic senators — voted against the Kyl-Lieberman amendment, which was widely interpreted as potentially paving the way for war with Iran. Biden has challenged the Republicans’ unconstitutional insistence that the executive has the power to wage war without consent of Congress, even going so far as to threaten impeachment proceedings against President George W. Bush if he attacked Iran without congressional authorization. He has also raised strong objections to some of the Bush administration’s efforts to develop new nuclear weapons systems and abrogate existing arms-control treaties. He helped lead the fight against Bush’s nomination of the far-right John Bolton to be U.S. ambassador to the United Nations.

During the 1980s, Biden opposed aid to the Nicaraguan Contras and vigorously challenged Reagan administration officials during the Iran-Contra hearings (in contrast to the tepid leadership of the special committee chairman, Democratic Senator Daniel Inouye of Hawaii.) He was also a cosponsor of a 1997 resolution that would have effectively banned the U.S. production and deployment of landmines, an initiative taken despite objections from the Clinton administration.

Yet Biden’s progressive foreign policy positions have often been the exception rather than the norm. In fact, his positions have sometimes been so inconsistent as to defy clear explanation. For example, Biden is one of the very few members of Congress who voted against authorizing the 1991 Gulf War — which the UN Security Council legitimized as an act of collective security against the illegal Iraqi conquest of Kuwait — but then voted in favor of authorizing the 2003 invasion of Iraq, which the UN Security Council didn’t approve, and was an illegitimate war of aggression.

Center-Right Agenda

On most foreign policy issues, Biden has allied with congressional centrists and conservatives. For example, despite all the recent media attention given to Biden’s working-class roots and his support for labor, and despite his more recent opposition to the Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA), Biden has largely embraced corporate-backed neoliberal globalization, particularly during the 1990s. Biden voted to ratify the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and the World Trade Organization (WTO), which have both proven so devastating for American workers and have so greatly contributed to increased inequality and environmental damage worldwide.

Despite Biden’s support for the principle of “free trade,” even with some governments that suppress labor rights, Biden supports tough economic sanctions against Cuba. He has even opposed Obama’s restrained proposals for loosening restrictions on the right of Americans to travel to that socialist country and the right of Cuban-Americans to provide remittances for family members still living there.

Biden has aggressively pushed for NATO expansion eastward. He supports NATO membership for the former Soviet republic of Georgia, despite that government’s attacks on South Ossetia and the risks that such a formal military alliance could drag U.S. forces into a war in the volatile Caucasus region. Biden correctly criticized Russia for its military incursion deep into Georgian territory and its disproportionate use of force. But in rhetoric reminiscent of the darkest days of the Cold War, he incorrectly assigned all the blame for the recent fighting on the Russians, failing even to mention the Georgian assault on the South Ossetian capital that provoked it. While condemning Moscow for its efforts “to subvert the territorial integrity” of Georgia, Biden seems to have forgotten that he was a key cosponsor (along with Senators McCain and Lieberman) of a Senate resolution introduced last year that called for active U.S. support for the independence of the autonomous Serbian region of Kosovo.

Biden was perhaps the Senate’s most outspoken supporter of the 1999 U.S. war on Yugoslavia. He teamed up with McCain as one of the two principal sponsors of the resolution authorizing the 11-week bombing campaign of Serbia and Montenegro, which short-circuited efforts by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe and pro-democracy Serbian groups to resolve the crisis nonviolently. Biden’s efforts to use Serbian oppression of Kosovar Albanians as an excuse for advancing post-Cold War U.S. hegemony in Eastern Europe became apparent in his insistence that “if we do not achieve our goals in Kosovo, NATO is finished as an alliance.”

In addition to stacking his Senate committee’s hearings prior to the Iraq war vote with fabricators of WMD claims and supporters of a U.S. invasion, Biden has often failed to use his platform to ask tough questions during confirmation hearings for many of the Bush administration’s more controversial nominees. For example, during John Negroponte’s three confirmation hearings Biden avoided any questions regarding the controversial official’s alleged support for right-wing death squads while ambassador to Honduras during the 1980s.

As ranking Democrat on the Foreign Relations Committee during the 1990s, Biden teamed up with the right-wing Republican chairman Jesse Helms (R-NC) to try to squash efforts by Russell Feingold (D-WI) and other liberals to end U.S. military training of Indonesian counterinsurgency forces repressing occupied East Timor. Biden was among a minority of Democrats to support increasing military aid — in the name of anti-narcotics efforts but in reality for counter-insurgency operations — to Colombia’s repressive government. He even voted against an amendment that would have transferred some of the money to support effective but underfunded drug treatment programs in the United States.

Biden also was among a minority of Senate Democrats to vote against a resolution that would have required the administration to certify, prior to selling or otherwise providing cluster bombs to a foreign government, that they would not be used in civilian areas. Such opposition to this important and widely supported humanitarian effort likely indicates that Biden would use his position as vice president to stifle efforts by other administration officials who might press for greater sensitivity in U.S. foreign policy toward human rights concerns.

Despite embracing much of the Bush administration’s alarmist rhetoric about Iran’s nuclear program, Biden’s actual concerns regarding nonproliferation are rather suspect. For example, he voted against a number of proposed amendments that would have strengthened provisions of the nuclear cooperation agreement with India designed to insure that U.S. assistance would not help India’s nuclear weapons program.

While opposing some Reagan-era weapons programs, such as the Pershing II missile, Biden supported full funding of the Trident D-5 Submarine Missile Program a full decade after the end of the Cold War for which it was designed. He has also voted against a series of amendments that would have redirected wasteful military spending to support domestic education programs and limited war profiteering by military contractors with links to the current administration. Biden has also been a strong advocate of increasing military spending even beyond the Bush administration’s bloated levels.

Far Right Agenda on Israel/Palestine

In addition to Iraq, (on which he was among the minority of congressional Democrats who voted to authorize the illegal invasion of that oil-rich country and supports continued unconditional war funding) the foreign policy issue with which Biden has most closely aligned himself with right-wing Republicans is Israel. Long opposed to Palestine’s right to exist as an independent country, he came around to supporting the idea of creating some kind of Palestinian state alongside Israel only after the Bush administration and the Israeli government went on record accepting the idea. Similarly, Biden has long insisted that it isn’t the Israeli occupiers, but the Palestinians under occupation, who constitute the “one…side that can impact on ending [the conflict.]”

Biden has defended extra-judicial killings by Israeli forces in the occupied territories, Israel’s illegal settlements in the West Bank, Israel’s annexation of greater East Jerusalem and other Arab territories seized by military force, and collective punishment against Palestinian civilians in retaliation for crimes committed by the radical Hamas movement.

When Bush goaded Israel into attacking Lebanon during the summer of 2006 — blocking international efforts to impose a cease fire even as civilian casualties mounted into the hundreds — Biden argued that the Bush administration didn’t back Israel quickly or vehemently enough. As the outcry from human rights groups and UN agencies mounted over the widespread devastation inflicted on Lebanon’s civilian infrastructure, Biden declared “we’re left with no option here, in my view, but to support Israel in what is a totally legitimate self-defense effort.”

Following the war, Biden blocked investigations into Israeli violations of the U.S. Arms Export Control Act despite a report provided to his Senate committee from the State Department indicating that there was considerable evidence of widespread use of U.S.-supplied cluster bombs against civilian targets. His refusal to allow for such congressional oversight does not give much hope that, once in the executive branch himself, he would support an Obama administration upholding its legal obligations either.

Obama had previously criticized the Clinton administration for its one-sided approach to the peace process and, more recently, has pledged to make facilitating an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement a priority as president. Nevertheless, Biden insists that the United States should not take any role in the peace process that isn’t coordinated with the Israeli government. Indeed, Biden explicitly insists that that there should be “no daylight between us and Israel” and that “the idea of being an ‘honest broker’… like some of my Democratic colleagues call for, is not the answer.”

Unfortunately, there’s little to suggest that any mediating party has ever successfully facilitated a peace settlement between two hostile nations without being an honest broker. Indeed, Biden strongly objected to findings by the bipartisan Iraq Study Group, headed by former Secretary of State James Baker and widely supported by the majority of the foreign policy establishment. The Group’s report emphasized the importance of the United States pressing for an Israeli-Palestinian peace settlement in order to restore its credibility in the greater Middle East.

Democrats Unify Around Biden

Even the party’s left wing largely refused to support proposals challenging the Biden nomination from the floor of the Democratic National Convention in Denver. Prominent Democratic antiwar stalwarts such as Rep. Lynne Woolsey (D-CA) and Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA) — in the name of “party unity” — rejected calls by some delegates for a roll-call vote in which Biden would be pitted against an antiwar challenger for the vice-presidential nomination

The residual grumblings from antiwar Democrats, and threats to defect to the campaigns of Green Party nominee Cynthia McKinney or independent Ralph Nader in response to the Biden nomination largely evaporated, however, when Republican nominee John McCain announced his choice of Alaska Governor Sarah Palin as his running mate. Despite Biden’s history of notoriously poor judgment on some foreign policy issues, the veteran senator’s knowledge and experience began to look increasingly important compared with his strikingly inexperienced, unknowledgeable, and extremely right-wing Republican counterpart.

For example, in one of the few public statements Palin had made on the Iraq war, she insisted that the invasion was part of “God’s plan” and that prosecuting the war is “a task that is from God.” In contrast, the Roman Catholic church (of which Biden is a member) and virtually every mainline Protestant denomination came out in opposition to the U.S. invasion of Iraq. Only the right-wing fundamentalist denominations went on record supporting it. While Biden’s support for the 2002 Iraq war resolution did put him on the side of right-wing Christian fundamentalists on the critical question of what constitutes a just war, he has never claimed the invasion of that oil-rich country was part of God’s plan.

Similarly, while Biden’s hard-line views regarding Israel also put him at odds with the moderate positions taken by the Catholic Church and the mainline Protestant denominations, Palin goes so far as to embrace the dispensationalist wing of Christian Zionism. As such, she believes that a militarily dominant Israel is a necessary requisite for the second coming of Christ and the Israeli government should therefore not be pressed to withdraw from any occupied Arab lands.

The Task at Hand

Obama’s choice of Biden — the quintessential figure of the Democratic Party foreign policy establishment on Capitol Hill — raises serious questions as to whether the Illinois senator really represents “change we can believe in.” At the same time, Biden has demonstrated a greater-than-average willingness to shift to more moderate positions if the prevailing pressure is from the left. His growing skepticism over Bush policy in Iraq, his calls for the withdrawal of most American combat forces, his outspoken opposition to the surge when it was put forward last year, and his tough questioning of General David Petraeus in hearings before his committee has undoubtedly been a reflection of the growing antiwar sentiment within the Democratic Party.

When Biden first ran for the Senate in 1972, he was willing to represent the prevailing mood at the time in strongly denouncing the Vietnam War, calling for an immediate withdrawal of U.S. forces, and voting against aiding the dictatorial South Vietnamese government of Nguyen Van Thieu. The following decade, his initial support for U.S. backing of the repressive junta in El Salvador was reversed in the face of growing opposition to U.S. intervention in Central America. While not among the first to endorse the proposed freeze on the research, testing, development and deployment of new nuclear weapons and nuclear weapons systems, he did throw his weight behind the initiative as the nuclear freeze campaign grew in popular support.

As a result, continued advocacy by peace and human rights activists for a more enlightened foreign policy can likely minimize the damage that Biden might otherwise have on an Obama administration’s foreign policy.

In addition, Obama may have selected the hawkish Biden as his running mate primarily as a political maneuver to enhance his chances of winning the November election rather than as an indication of the kind of people he would appoint for key foreign policy positions or the kinds of policies he would pursue. Indeed, despite the more recent inclusion of some of the more hawkish former Clinton advisors into his foreign policy team, Obama’s core advisors on international affairs have generally hailed from the younger, more liberal, and more innovative wing of the Democratic Party.

Like Dick Cheney, Biden pushed for an invasion of a country on the far side of the world that was no threat to us, misled the public regarding nonexistent “weapons of mass destruction,” and sought to silence critics of the war. However, even assuming the worst regarding Biden’s hawkish worldview, he would not be able to use his office in the same manner. Though bringing into an Obama administration a certain gravitas on foreign affairs as a result of his knowledge and experience, the fact remains that Biden — unlike the current vice-president — would be serving a president who is quite intelligent and who is quite capable of making his own decisions on the critical foreign policy issues facing the United States.

http://www.fpif.info/fpiftxt/5549

Biden, Iraq, and Obama’s Betrayal

Incipient Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama’s selection of Joseph Biden as his running mate constitutes a stunning betrayal of the anti-war constituency who made possible his hard-fought victory in the Democratic primaries and caucuses.

The veteran Delaware senator has been one the leading congressional supporters of U.S. militarization of the Middle East and Eastern Europe, of strict economic sanctions against Cuba, and of Israeli occupation policies.

Most significantly, however, Biden, who chaired the Senate Foreign Relations Committee during the lead-up to the Iraq War during the latter half of 2002, was perhaps the single most important congressional backer of the Bush administration’s decision to invade that oil-rich country.

Shrinking Gap Between Candidates

One of the most important differences between Obama and the soon-to-be Republican presidential nominee John McCain is that Obama had the wisdom and courage to oppose the U.S. invasion of Iraq. Obama and his supporters had been arguing correctly that judgment in foreign policy is far more important than experience; this was a key and likely decisive argument in the Illinois senator’s campaign against Senator Hillary Clinton, who had joined McCain in backing the Iraq war resolution.

However, in choosing Biden who, like the forthcoming Republican nominee, has more experience in international affairs but notoriously poor judgment, Obama is essentially saying that this critical difference between the two prospective presidential candidates doesn’t really matter. This decision thereby negates one of his biggest advantages in the general election. Of particular concern is the possibility that the pick of an establishment figure from the hawkish wing of the party indicates the kind of foreign policy appointments Obama will make as president.

Obama’s choice of Biden as his running mate will likely have a hugely negative impact on his once-enthusiastic base of supporters. Obama’s supporters had greatly appreciated the fact that he did not blindly accept the Bush administration’s transparently false claims about Iraq being an imminent danger to U.S. national security interests that required an invasion and occupation of that country. At the same time Biden was joining his Republican colleagues in pushing through a Senate resolution authorizing the invasion, Obama was speaking at a major anti-war rally in Chicago correctly noting that Iraq’s war-making ability had been substantially weakened and that the international community could successfully contain Saddam Hussein from any future acts of aggression.

In Washington, by contrast, Biden was insisting that Bush was right and Obama was wrong, falsely claiming that Iraq under Saddam Hussein – severely weakened by UN disarmament efforts and comprehensive international sanctions – somehow constituted both “a long term threat and a short term threat to our national security” and was an “extreme danger to the world.” Despite the absence of any “weapons of mass destruction” or offensive military capabilities, Biden when reminded of those remarks during an interview last year, replied, “That’s right, and I was correct about that.”

Biden Shepherds the War Authorization

It is difficult to over-estimate the critical role Biden played in making the tragedy of the Iraq war possible. More than two months prior to the 2002 war resolution even being introduced, in what was widely interpreted as the first sign that Congress would endorse a U.S. invasion of Iraq, Biden declared on August 4 that the United States was probably going to war. In his powerful position as chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, he orchestrated a propaganda show designed to sell the war to skeptical colleagues and the America public by ensuring that dissenting voices would not get a fair hearing.

As Scott Ritter, the former chief UN weapons inspector, noted at the time, “For Sen. Biden’s Iraq hearings to be anything more than a political sham used to invoke a modern-day Gulf of Tonkin resolution-equivalent for Iraq, his committee will need to ask hard questions – and demand hard facts – concerning the real nature of the weapons threat posed by Iraq.”

It soon became apparent that Biden had no intention of doing so. Biden refused to even allow Ritter himself – who knew more about Iraq’s WMD capabilities than anyone and would have testified that Iraq had achieved at least qualitative disarmament – to testify. Ironically, on Meet the Press last year, Biden defended his false claims about Iraqi WMDs by insisting that “everyone in the world thought he had them. The weapons inspectors said he had them.”

Biden also refused to honor requests by some of his Democratic colleagues to include in the hearings some of the leading anti-war scholars familiar with Iraq and Middle East. These included both those who would have reiterated Ritter’s conclusions about non-existent Iraqi WMD capabilities as well as those prepared to testify that a U.S. invasion of Iraq would likely set back the struggle against al-Qaeda, alienate the United States from much of the world, and precipitate bloody urban counter-insurgency warfare amid rising terrorism, Islamist extremism, and sectarian violence. All of these predictions ended up being exactly what transpired.

Nor did Biden even call some of the dissenting officials in the Pentagon or State Department who were willing to challenge the alarmist claims of their ideologically-driven superiors. He was willing, however, to allow Iraqi defectors of highly dubious credentials to make false testimony about the vast quantities of WMD materiel supposedly in Saddam Hussein’s possession. Ritter has correctly accused Biden of having “preordained a conclusion that seeks to remove Saddam Hussein from power regardless of the facts and . . . using these hearings to provide political cover for a massive military attack on Iraq.”

Supported an Invasion Before Bush

Rather than being a hapless victim of the Bush administration’s lies and manipulation, Biden was calling for a U.S. invasion of Iraq and making false statements regarding Saddam Hussein’s supposed possession of “weapons of mass destruction” years before President George W. Bush even came to office.

As far back as 1998, Biden was calling for a U.S. invasion of that oil rich country. Even though UN inspectors and the UN-led disarmament process led to the elimination of Iraq’s WMD threat, Biden – in an effort to discredit the world body and make an excuse for war – insisted that UN inspectors could never be trusted to do the job. During Senate hearings on Iraq in September of that year, Biden told Ritter, “As long as Saddam’s at the helm, there is no reasonable prospect you or any other inspector is ever going to be able to guarantee that we have rooted out, root and branch, the entirety of Saddam’s program relative to weapons of mass destruction.”

Calling for military action on the scale of the Gulf War seven years earlier, he continued, “The only way we’re going to get rid of Saddam Hussein is we’re going to end up having to start it alone,” telling the Marine veteran “it’s going to require guys like you in uniform to be back on foot in the desert taking Saddam down.”

When Ritter tried to make the case that President Bill Clinton’s proposed large-scale bombing of Iraq could jeopardize the UN inspections process, Biden condescendingly replied that decisions on the use of military force were “beyond your pay grade.” As Ritter predicted, when Clinton ordered UN inspectors out of Iraq in December of that year and followed up with a four-day bombing campaign known as Operation Desert Fox, Saddam was provided with an excuse to refuse to allow the inspectors to return. Biden then conveniently used Saddam’s failure to allow them to return as an excuse for going to war four years later.

Biden’s False Claims to Bolster War

In the face of widespread skepticism over administration claims regarding Iraq’s military capabilities, Biden declared that President Bush was justified in being concerned about Iraq’s alleged pursuit of weapons of mass destruction. Even though Iraq had eliminated its chemical weapons arsenal by the mid-1990s, Biden insisted categorically in the weeks leading up to the Iraq war resolution that Saddam Hussein still had chemical weapons. Even though there is no evidence that Iraq had ever developed deployable biological weapons and its biological weapons program had been eliminated some years earlier, Biden insisted that Saddam had biological weapons, including anthrax and that “he may have a strain” of small pox. And, even though the International Atomic Energy Agency had reported as far back as 1998 that there was no evidence whatsoever that Iraq had any ongoing nuclear program, Biden insisted Saddam was “seeking nuclear weapons.”

Said Biden, “One thing is clear: These weapons must be dislodged from Saddam, or Saddam must be dislodged from power.” He did not believe proof of the existence of any actual weapons to dislodge was necessary, however, insisting that “If we wait for the danger from Saddam to become clear, it could be too late.” He further defended President Bush by falsely claiming that “He did not snub the U.N. or our allies. He did not dismiss a new inspection regime. He did not ignore the Congress. At each pivotal moment, he has chosen a course of moderation and deliberation.”

In an Orwellian twist of language designed to justify the war resolution, which gave President Bush the unprecedented authority to invade a country on the far side of the world at the time and circumstances of his own choosing, Biden claimed that “I do not believe this is a rush to war. I believe it is a march to peace and security. I believe that failure to overwhelmingly support this resolution is likely to enhance the prospects that war will occur.”

It is also important to note that Biden supported an invasion in the full knowledge that it would not be quick and easy and that the United States would have to occupy Iraq for an extended period, declaring, “We must be clear with the American people that we are committing to Iraq for the long haul; not just the day after, but the decade after.”

Biden’s Current Position

In response to the tragic consequences of the U.S. invasion and the resulting weakening of popular support for the war, Biden has more recently joined the chorus of Democratic members of Congress criticizing the administration’s handling of the conflict and calling for the withdrawal of most combat forces. He opposed President Bush’s escalation (“surge”) of troop strength early last year and has called for greater involvement by the United Nations and other countries in resolving the ongoing conflicts within Iraq.

However, Biden has been the principal congressional backer of a de facto partition of the country between Kurdish, Sunni Arab, and Shia Arab segments, a proposal opposed by a solid majority of Iraqis and strongly denounced by the leading Sunni, Shia, and secular blocs in the Iraqi parliament. Even the U.S. State Department has criticized Biden’s plan as too extreme. A cynical and dangerous attempt at divide-and-rule, Biden’s ambitious effort to redraw the borders of the Middle East would likely make a violent and tragic situation all the worse.

Yet it is Biden’s key role in making possible the congressional authorization of the 2003 U.S. invasion that elicits the greatest concern among Obama’s supporters. While more recently expressing regrets over his vote, he has not formally apologized and has stressed the Bush administration’s mishandling of the post-invasion occupation rather than the illegitimacy of the invasion itself.

Biden’s support for the resolution was not simply poor judgment, but a calculated rejection of principles codified in the UN Charter and other international legal documents prohibiting aggressive wars. According to Article VI of the Constitution, such a rejection also constitutes a violation of U.S. law as well. Biden even voted against an amendment sponsored by fellow Democratic senator Carl Levin that would have authorized U.S. military action against Iraq if the UN Security Council approved the use of force and instead voted for the Republican-backed resolution authorizing the United States to go to war unilaterally. In effect, Biden has embraced the neo-conservative view that the United States, as the world’s sole remaining superpower, somehow has the right to invade other countries at will, even if they currently pose no strategic threat.

Given the dangerous precedent set by the Iraq war resolution, naming one of its principal supporters as potentially the next vice president of the United States has raised serious questions regarding Senator Obama’s commitment to international law. This comes at a time when the global community is so desperately hoping for a more responsible U.S. foreign policy following eight years of Bush.

Early in his presidential campaign, Obama pledged to not only end the war in Iraq, but to challenge the mindset that got the United States into Iraq in the first place. Choosing Biden as his running mate, however, raises doubts regarding Obama’s actual commitment to “change we can believe in.”

http://www.fpif.org/articles/biden_iraq_and_obamas_betrayal

Biden, Iraq, and Obama’s Betrayal

Incipient Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama’s selection of Joseph Biden as his running mate constitutes a stunning betrayal of the anti-war constituency who made possible his hard-fought victory in the Democratic primaries and caucuses.

The veteran Delaware senator has been one the leading congressional supporters of U.S. militarization of the Middle East and Eastern Europe, of strict economic sanctions against Cuba, and of Israeli occupation policies.

Most significantly, however, Biden, who chaired the Senate Foreign Relations Committee during the lead-up to the Iraq War during the latter half of 2002, was perhaps the single most important congressional backer of the Bush administration’s decision to invade that oil-rich country.

Shrinking Gap Between Candidates

One of the most important differences between Obama and the soon-to-be Republican presidential nominee John McCain is that Obama had the wisdom and courage to oppose the U.S. invasion of Iraq. Obama and his supporters had been arguing correctly that judgment in foreign policy is far more important than experience; this was a key and likely decisive argument in the Illinois senator’s campaign against Senator Hillary Clinton, who had joined McCain in backing the Iraq war resolution.

However, in choosing Biden who, like the forthcoming Republican nominee, has more experience in international affairs but notoriously poor judgment, Obama is essentially saying that this critical difference between the two prospective presidential candidates doesn’t really matter. This decision thereby negates one of his biggest advantages in the general election. Of particular concern is the possibility that the pick of an establishment figure from the hawkish wing of the party indicates the kind of foreign policy appointments Obama will make as president.

Obama’s choice of Biden as his running mate will likely have a hugely negative impact on his once-enthusiastic base of supporters. Obama’s supporters had greatly appreciated the fact that he did not blindly accept the Bush administration’s transparently false claims about Iraq being an imminent danger to U.S. national security interests that required an invasion and occupation of that country. At the same time Biden was joining his Republican colleagues in pushing through a Senate resolution authorizing the invasion, Obama was speaking at a major anti-war rally in Chicago correctly noting that Iraq’s war-making ability had been substantially weakened and that the international community could successfully contain Saddam Hussein from any future acts of aggression.

In Washington, by contrast, Biden was insisting that Bush was right and Obama was wrong, falsely claiming that Iraq under Saddam Hussein – severely weakened by UN disarmament efforts and comprehensive international sanctions – somehow constituted both “a long term threat and a short term threat to our national security” and was an “extreme danger to the world.” Despite the absence of any “weapons of mass destruction” or offensive military capabilities, Biden when reminded of those remarks during an interview last year, replied, “That’s right, and I was correct about that.”

Biden Shepherds the War Authorization

It is difficult to over-estimate the critical role Biden played in making the tragedy of the Iraq war possible. More than two months prior to the 2002 war resolution even being introduced, in what was widely interpreted as the first sign that Congress would endorse a U.S. invasion of Iraq, Biden declared on August 4 that the United States was probably going to war. In his powerful position as chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, he orchestrated a propaganda show designed to sell the war to skeptical colleagues and the America public by ensuring that dissenting voices would not get a fair hearing.

As Scott Ritter, the former chief UN weapons inspector, noted at the time, “For Sen. Biden’s Iraq hearings to be anything more than a political sham used to invoke a modern-day Gulf of Tonkin resolution-equivalent for Iraq, his committee will need to ask hard questions – and demand hard facts – concerning the real nature of the weapons threat posed by Iraq.”

It soon became apparent that Biden had no intention of doing so. Biden refused to even allow Ritter himself – who knew more about Iraq’s WMD capabilities than anyone and would have testified that Iraq had achieved at least qualitative disarmament – to testify. Ironically, on Meet the Press last year, Biden defended his false claims about Iraqi WMDs by insisting that “everyone in the world thought he had them. The weapons inspectors said he had them.”

Biden also refused to honor requests by some of his Democratic colleagues to include in the hearings some of the leading anti-war scholars familiar with Iraq and Middle East. These included both those who would have reiterated Ritter’s conclusions about non-existent Iraqi WMD capabilities as well as those prepared to testify that a U.S. invasion of Iraq would likely set back the struggle against al-Qaeda, alienate the United States from much of the world, and precipitate bloody urban counter-insurgency warfare amid rising terrorism, Islamist extremism, and sectarian violence. All of these predictions ended up being exactly what transpired.

Nor did Biden even call some of the dissenting officials in the Pentagon or State Department who were willing to challenge the alarmist claims of their ideologically-driven superiors. He was willing, however, to allow Iraqi defectors of highly dubious credentials to make false testimony about the vast quantities of WMD materiel supposedly in Saddam Hussein’s possession. Ritter has correctly accused Biden of having “preordained a conclusion that seeks to remove Saddam Hussein from power regardless of the facts and . . . using these hearings to provide political cover for a massive military attack on Iraq.”

Supported an Invasion Before Bush

Rather than being a hapless victim of the Bush administration’s lies and manipulation, Biden was calling for a U.S. invasion of Iraq and making false statements regarding Saddam Hussein’s supposed possession of “weapons of mass destruction” years before President George W. Bush even came to office.

As far back as 1998, Biden was calling for a U.S. invasion of that oil rich country. Even though UN inspectors and the UN-led disarmament process led to the elimination of Iraq’s WMD threat, Biden – in an effort to discredit the world body and make an excuse for war – insisted that UN inspectors could never be trusted to do the job. During Senate hearings on Iraq in September of that year, Biden told Ritter, “As long as Saddam’s at the helm, there is no reasonable prospect you or any other inspector is ever going to be able to guarantee that we have rooted out, root and branch, the entirety of Saddam’s program relative to weapons of mass destruction.”

Calling for military action on the scale of the Gulf War seven years earlier, he continued, “The only way we’re going to get rid of Saddam Hussein is we’re going to end up having to start it alone,” telling the Marine veteran “it’s going to require guys like you in uniform to be back on foot in the desert taking Saddam down.”

When Ritter tried to make the case that President Bill Clinton’s proposed large-scale bombing of Iraq could jeopardize the UN inspections process, Biden condescendingly replied that decisions on the use of military force were “beyond your pay grade.” As Ritter predicted, when Clinton ordered UN inspectors out of Iraq in December of that year and followed up with a four-day bombing campaign known as Operation Desert Fox, Saddam was provided with an excuse to refuse to allow the inspectors to return. Biden then conveniently used Saddam’s failure to allow them to return as an excuse for going to war four years later.

Biden’s False Claims to Bolster War

In the face of widespread skepticism over administration claims regarding Iraq’s military capabilities, Biden declared that President Bush was justified in being concerned about Iraq’s alleged pursuit of weapons of mass destruction. Even though Iraq had eliminated its chemical weapons arsenal by the mid-1990s, Biden insisted categorically in the weeks leading up to the Iraq war resolution that Saddam Hussein still had chemical weapons. Even though there is no evidence that Iraq had ever developed deployable biological weapons and its biological weapons program had been eliminated some years earlier, Biden insisted that Saddam had biological weapons, including anthrax and that “he may have a strain” of small pox. And, even though the International Atomic Energy Agency had reported as far back as 1998 that there was no evidence whatsoever that Iraq had any ongoing nuclear program, Biden insisted Saddam was “seeking nuclear weapons.”

Said Biden, “One thing is clear: These weapons must be dislodged from Saddam, or Saddam must be dislodged from power.” He did not believe proof of the existence of any actual weapons to dislodge was necessary, however, insisting that “If we wait for the danger from Saddam to become clear, it could be too late.” He further defended President Bush by falsely claiming that “He did not snub the U.N. or our allies. He did not dismiss a new inspection regime. He did not ignore the Congress. At each pivotal moment, he has chosen a course of moderation and deliberation.”

In an Orwellian twist of language designed to justify the war resolution, which gave President Bush the unprecedented authority to invade a country on the far side of the world at the time and circumstances of his own choosing, Biden claimed that “I do not believe this is a rush to war. I believe it is a march to peace and security. I believe that failure to overwhelmingly support this resolution is likely to enhance the prospects that war will occur.”

It is also important to note that Biden supported an invasion in the full knowledge that it would not be quick and easy and that the United States would have to occupy Iraq for an extended period, declaring, “We must be clear with the American people that we are committing to Iraq for the long haul; not just the day after, but the decade after.”

Biden’s Current Position

In response to the tragic consequences of the U.S. invasion and the resulting weakening of popular support for the war, Biden has more recently joined the chorus of Democratic members of Congress criticizing the administration’s handling of the conflict and calling for the withdrawal of most combat forces. He opposed President Bush’s escalation (“surge”) of troop strength early last year and has called for greater involvement by the United Nations and other countries in resolving the ongoing conflicts within Iraq.

However, Biden has been the principal congressional backer of a de facto partition of the country between Kurdish, Sunni Arab, and Shia Arab segments, a proposal opposed by a solid majority of Iraqis and strongly denounced by the leading Sunni, Shia, and secular blocs in the Iraqi parliament. Even the U.S. State Department has criticized Biden’s plan as too extreme. A cynical and dangerous attempt at divide-and-rule, Biden’s ambitious effort to redraw the borders of the Middle East would likely make a violent and tragic situation all the worse.

Yet it is Biden’s key role in making possible the congressional authorization of the 2003 U.S. invasion that elicits the greatest concern among Obama’s supporters. While more recently expressing regrets over his vote, he has not formally apologized and has stressed the Bush administration’s mishandling of the post-invasion occupation rather than the illegitimacy of the invasion itself.

Biden’s support for the resolution was not simply poor judgment, but a calculated rejection of principles codified in the UN Charter and other international legal documents prohibiting aggressive wars. According to Article VI of the Constitution, such a rejection also constitutes a violation of U.S. law as well. Biden even voted against an amendment sponsored by fellow Democratic senator Carl Levin that would have authorized U.S. military action against Iraq if the UN Security Council approved the use of force and instead voted for the Republican-backed resolution authorizing the United States to go to war unilaterally. In effect, Biden has embraced the neo-conservative view that the United States, as the world’s sole remaining superpower, somehow has the right to invade other countries at will, even if they currently pose no strategic threat.

Given the dangerous precedent set by the Iraq war resolution, naming one of its principal supporters as potentially the next vice president of the United States has raised serious questions regarding Senator Obama’s commitment to international law. This comes at a time when the global community is so desperately hoping for a more responsible U.S. foreign policy following eight years of Bush.

Early in his presidential campaign, Obama pledged to not only end the war in Iraq, but to challenge the mindset that got the United States into Iraq in the first place. Choosing Biden as his running mate, however, raises doubts regarding Obama’s actual commitment to “change we can believe in.”