As Iraq War Vote Anniversary Nears, Don’t Forget Who Was Responsible

Many are asking themselves what would have happened if Congress had refused to approve the invasion of Iraq. This is the 20th anniversary of the historic congressional vote that authorized the invasion. There was widespread public opposition at the time to going to war. The Catholic Church and every mainline Protestant denomination voted against war, as did nearly every major labor union or other left-of center organization that took a stand. A large majority of U.S. Middle East scholars opposed an invading force, knowing the potential disastrous consequences. The vast majority of the world’s nations, including most of the United States’s closest allies, were also in opposition to the war.

The Iraq war resolution was much more controversial than the near-unanimous vote (save Rep. Barbara Lee), which authorized military force to Afghanistan in the wake of the 9/11 attacks. A large majority of Democrats in House of Representatives opposed the resolution authorizing invasion. The vote was held on October 10, 2002. It passed easily, however, because the Republicans controlled the House.

This left the determination as to whether the United States would go to war up to the Democratic-controlled Senate the following day. Many were surprised to see that many prominent Democratic senators supported the war authorization. These included Senate Majority leader Tom Daschle, Assistant Majority Lead Harry Reid, Foreign Relations Committee chair Joe Biden, and John Kerry, Hillary Clinton.

All this was well known at the time. Since then, however, a number of these Democrats, particularly those with presidential ambitions, have lied about their votes — and much of the mainstream media have allowed them to get away with it.

The primary excuse they have subsequently put forward has been that the “Authorization for Use of Military Force Against Iraq Resolution,” as it was formally known, was not actually an authorization for use of military force against Iraq. Instead, these Democrats claim they did not actually support George W. Bush’s decision to invade in March 2003 but simply wanted to provide the administration with leverage to pressure Iraq to allow a return of UN inspectors, which President Clinton had ordered removed in 1998 prior to a four-day bombing campaign, and Iraqi president Saddam Hussein had, quite predictably, not yet allowed to return.

John Kerry was able to evade the open-ended authority Bush has been granted by the congressional resolution. claimed in 2013 that he “opposed the president’s decision to go into Iraq.” While running for president in 2016, Hillary Clinton insisted that she voted for the resolution simply because “we needed to put inspectors in, that was the underlying reason why I at least voted to give President Bush the authority,” and that she did not want to “wage a preemptive war.” Similarly, during his 2020 presidential campaign, Biden insisted he supported Bush’s war resolution not because he actually wanted to invade Iraq, but because “he needed the vote to be able to get inspectors into Iraq to determine whether or not Saddam Hussein was engaged in dealing with a nuclear program,” and further claiming that, “Immediately, the moment it started, I came out against the war at that moment.”

In fact, the Iraqi government had already voted in principle for the return of the weapons inspectors and was negotiating with UN Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission about the details. These details were formalized a few weeks later. (Indeed, it would likely have been resolved earlier if the Bush administration hadn’t repeatedly postponed UN Security Council resolution in hopes of inserting language that would allow the United States unilaterally to interpret level of compliance. Additionally, all three senators voted against. substitute amendmentDemocratic Senator Carl Levin of Michigan would have granted President Bush the authority to use force if Iraq did not comply with subsequent UN demands regarding the inspections. They voted against the Republican-sponsored resolution that would have given President Bush the authority and time to invade Iraq, regardless of whether inspectors return.

Importantly, Bush launched the March 2003 invasion four months after large-scale weapons inspections began with no signs that any weapons facilities or prohibited weapons had been found. Clinton, Biden, Kerry maintained that the invasion was necessary.

Biden defended the imminent launch of the invasion by saying, “I support the president. Diplomacy to avoid war is dead. … I do not see any alternative. It is not as if we can back away now.” He added, “Let loose the dogs of war. I’m confident we will win.”

Despite the fact that four months worth of unfettered inspections had failed to uncover any of the chemical weapons or nuclear programs that he claimed Iraq had, the invasion was launched soon after. Biden insisted that “there was sufficient evidence to go into Iraq.”

Also, despite Saddam Hussein complying with all UN Security Council resolutions, Senator Clinton maintained that Hussein still needed to resign his office as president, leave Iraq, or allow U.S. forces to occupy the country. ​“The president gave Saddam Hussein one last chance to avoid war,” Clinton said in a statement, ​“and the world hopes that Saddam Hussein will finally hear this ultimatum, understand the severity of those words, and act accordingly.”

When Hussein refused resignation and the Bush administration launched an invasion, all three of the men voted in favor. resolution calling for ​“unequivocal support” for Bush’s ​“firm leadership and decisive action” as ​“part of the ongoing Global War on Terrorism.” They insisted that Iraq was somehow still ​“in material breach of the relevant United Nations resolutions” and, despite the fact that weapons inspectors had found no evidence of any remaining weapons of mass destruction (WMDs), they insisted the invasion was necessary to ​“neutralize Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction.”

Even though the future Democratic presidential nominees acknowledged that Iraq had actually disarmed from its prohibited weapons programs prior to the invasion of Kuwait, they insisted that it was right to invade the oil-rich country.

Many months after the absence of WMDs was confirmed, Clinton declared in a speech at George Washington University that her support for the authorization was still ​“the right vote” and one that ​“I stand by.” Similarly, in an interview on “Larry King Live” in April 2004, when asked about her vote despite the absence of WMDs or al-Qaeda ties she had insisted that Iraq had, she acknowledged, ​“I don’t regret giving the president authority.”

While running for president, Kerry — when asked whether he would support the war “knowing what we know now” about the absence of “weapons of mass destruction” — replied: “Yes, I would have voted for the authority. I believe it was the right authority for a president to have.”

Another interview was conducted about the invasion. Kerry insisted: “I’m glad we did. There’s no ambivalence.” As late as October 2004, Kerry argued that “Congress was right to give the president the authority to use force to hold Saddam Hussein accountable.”

Similarly, not long after the Bush administration conceded that there were no “weapons of mass destruction” to be found, Biden told CNN, “I, for one, thought we should have gone in Iraq,” adding his disappointment that other Democrats weren’t as supportive. A couple of weeks later, on “Fox News Sunday,” even while acknowledging that Iraq didn’t actually have the weapons, weapons systems and weapons programs he claimed, Biden insisted, “I do think it was a just war.”

Biden testified at a July 2003 hearing. categorically stated, “I voted to go into Iraq, and I’d vote to do it again.” Days later, in the face of growing outrage by fellow Democrats about being misled into what was already becoming a bloody counterinsurgency struggle, Biden argued, “In my view, anyone who can’t acknowledge that the world is better off without [Saddam Hussein]It is out of touch. … Contrary to what some in my party might think, Iraq was a problem that had to be dealt with sooner rather than later.”

Despite Bush’s case for the war now unarguably based on falsehoods, Biden insisted that Bush had made a good case for invading and said, “I commend the president.” More than a year later, as the death toll mounted, Biden insisted, in regard to his support for the invasion, “I still believe my vote was just.”

For many decades, the violent legacy of the invasion of Iraq will remain with us. It is important to recognize not only the responsibility of the Bush administration’s war architects, but also the responsibility of the congressional representatives from both sides who made it possible. The invasion was not simply a “mistake,” but an effective rejection of the United Nations Charter and the post-World War II international legal system. Before the war resolution was passed, many months had passed before scholars, peace activists, former UN inspectors and strategic analysts informed senators that such an invading force would be illegal, unnecessary, and have catastrophic consequences. They knew.

Despite being among the right-wing minority of congressional Democrats who supported Bush’s war, all three of these senators were nominated by their party as their presidential candidate. Both Clinton and Kerry lost close elections due to their support for the war. Ironically, they were later made secretaries of state under Barack Obama who was an outspoken opponent to the war. Joe Biden became president, only to decide he supports the UN Charter’s prohibition against aggressive war after all — as long as the aggressor is an adversarial nation like Russia.

It is a sad reflection on the state of U.S. political life that the more progressive U.S. party would be so forgiving of candidates who support an illegal, unnecessary, and predictable war and then lie about it. The vast majority of Americans now acknowledge that the invasion of Iraq was wrong. However, we can forgive those who supported such a disaster or even forget they did.