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"The question most Americans want answered about Iraq is this: When will our troops come home? We already know the likely answer. In 2006, they will begin to leave in large numbers…In 2007, a significant number of the remaining 100,000 will follow…We cannot sustain 150,000 Americans in Iraq without extending deployment times. Even if we could, our large military presence – while still the only guarantor against total breakdown – is increasingly counterproductive."
Joe Biden, November 2005
The Democratic nomination of Barack Obama and Joe Biden for President and Vice-President has cemented the party’s role as a fair-weather "opponent" of the Iraq war. Sadly, Obama’s choice of Senator Biden looks like it will further contribute to the politics-as-usual cynicism of the Democratic Party. Biden’s comments, excerpted above, may pay lip service to withdrawal, but they reveal much about his delusional beliefs concerning Iraq.
Biden’s statement demonstrates a warped understanding of the Iraq conflict, as well as the U.S. position in that conflict. Americans have never been seen by Iraqis as the glue that’s holding a fragile Iraq together. Quite the contrary, the vast majority have felt for years that the U.S. occupation is actually contributing to instability, greatly contributing to the violence, and serving as a lightning-rod for encouraging Islamist radicals to travel to Iraq and attack the U.S. head-on. Historically, the U.S., rather than any scattered "insurgents," has been the primary party responsible for the destruction of Iraq. The U.S. funded both sides of the Iran-Iraq war, which cost an estimated one million lives, intentionally destroyed Iraqi infrastructure during the 1991 Gulf War, supported mass murder through sanctions throughout the 1990s (with another estimated 1.5 million killed), and presided over an occupation that has taken by some estimates as many as another one million lives (how many insurgents in Iraq can claim the power to kill 3.5 million people?). Don’t expect to hear any about these inconvenient truths from Joe Biden though. His chastising of the Bush administration overwhelmingly focuses on tactical failures to efficiently further the war, not substantive criticisms of the U.S. "right" to occupy a foreign country in violation of international and national law.
Don’t anticipate reading about any of these critical issues in the press either, as they have misrepresented Biden’s views on Iraq in order to further the myth of the Democratic Party as "anti-war." Following Obama’s announcement of Biden as his VP choice, for example, the Today show on NBC reported that Biden "voted for the Iraq war in 2002, but became a vocal critic" in recent years. If Biden is a critic of the war, then it is only in the most narrow and parochial of terms.
To be sure, Biden has amassed an impressive record of anti-war rhetoric. However, talk is cheap in the world of American political spin – only actions count. Biden has long been an opportunistic critic of the war, voting for authorization of force in 2002, and only later criticizing the war on tactical grounds as Democrats tried to recapture Congress and the Presidency (in 2006 and 2008). As late as April 2008, Biden criticized President Bush for having "no strategy for success in Iraq…his plan is to muddle through, and hand the problem off to his successor." His vacillation between anti-war rhetoric and pro-war policy, however, demonstrates the astounding heights in which the Democratic Party’s schizophrenia has reached.
Joe Biden has not supported an end to the Iraq war or a withdrawal of troops, contrary to media and political propaganda. In reporting Biden’s acceptance of the VP spot, major papers such as the Chicago Tribune, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, and New York Times framed Biden as a fierce "critic" of the Iraq war. However, closer inspection reveals that these claims are false. Biden has publicly gone on record arguing that Democrats don’t have the necessary votes to end the war, even though they clearly do retain the power to end combat operations by voting down funding: "As long as there is a single troop in Iraq, I know if I take action by funding them, I increase the prospect they will live or not be injured, I cannot and will not vote no to fund them."
Biden has historically denounced those who favor immediate withdrawal and an end to Iraq funding: "the hard truth is that our large military presence in Iraq is necessary. They are the only guarantor against chaos. Pulling out prematurely or setting a deadline divorced from progress in the areas I’ve discussed [throughout the country] will doom us." He warns even more starkly that a premature withdrawal may embolden "the most radical extreme elements of the jihadis," and embolden Saudi Arabia and Syria to continue to fund these groups. Readers could be forgiven for thinking that these comments were made by John McCain or any member of the Bush administration, rather than an "anti-war" Democrat.
Joe Biden has no anti-war credentials to stand on. It is true that, at times (like Barack Obama), he has voted for and supported a timetable for withdrawing some troops from Iraq. However, like most Democrats, he refuses to condemn plans for permanent military bases, and supports a continued military presence, albeit in smaller numbers than preferred by Bush and other Republicans. The much discussed, albeit toothless Brownback-Biden bill (which gained bi-partisan support in 2007) is not anti-war in the least. While this bill supported a redeployment of troops by 2007, and a theoretical withdrawal of most troops by 2008, it was non-binding in its language, and even attached to a spending bill authorizing continued funding of the war. Most specifically, the language of the bill "authorize[d] the President to continue participation by U.S. Armed Forces in Multi-National Force—Iraq." This bill contains none of the enforcement mechanisms needed to bring about an end to a war which Republicans have enthusiastically supported for over five years. If its contents can be classified as anti-war, then the term itself is truly vacuous.
Media outlets continue to frame the Obama-Biden team as committed to the anti-war cause. Obama has always been framed as anti-war, but even the Hawkish Biden is increasingly depicted in similar terms. The Associated Press speaks of Biden’s bill supporting indefinite funding for war as "anti-war" in its efforts to "redefine the president’s authority in Iraq, but defended the effort as key to prodding the president in a new direction." The neoconservative New York Post condemns his "pathetic anti-war antics" and his effort "to repeal the authorization that Congress passed overwhelmingly in 202." While none of these statements are in the least bit grounded in reality, we can expect more of them to arise following Biden’s acceptance speech this Wednesday. Biden will likely continue to cash in on opportunistic anti-war rhetoric, while failing to back it up with any real efforts to end the war.
ANTHONY DiMAGGIO is the author of Mass Media, Mass Propaganda: Understanding American News in the “War on Terror” (2008). He teaches American Government at North Central College in Illinois, and can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org