Kerry Defends Biden After Sanders Campaign Targets Former VP Over Iraq War Vote

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Former Secretary of State John Kerry defended Democratic presidential contender Joe Biden after the campaign of Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) attacked the former vice president over his support for the Iraq War.

Sanders, 78, has regularly attacked Biden, 77, over his support as a senator for invading Iraq in 2003.

Kerry, who served in the Obama administration with Biden, defended Biden while campaigning in Iowa on Friday.

“I think he knows full well, as a lot of other people do, that there was a difference in people who felt they needed to give a president the leverage to be able to get Saddam Hussein back to the table, without having to go to war, and that that vote was unfortunately structured in a way that it was sort of either-or,” Kerry said.

The statement prompted David Sirota, a former journalist who is now Sanders’s speechwriter, to attack Biden in a series of posts on Twitter. Biden, he said at one point, “isn’t getting away with rewriting history about how he helped lead America into the Iraq War.”

Jeff Weaver, a senior campaign adviser to Sanders, later said in a statement that Biden voted for war.

“It is appalling that after 18 years Joe Biden still refuses to admit he was dead wrong on the Iraq War, the worst foreign policy blunder in modern American history,” Weaver said.

Kerry, during an appearance on CBS’s “Face the Nation” on Sunday, again defended Biden.

“I think that Bernie, regrettably, is distorting Joe’s record,” Kerry said. Biden “was listening to a president who made a pledge that he was going to do diplomacy; that he was going to exhaust diplomacy, build a coalition. And, ultimately, we learned, as Joe did and I did, that the intelligence was distorted. So Joe spoke out and criticized. Joe was against what they were doing,” Kerry said.

“The vote was not a vote, specifically, to go to war. It was a vote for the president to have leverage with respect to getting Saddam Hussein back to the negotiating table, back to the inspections, excuse me. And I think we were let down and Joe has said many times that it was a mistake, obviously, to trust the words of the administration who didn’t follow through on what they said they were going to do.”

Democratic presidential candidate former Vice President Joe Biden (R) campaigns with former Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry (L) in Elkader, Iowa, on Dec. 6, 2019. (Win McNamee/Getty Images)

Iraq Vote

Biden, a U.S. senator at the time, voted in 2002 in favor of a resolution that authorized Bush to use military force against Iraq. Speaking to lawmakers before the vote, Biden said that “failure to overwhelmingly support” the resolution was “likely to enhance the prospects that war will occur.”

The point of the resolution was to make Iraq destroy weapons of mass destruction it held, Biden said. He also said that Bush would make a case to the American people if he did decide to go to war. The United States invaded Iraq the next year and never found weapons of mass destruction.

Biden told CNN on March 19, 2003, a day before Iraq was invaded: “I support the president. I support the troops. We should make no distinction. We should have one voice going out to the whole world that we’re together. There’s plenty to criticize this president for. Let’s get this war done.”

“When that first tank crosses that line, we should be on the floor of the United States Senate and every capital in the world hear one voice from both parties, saying we support the troops. We support the president. And this is the single most important thing we do, and show it by our actions,” he said.

Months after the invasion, he said he would have voted for the resolution again. He also said he felt “we went to war too soon.” He later said, for the first time in a 2005 interview, that the vote was “a mistake.”

U.S. troops in Iraq in a 2007 file photograph. (Alexander Nemenov/AFP via Getty Images)

Biden told NPR in September 2019 that he opposed President George W. Bush’s Iraq invasion from the start.

“[Bush] looked me in the eye in the Oval Office. He said he needed the vote to be able to get inspectors into Iraq to determine whether or not Saddam Hussein was engaged in dealing with a nuclear program,” he said.

“He got them in, and before we know it, we had a ‘shock and awe.’ Immediately, the moment it started, I came out against the war,” Biden claimed.

Bush’s office told NPR that Biden’s recollection was “flat wrong.” Biden’s campaign later said that he misspoke.

“I said something that was not meant the way I said it,” Biden said during the debate about a week later.

“I should have never voted to give Bush the authority to go in and do what he said he was going to do. The AUMF was designed, he said, to go in and get the Security Council to vote 15-0 to allow inspectors to go in to determine whether or not anything was being done with chemical weapons or nuclear weapons. And when that happened, he went ahead and went anyway without any of that proof,” he added about the authorization for the use of military force.

“I said—from that point on—what I was arguing against in the beginning, once he started to put the troops in, was that in fact we were doing it the wrong way; there was no plan; we should not be engaged; we didn’t have the people with us; we didn’t have our—we didn’t have allies with us etc.”

Sanders challenged Biden at the time, saying: “You talked about the big mistake in Iraq and the surge. The truth is, the big mistake, the huge mistake, and one of the big differences between you and me, I never believed what Cheney and Bush said about Iraq.”

“You’re right,” Biden responded.

Follow Zachary on Twitter: @zackstieber

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