A new documentary detailing Joe Biden’s pivotal role in launching the Iraq War exposes just how far he’s trying to distance himself from his war vote. We speak to the film’s director, Mark Weisbrot.

Documentary: WORTH THE PRICE? Joe Biden and the Launch of the Iraq War


Story Transcript

This is a rush transcript and may contain errors. It will be updated. Greg Wilpert: It’s the Real News Network. I’m Greg Wilpert in Baltimore. In the race for the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination, several candidates have criticized Vice President Joe Biden for support for the war in Iraq. And in early February, in New Hampshire, Biden tried to parry the attacks by saying that he was duped by President George W. Bush and now regrets his support for the war. Joe Biden: I made a mistake. I said it 14 years ago. I trusted George Bush to keep his word. He said he was not going to go into Iraq. He said he was only using this to unite the United Nations to insist we get inspectors in to see what Saddam was doing. Greg Wilpert: Neither the other candidates nor the debate moderators ever followed up on the issue to point out just how instrumental Biden was in making the Iraq War possible. A new documentary titled, Worth The Price? Joe Biden and the Launch of the Iraq War, does just that. Here is a clip from the documentary of one of Biden’s speeches in support of the war. Joe Biden: The objective is to compel Iraq to destroy its illegal weapons of mass destruction and its program to develop and produce missiles and more of those weapons. Saddam is dangerous. The world would be a better place without him. But the reason he poses a growing danger to the United States and its allies is that he possesses chemical and biological weapons and is seeking nuclear weapons. And unlike my colleague from West Virginia and Maryland, I do not believe this is a rush to war. I believe it’s a march to peace and security. Greg Wilpert: Even nine months after the Iraq War vote, Biden said he continued to support Bush and his vote for the war. Joe Biden: The president of the United States is a bold leader and he is popular. The stakes are high and the need for leadership is great. I wish he’d used some of his stored up popularity to make what I admit is not a very popular case, but I and many others will support him. Nine months ago, I voted with my colleagues to give the president of the United States of America the authority to use force and I would vote that way again today. Greg Wilpert: The Iraq War destabilized the entire Middle East, wasting up to $6 trillion dollars, killing as many as one million Iraqi citizens, over 4,500 US soldiers and 1,500 military contractors and wounding tens of thousands of US personnel. Joining me now to discuss the Biden documentary is its director and producer, Mark Weisbrot. Also, he is the co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research. Thanks for joining us again, Mark. Mark Weisbrot: Thanks for inviting me, Gregory. Greg Wilpert: So let’s start with the main topic of the film, just how involved was Biden in making the Iraq War happen? I mean, Biden generally acts as if he’s, as if the only thing that he did for the war was to vote for it, which passed the Senate in a vote of 77 to 23 with 29 out of 50 Democratic senators voting in favor. Now, what was Biden’s role in actually making this happen? Mark Weisbrot: Well, he had the most important role of any elected official outside of George W. Bush and Dick Cheney. He was the one who pushed it through the Senate. You posted one of the arguments he made, but it wasn’t even his voice that was most important. It was his control over who the Senate got to hear, and also that meant a lot of what the media got to hear as well. So he was the chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and he chose all 18 witnesses and he chose witnesses who mostly one after another tried to justify the war and promoted a whole number of false narratives, the weapons of mass destruction, nuclear weapons program they talked about. They even talked about and put it in the resolution itself, the some, this mythical connection between Saddam Hussein and Al Qaeda, which was, as a film describes, ridiculous. You got to remember this was October, well, July to October 2002 and this is a time not that far from the catastrophe of September 11th and so they were really playing on these fears like the Bush Administration was. So could it have passed the Senate without all the things that he did to control the debate and use his influence? I’m not sure, but he definitely played a huge role. And you can imagine if he had gone the other way and tried to stop it, it would, it could have possibly stopped the war. Greg Wilpert: Now as we saw in that clip earlier, Biden repeatedly apologized for his vote and he seems to argue that that should be good enough to leave the matter alone. What do you think? Just how relevant is Biden’s support for the war and what he did? How relevant is that for the campaign, his campaign, to become the Democratic Party’s presidential nominee? Mark Weisbrot: Well, I think it’s huge. I mean, first of all, what does it say if there is no accountability at all if somebody can start this war that killed thousands of US soldiers and by the best estimates as many as a million Iraqis and made a mess out of the Middle East and parts of North Africa spreading war and terrorism everywhere and really created this cycle of violence that continues to this day and is used to justify more wars and endless wars. I think this is something that, it shouldn’t, it should be disqualifying for anybody to run for president or for the nomination of the largest political party in this country. Greg Wilpert: But I mean, the United States isn’t currently facing any wars except the one in Iran, so I mean, as a possibility. So in what context, I mean, would this be an issue on? Mark Weisbrot: Well, I mean, first of all, we’re still in Iraq as well, but I think that the context, this context is so huge. I mean, first of all, President Trump almost got us in a war just recently with Iran by ordering the assassination of General Soleimani. And he might have a war even before the election. These endless wars are also are a huge issue, but they’re even more than that. For 50 years, you’ve had the Peace Movement rightly pointing out that every time you build another fighter jet you’re giving up on healthcare for thousands of people. But it’s even worse than that now because now you have a point where, and we’ve talked about this a little on the show before, you’re at a point where the leaders of the so-called national security state are planning a shift from, and beginning a shift, from what they call the War on Terror to a great power rivalry and that means an arms race with China. And China, as you know, is already, their economy is 30% larger than ours by the measure that economists use to make these international comparisons and will be twice as big as us now in 10, within 10 years. Now, we had an arms race with the Soviet Union when it was only a quarter of the size of the United States. We’ve never faced anything like this. This would preclude anything like a Green New Deal, or any really almost any conversion towards a zero carbon emissions, any Medicare For All. All of these things we’d have to sacrifice if we really want to build this military capacity to continue the US supremacy in the world. That’s the dominant view right now in our foreign policy establishment. So if you give Biden a pass for creating this horribly destructive war that everybody now realizes was not only built on lies, but it was a horrible failure from any point of view, then you’re basically saying that business on, as usual, is okay and you’re excluding most of the things that people want to do going forward. Greg Wilpert: Now it seems surprising to me that the other Democrats running for the presidency have made relatively little out of Biden’s role. That is, they certainly point out every time that he voted in favor of it, but once he apologizes, they pretty much leave it at that and never push him on that he really did a lot more just as your documentary shows. So why do you think this is being ignored by both the candidates and also by the media? Mark Weisbrot: Well, it’s interesting. I think, first of all, there is a general prejudice not to talk much about foreign policy among the candidates because that’s not what most people vote on. Second, while this is a country with the historical memory of a fish in our political culture at least, and so this is just history. But I think there is one other thing the media is not talking about either. Even though they did, CNN and The New York Times, and I left this out of the film because I wanted to focus on what Biden actually did, but they actually accused him of lying about his positions on the war following after the war started. And I think the media is, they tend to ignore what Congress does even though it’s kind of ironic because in this country the legislature has more of a role in foreign policy than it has in most other countries, including almost all of the high income countries. And yet, you don’t see that the media kind of treats war as though it’s the prerogative and the responsibility and the right of the president and they leave Congress out of it as much as they can. It’s been a struggle to get them to report, for example, on the historic votes in the Senate and the House that was led by Bernie Sanders in the Senate on the War Powers Resolution to order the US military to get out of the war in Yemen, which has killed hundreds of thousands of people. That ought to be a major issue in the media that both houses of Congress… We have a Constitution. Article I of the Constitution assigns to the Congress the responsibility for allowing a war or declaring war, but also allowing it. It’s not the president’s responsibility. And yet, the media pretty much ignores that violation of the Constitution. So I think that’s part of the general prejudice of the media. It isn’t just that they’d be covering up for him or they have a position on that so much, it’s more that they tend to ignore the role of Congress in these wars. Greg Wilpert: Okay. Well, we’re going to leave it there for now. I was speaking to Mark Weisbrot, co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research and director of the documentary, Worth the Price? Joe Biden and the Launch of the Iraq War. The documentary, actually I should mention, was narrated by the actor and Real News Network board member, Danny Glover. We will provide a link to the documentary together with this interview. Thanks again, Mark for having joined us today. Mark Weisbrot: Thank you, Gregory. Greg Wilpert: And thank you for joining the Real News Network.

Mark Weisbrot

Mark Weisbrot is Co-Director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research in Washington, D.C. He is also the author of “Failed: What the ‘Experts’ Got Wrong About the Global Economy” (2015, Oxford University Press).