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Sen. Joe Biden on Authorizing War on Iraq

Joe Biden in His Own Words, Oct. 10-11, 2002


On Oct. 10 and 11, 2002, the U.S. Senate debated and authorized President Bush's request to wage war on Iraq. Joe Biden voted with the 77-23 majority, which included 48 Republicans and 29 Democrats.

Here are Joe Biden's comment during the debate, as transcribed by the Congressional Record from Senate floor debates on Oct. 10, 2002.

On the Constitutionality of Authorizing Bush's Use of Force Request

Mr. President, the Senator from Connecticut [Joe Lieberman] is right that article 1 of the Constitution does not provide for this, but article 1 of the Constitution also does not provide for a declaration of war before the President is asked to go to war. So this is a very different circumstance. The President has not asked us to go to war. He has said he wants the power to be able to go to war. It seems completely consistent with that request that we say: Yes, Mr. President, you have that power to go to war; you can do that within 1 year. If, in fact, you go to war in 1 year, you can extend that 1 year.

Let me put it this way. If we are 2 years down the road still fooling around with Iraq, then my friends from Connecticut and other places have been so dead wrong about what we are supposed to do that it would be amazing.

I point out that this is nothing like Bosnia and nothing like the Balkans. In that case, we were in the Balkans. There were forces there, and there were people on the floor who were attempting to put a time on how long they could stay after we had gone in, after we had already prevailed, after we were in place.

The third point I make in the 2 minutes I have is, we learned from Vietnam the power of the purse is useless. The power of the purse is useless because it presents us with a Hobson's choice. We have our fighting men and women in place and we are told, by the way, the President will not take them home so let's cut off the support for them so they have no guns, no bullets, no ability to fight a war. And no one is willing to do that. This is a prudent way to do this, totally consistent with what the President is asking. I think it makes absolute eminent sense. I congratulate the Senator. Even though I disagree with him on his underlying notion, I do think he is right on this point and I support him.

On Sen. Robert C. Byrd's Opposition to Delegating Authority to Bush

Madam President, the case that the Senator from West Virginia makes is a good case on the merits of whether or not we should, in fact, delegate this authority, but I am confused by the argument that constitutionally we are unable to delegate that authority.

Historically, the way in which the delegation of the authority under the constitutional separation of powers doctrine functions is there have to be some parameters to the delegation. For example, we could not delegate to the President the authority to pick and confirm any Supreme Court Justice he wanted to confirm.

The essence of the constitutional argument which my friend from West Virginia makes is, I assume, that there are no parameters to this delegation; therefore, the delegation per se is unconstitutional. I assume that is the rationale. But as I read this grant of authority, it is not so broad as to make it unconstitutional for us, under the war clause of the Constitution, to delegate to the President the power to use force if certain conditions exist. My time is about up, but I would argue that in section 4(a), subsections (1) and (2), the conjunctive ``and'' instead of ``or'' exists, which means that as a practical matter in reading this, the only circumstance the President could find, in my view, that the national security was being threatened would be as it relates to the resolutions relating to weapons of mass destruction. But I will speak to that later. I appreciate my friend yielding me the time.

But, again, constitutionally, this resolution meets the test of our ability to delegate. It is not an overly broad delegation which would make it per se unconstitutional, in my view.

Biden's Support for War, With Caveats

Madam President, this is one of the confusing aspects of this debate. I find myself supporting this resolution but worried that supporting this resolution will get us into real trouble.

We use Saddam, Hitler, and al-Qaida all in the same verbiage and language. Let me make the real distinction, as I see it, regarding preemption.

If we knew that al-Qaida had particular weapons, knowing, as we did, what their stated objective was, and with the intelligence we had, we would be fully within our rights--not under any doctrine of preemption--because of the existence of a clear, present, and imminent danger to move against al-Qaida.

Conversely, with Hitler in the 1930s, the rationale for moving against Hitler wasn't a doctrine of preemption because we knew he was a bad guy. It was because his country signed the Treaty of Versailles. He was violating the Treaty of Versailles. The Treaty of Versailles did not have an end date on it. It didn't say you cannot have forces for the first 2 or 3 years, or you cannot do the following things. We were fully within our rights as a world community to go after Hitler in 1934, 1935, 1936, or 1937. It was not based on the doctrine of preemption but a doctrine of enforcement of the Treaty of Versailles, and in a very limited time.

What we have here, I argue, as the rationale for going after Saddam, is that he signed a cease-fire agreement. The condition for his continuing in power was the elimination of his weapons of mass destruction, and the permission to have inspectors in to make sure he had eliminated them. He expelled those inspectors. So he violated the cease-fire; ergo, we have authority--not under a doctrine of preemption. This will not be a preemptive strike, if we go with the rest of the world. It will be an enforcement strike.

I hope we don't walk out of here with my voting for this final document and somebody 6 months from now or 6 years from now will say we have the right now to establish this new doctrine of preemption and go wherever we want anytime.

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