1998: Operation Desert Fox

Joe Biden set aside his historical concerns about war powers to support Bill Clinton’s bombing of Iraq to “cripple” the country.

Iraq / Baghdad / December 18, 1998 (669.920) Us And British Warplanes Launch Operation Desert Fox Against Iraq.  (Photo By Scott Peterson/Getty Images)
Iraqi citizens are seen following the beginning of bombings by U.S. and British forces during Operation Desert Fox on Dec. 18, 1998. Photo: Scott Peterson/Getty Images

On the heels of the Iraq Liberation Act, the U.S. carried out a four-day bombing campaign against Iraq dubbed “Operation Desert Fox.” In November 1998, Joe Biden again abandoned his insistence on congressional authorization for acts of war, arguing that President Bill Clinton “is not required” to get congressional support to bomb Iraq. But, Biden added, “I think it would be politically smart.” According to one account, Biden told a Clinton administration official not to worry about widespread protests in the U.S. against bombing Iraq and “advised Clinton to put on his raincoat — and launch away.” As many as 70 Iraqi civilians may have been killed in the strikes. During a Senate hearing on Iraq, Biden said that “the only way, the only way we’re going to get rid of Saddam Hussein is we’re going to end up having to start it alone — start it alone — and it’s going to require guys like you in uniform to be back on foot in the desert taking this son of a — taking Saddam down.” Biden opposed a later decision by Clinton to call off further strikes in the wake of public protests, taking the opportunity to once again criticize former President George H.W. Bush for not intervening to stop Saddam from crushing an uprising of Shia and Kurdish Iraqis that broke out following Iraq’s expulsion from Kuwait. In 1999, Biden argued that the Clinton administration’s policy of containment through sanctions, periodic missile strikes, and no-fly zone bombings was sufficient. “If 10 years from now nothing has changed, that’s not so bad,” he said. “A crippled but whole Iraq that does not threaten anybody in the region would be OK.”

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