1991: Biden Begins Walking Back His Opposition to Gulf War

As George H.W. Bush basked in the self-declared glory of the Gulf War, Joe Biden began pivoting to a hawkish stance on Iraq, saying, “I think I was proven to be wrong.”

New York, New York, USA - June 10, 1991: Members of the National Coalition to Stop U.S. Intervention in the Mideast carry signs and protest in a  'Say No to the War Parade' celebrating the Gulf War - Desert Storm Victory in lower Manhattan. A man in a suit carries a sign saying '200,000 IRAQIs DIED FOR U.S. OIL COMPANY PROFITS."  (Photo by Mariette Pathy Allen/Getty Images)
Members of the National Coalition to Stop U.S. Intervention in the Mideast protest the Gulf War in New York on June 10, 1991. Photo: Mariette Pathy Allen/Getty Images

After the initial campaign against Iraq appeared to be successful and popular among the U.S. public, Joe Biden switched his position, walking back his past opposition. “I think I was proven to be wrong,” he said in 1993. Biden retrospectively attacked President George H.W. Bush for not going all the way and deposing Saddam Hussein when he had the opportunity, calling it a “fundamental mistake.” In later years, Biden became decidedly hawkish against the Iraqi regime and tried to walk back his prior opposition further.

Immediately following the war, Biden co-sponsored a resolution, titled “Commending the President and the Armed Forces for the success of Operation Desert Storm,” that said Congress “applauds” Bush and Secretary of Defense Dick Cheney. A year after the war, Biden also voted in favor of a resolution authorizing Bush to use continued military action against Iraq. At the time, Sen. Bob Dole, then the Republican minority leader, characterized it as “an anniversary present to Saddam Hussein.”

Only two senators, including Minnesota Democrat Paul Wellstone, voted against it. Wellstone, who said the resolution could open the way for anything from air attacks to a ground war, asked, “Why the rush? Why not continue to tighten the screws diplomatically and economically?” The resolution effectively ushered in an era of near-constant bombing of Iraq that would last for 30 years. It also represented a decisive moment of conversion for Biden from Iraq War skeptic to cheerleader for regime change and militarism against Iraq.

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