1973-1980 An Era of Restraint
Joe Biden entered the Senate in 1973 opposing the Vietnam War on strategic, not moral, grounds. He was one of the co-sponsors of the War Powers Act and was a founding member of the Senate Intelligence Committee empowered to oversee the CIA. But when President Jimmy Carter nominated an outsider to run the CIA, Biden sided with the security state over his principles.
1976-1977: Biden and Jimmy Carter’s CIA Nominee
Joe Biden claimed to support President Jimmy Carter’s “outsider” nominee for CIA director — before he helped tank his candidacy with a spurious claim of espionage.
1974-1980: Restrictions on CIA Covert Action
Joe Biden fought to rein in the CIA following the abuses of the Nixon era, but he also wanted the U.S. to have sweeping surveillance powers.
1973: War Powers Act
From the early stages of his Senate career, Joe Biden insisted that presidents cannot wage wars without congressional authorization.
1970s: Vietnam War
Joe Biden didn’t offer any moral objections to the Vietnam War and thought protesters were “assholes,” but he said the war was a “tragic mistake” based on “lousy policy.”
1981-1984 Placing Conditions on Empire
In the early 1980s, Joe Biden was a fierce critic of excesses in U.S. foreign and security policies, but he also compromised with the architects of these policies. While he sought to impose conditions on U.S. support for right-wing forces in Central America, he showed flashes of sympathy for a more militaristic foreign policy and less accountable security state. Biden also began what would become a career-spanning defense of Israeli militarism.
1984: CIA War Against Whistleblowers
Joe Biden did not want journalists to go to jail for printing classified information, but he supported the CIA’s efforts to crush whistleblowers and leakers.
1980s: U.S. Support for Contra Death Squads in Nicaragua
Joe Biden was against the Contra death squads and opposed CIA involvement in Nicaragua, but he flirted with supporting Reagan’s war.
1980s: U.S. Support for Military Dictatorship in El Salvador
Joe Biden was an opponent of unqualified U.S. support for El Salvador’s military junta, but he sought compromises to ensure that funding was approved with restrictions.
1983-84: U.S. Withdrawal From Lebanon
Shortly after the U.S. military was sent into Lebanon’s civil war, hundreds of Americans were killed in a suicide bombing. After taking conflicting positions, Joe Biden wanted the U.S. to get out.
1983: Invasion of Grenada
Joe Biden supported the deadly U.S. invasion of the tiny Caribbean island based on dubious intelligence and helped the CIA win backing from other senators.
1982: Israeli Invasion of Lebanon
In public, Joe Biden tried to claim neutrality on the Israeli military campaign. In private, he was more enthusiastic about it than the Israeli prime minister.
1979-1989: Response to the Soviet Invasion of Afghanistan
Joe Biden supported funding the mujahideen to fight the Soviets in Afghanistan.
1981: Saudi Arms Sales
Joe Biden tried to stop the U.S. from selling attack planes to Saudi Arabia because he thought it was bad for the U.S. and Israel.
1981: Israeli Bombing of Suspected Iraqi Nuclear Facility
When Israel carried out a covert bombing of a suspected nuclear site in Iraq, Joe Biden supported the attack but complained that Israel didn’t inform him beforehand.
1981: Biden and Reagan’s CIA Director, William Casey
In public, Joe Biden railed against William Casey, President Ronald Reagan’s CIA director. Behind the scenes, the relationship was more complicated.
1985-1989 The Wavering Interventionist
By the end of the 1980s, Joe Biden had thrown his support behind a U.S. attempt to assassinate Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi as well as the invasions of Grenada and Panama. But he also pushed for military restraint in his first presidential run. In the Iran-Contra affair, Biden displayed a willingness to take the purveyors of clandestine dark arts at their word.
1989: Panama Invasion
Joe Biden promoted the lie that the U.S. was acting defensively when it invaded Panama to overthrow the CIA puppet narcoregime of Manuel Noriega.
1987: Update on the Kennedy Doctrine
Joe Biden believed that the U.S. should only “pay the right price and bear the right burden” as it defended its dominant role in the world.
1987-88: Iran-Contra Investigations
Joe Biden denounced the covert arms-for-hostages programs involved with Iran-Contra, but in the end, he defended Reagan’s role.
1986: Apartheid South Africa
Joe Biden was a prominent opponent of apartheid South Africa and fought against U.S. aid to the regime. But he also lied about being arrested while trying to visit Nelson Mandela.
1986: Libya Bombing
Joe Biden supported Reagan’s attempt to assassinate Muammar Gaddafi, but he questioned if U.S. policy in Libya would succeed.
1985: U.S. Support for UNITA Rebels in Angola
Joe Biden opposed U.S. support for Angola’s right-wing UNITA rebels, whose chief lobbyist in Washington, D.C., was Paul Manafort.
1991-1995 The Making of a Hawk
The early 1990s marked a return to Joe Biden’s war powers principles, leading him initially to oppose the first Gulf War. But then he flipped positions and became a leading hawk on Iraq. Biden was among the most aggressive proponents of U.S. militarism in the former Yugoslavia, while arguing that intervening to reverse a right-wing coup in Haiti wasn’t in the U.S. interest. These stances came to define the next decade- and- a- half of his work in Washington.
1995: Effort to Replace War Powers Act With Use of Force Act
Joe Biden tried to clarify the role of Congress in U.S. military actions and to challenge executive overreach, but his legislation did not gain momentum.
1994: U.S. Invasion of Haiti
Joe Biden faced questions about why he didn’t believe the U.S. had an obligation to stop mass killings of Haitians and reverse a right-wing coup.
During the war in the former Yugoslavia, Joe Biden led the push for U.S. military intervention.
1990s: No-Fly Zone Bombings and Economic Sanctions in Iraq
Joe Biden supported the longest sustained U.S. bombing campaign since Vietnam and the most sweeping regime of economic sanctions in modern history.
1990s: Israel and AIPAC
Joe Biden made clear that when it comes to U.S. policy in the Middle East, supporting Israel and AIPAC is what matters most
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.”
1991: Iraq Gulf War
Joe Biden initially opposed the Gulf War, saying it was done without proper congressional authorization.
1996-1999 The Bombing Senator
As the top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Joe Biden pushed aggressive policies against Iraq, Cuba, and foreign terror threats. His skepticism about security state overreach diminished as he backed sweeping surveillance laws and the militarization of the so-called war on drugs. He also presaged the policies of the post-9/11 era as he pushed a preemptive war against Serbia and called for a military occupation.
1999-2000: Plan Colombia
Joe Biden was a key player in militarizing the war on drugs in the U.S. and in Latin America.
1999: NATO Bombing of Serbia and Montenegro
Joe Biden was an enthusiastic proponent of the 78-day bombing of Serbia and Montenegro and wanted to send in ground troops.
1998: Bombings of Sudan and Afghanistan
Joe Biden applauded Bill Clinton’s bombing of a pharmaceutical factory in Sudan that was justified by relying on dubious intelligence as well as a strike in Afghanistan.
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.
1998: Iraq Liberation Act
Five years before the U.S. invasion of Iraq, Joe Biden joined with neoconservatives in making a policy of regime change the law of the land.
1996: Expanded U.S. Bombings in Iraq
Joe Biden wanted the U.S. to wield its “big stick” in bombing Iraq to secure oil supplies.
1996: Helms-Burton Act Against Cuba
As a senator, Joe Biden supported draconian sanctions against Cuba, but he changed his tune two decades later when he became vice president.
1996: Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act
Joe Biden was a key player in writing the precursor to the Patriot Act over the objections of civil liberties advocates.
2000-2008 Warrior on Terror
In the wake of the 9/11 attacks, Joe Biden served as one of the Bush-Cheney administration’s key allies in greenlighting the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq. He also claimed credit for drafting significant parts of the Patriot Act. Biden was an early supporter of detaining people at Guantánamo Bay prison, but after the Abu Ghraib torture was exposed, he would help lead the charge to fire Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld while denouncing CIA “kidnapping” and secret prisons.
2007: Extraordinary Renditions and Secret Prisons
Six years after 9/11, Joe Biden denounced the CIA’s extraordinary renditions as “extralegal kidnapping” and demanded that black sites and secret prisons be shut down.
2006-2007: Military Commissions Act and Guantánamo
Joe Biden was an early supporter of sending prisoners to Guantánamo, but by 2006, he denounced the practice, saying it was providing “fodder” to Al Qaeda.
2006: Position on War for Oil in the Middle East
Joe Biden didn’t say “we attacked Iraq for oil,” but he admitted that it was “in part about oil.”
2006: Biden Plan to Partition Iraq
As he began his 2008 Democratic presidential run, Joe Biden put forward a plan that he hoped would distinguish him: partitioning Iraq.
2006: Israeli Attacks on Lebanon and Gaza
Despite Israel’s indiscriminate killings of civilians in both Lebanon and Palestine, Joe Biden defended Israel.
2006: Elections in Gaza
After Hamas won democratic elections in Gaza, Joe Biden called for the U.S. to cut off aid to the the Palestinian Authority.
2004: Abu Ghraib Torture
After photos emerged showing the torture of prisoners at Abu Ghraib, Joe Biden denounced the actions and demanded to know what Donald Rumsfeld knew about it.
2003: Invasion of Iraq
Joe Biden voted in favor of the Iraq War, promoted lies about WMDs, and expressed support for regime change.
2002: Coup Against Venezuela's Hugo Chávez
Joe Biden carefully avoided taking a public stance on the coup in Venezuela but later wanted to “ratchet” up efforts to get Hugo Chávez out of power.
2002: Holding Prisoners at Guantánamo and Denying Them POW Status
After 9/11, Joe Biden supported sending people to Guantánamo Bay prison and denying some prisoner-of-war status.
2001: U.S. Invasion of Afghanistan
Joe Biden was ecstatic about the invasion of Afghanistan and wanted the U.S. to deploy “badasses” who “shoot and kill people.”
2001: September 11 and the Patriot Act
Joe Biden did not just proudly vote for the Patriot Act, he took credit for many of its provisions.
2001: Support for Israeli Military Targeted Killing Policy
Joe Biden defended Israel against criticisms of its assassination operations against Palestinians, suggesting that disagreements with Israel should be kept private.
2000: Calls to Remove Saddam Hussein Unilaterally
Joe Biden, the top Democrat on the influential Senate Foreign Relations Committee, was willing to use unilateral U.S. force to attack Iraq.
2009-2016 The Occasional Dissenter
As vice president, Joe Biden occasionally offered a dissenting voice. He was skeptical of the plans to raid Osama bin Laden’s compound in Pakistan, opposed the regime-change war in Libya, and argued against a troop surge in Afghanistan. But as history unfolded, Biden would praise both the bin Laden raid and the war in Libya.
2006-2013: Snowden, Assange, Mass Surveillance, and Whistleblowing
Joe Biden frequently rails against whistleblowers and leakers, labeling Julian Assange a “high-tech terrorist” and trying to block Edward Snowden from getting asylum in Ecuador.
1998-2016: U.S. Policy Toward NATO Expansion
Joe Biden has been an unwavering advocate of NATO expansion, saying the alliance is a necessary bulwark against war in Europe and a vehicle for U.S. values and interests.
1998-2011: Global Targeted Killing Programs
Throughout his career, Joe Biden questioned the legality of U.S. assassinations. As vice president, he became a player in the drone wars.
2011: Libya Intervention
Joe Biden had reservations about the U.S. intervention in Libya but later claimed that it was the right move to oust Gaddafi.
2011: Egyptian Revolution
As massive protests against Egyptian dictator Hosni Mubarak rocked Cairo, Joe Biden stood by him.
2010: Gaza Flotilla Raid
Joe Biden defended Israel’s deadly attack on a maritime humanitarian aid convoy to Gaza.
2009-2010: Afghanistan Surge
Joe Biden was against a large troop surge in Afghanistan. Instead, he wanted an expansion of drone strikes and anti-terrorism missions conducted by the CIA and special operations forces.
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