Two decades ago, the United States invaded Iraq, sending 130,000 US troops into a sovereign country to overthrow its government. Joe Biden, then chairman of the Senate foreign relations committee, voted to authorize the war, a decision he came to regret.
Today another large, world-shaking invasion is under way. Biden, now the US president, recently traveled to Warsaw to rally international support for Ukraine’s fight to repel Russian aggression. After delivering his remarks, Biden declared: “The idea that over 100,000 forces would invade another country – since world war II, nothing like that has happened.”
The president spoke these words on 22 February, within a month of the 20th anniversary of the US military’s opening strike on Baghdad. The White House did not attempt to correct Biden’s statement. Reporters do not appear to have asked about it. The country’s leading newspapers, the New York Times and Washington Post, ran stories that quoted Biden’s line. Neither of them questioned its veracity or noted its hypocrisy.
Did the Iraq war even happen?
While Washington forgets, much more of the world remembers. The flagrant illegality of bypassing the United Nations: this happened. The attempt to legitimize “pre-emption” (really prevention, a warrant to invade countries that have no plans to attack anyone): this mattered, including by handing the Russian president, Vladimir Putin, a pretext he has used. Worst of all was the destruction of the Iraqi state, causing the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Iraqis and nearly 4,600 US service members, and radiating instability and terrorism across the region.
The Iraq war wasn’t the only law- or country-breaking military intervention launched by the US and its allies in recent decades. Kosovo, Afghanistan and Libya form a tragic pattern. But the Iraq war was the largest, loudest and proudest of America’s violent debacles, the most unwarranted, and the least possible to ignore. Or so it would seem. Biden’s statement is only the latest in a string of attempts by US leaders to forget the war and move on.