How Colin Powell convinced Joe Biden to back the Iraq War

Biden called Powell’s testimony ‘a powerful and irrefutable case’

Eric Garcia
Monday 18 October 2021 20:09
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Colin Powell, former general and secretary of state, dead at 84
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Colin Powell had one of the most distinguished careers of any military official. But the former secretary of state, who died on Monday, will perhaps be best remembered for testifying before the United Nations Security Council about Iraq having weapons of mass destruction, which overwhelmingly convinced many Americans and elected officials about invading the nation.

One of those elected officials was Joe Biden. At that point in February of 2003, Biden was the ranking Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. The October before, Biden voted, along with 76 other Senators, to authorise the use of military force in Iraq.

At the time, Powell, then secretary of state, had the most credibility of any Bush administration official. A retired four-star US army general who was chairman of the joint chiefs of staff during the Persian Gulf War in 1991, he was also the first black secretary of state, and was often considered a potential Republican candidate for president.

Powell had warned president George W Bush in August 2002 about invading Iraq but testified before the United Nations Security Council at the behest of the president. In one of the more memorable moments, Powell held up a vial, warning about anthrax and about Saddam Hussein’s regime’s production of it.

“And Saddam Hussein has not verifiably accounted for even one teaspoon-full of this deadly material,” he said.

The speech was incredibly effective at swaying public opinion. A poll from The Washington Post and ABC News afterwards showed that 61 per cent of people caught his address or news reports about it and 50 per cent of people surveyed at the time thought he made a “convincing case” for going to war in Iraq. After Powell’s testimony, Biden praised him.

“Secretary Powell made a powerful and irrefutable case today before the UN Security Council. The evidence he produced confirms what many of us already know – that Saddam continues to flout the world’s demand that he disarm,” Biden said at the time, according to a statement posted Delaware Grapevine.

“Now that the secretary of state has delivered his powerful statement, the president must continue to engage in personal diplomacy to convince key members of the Security Council to pass a second resolution setting a deadline authorising force if necessary to disarm Iraq,” Biden added. “While a second resolution isn’t a requirement, and while we can win a war on our own, we are much better off if we have the support of the UN and a broad coalition.”

Later, it was revealed much of the intelligence from Powell’s testimony was faulty.

Both Powell and Biden would come to regret their support for the Iraq War, with Powell calling it a “blot” on his record.

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