RAY McGOVERN to Joe Biden: Time for Confession

Had the Iraq war not killed, injured, displaced hundreds of thousands, the lame circumlocutions of the former vice president regarding his own culpability would be laughable. 

 U.S. Vice President Joe Biden during the Iraqi government’s Day of Commitment ceremony, Baghdad, Dec. 1, 2011. The ceremony commemorated the sacrifices and accomplishments of U.S. and Iraqi service members. (U.S. Air Force/Cecilio Ricardo)

This piece, written by Ray McGovern for Consortium News 12 years ago, is unfortunately as relevant now regarding Joe Biden as it  was then.

By Ray McGovern
Special to Consortium News
Sept. 30, 2008

I don’t have to remind you of the importance of the coming debate from a political perspective. But as you prepare, I invite you to spare a few minutes to look at the opportunity from a moral and religious perspective.

You may wish to examine your conscience regarding how you have acted on key foreign policy issues and reflect on John 8:32: “And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall set you free.”

The holy days of religious traditions serve a very useful purpose, if we but take the time to pause and ponder. I write you on Rosh Hashanah, the first of 10 days focusing on repentance.

In Judaism’s oral tradition Rosh Hashanah is the day when people are held to account. The wicked are “blotted out of the book of the living,” while the righteous are inscribed in the book of life.

Those in the middle are given 10 days to repent, until the holiday of Yom Kippur — the solemn Day of Atonement.

If that has a familiar ring to it, Joe, we heard it in as many words at Mass last Sunday in the first reading, from Ezekiel 18: “If one turns from wickedness and does what is right and just, that one will live.”

Same Tradition

At Rosh Hashanah the ram’s horn trumpet blows to waken us from our slumber and alert us to the coming judgment. Rabbi Michael Lerner has been a ram’s horn for me. On Sept. 28, he sent a note addressing forgiveness and repentance.

He encourages us to find a private place to say aloud how we’ve hurt others, and then to go to them and ask forgiveness.

“Do not mitigate or ‘explain’ — just acknowledge and sincerely ask for forgiveness,” says Rabbi Lerner. He suggests we ask for “guidance and strength to rectify those hurts — and to develop the sensitivity to not continue acting in a hurtful way.”

Again, a familiar ring. Think, Joe, about the instruction we both received as Irish “cradle Catholics.” Surely you will remember the emphasis on examining one’s conscience, confessing, and pledging to “sin no more.”

The phrase comes back, clear as a bell; we were to “confess our sins, do penance, and amend our life, Amen.” Remember?

And remember how clean we felt at the end of that therapeutic process? I was reminded of that by the gospel reading from John 1, in which Jesus says of Nathaniel: “Here is a true child of Israel; there is no duplicity in him.”

Just think of how Nathaniel must have felt.

Joe, you can feel that clean; but one cannot short-cut the process. You must first come clean on your role in greasing the skids for President George W. Bush’s war of aggression on Iraq.

I use “war of aggression” advisedly, for that is the term used by U.S. Supreme Court Justice Robert H. Jackson to denote “the supreme international crime, differing from other war crimes only in that it contains the accumulated evil of the whole.”

There is no getting around that — despite the reluctance of church, state and the Fawning Corporate Media (FCM) to acknowledge it.

I imagine that you, as a lawyer, have moments of acute shame over our country’s flouting of international law and the U.N. Charter, duly ratified by the Senate and thus the law of the land.

And there is no getting away from the important role you played in roping Congress into facilitating that war.

Were the war not to have killed, injured, displaced hundreds of thousands, your lame circumlocutions regarding your own culpability would be laughable — on a par with, say, some of the recent comments of your rival for vice president. But they are in no way funny.

The March 2003 attack on Iraq was an act of aggression violating international law.

Fulsome Prose

For my own penance, I made myself read again through your marathon, “in-depth” interview with the late Tim Russert on April 29, 2007. Your remarks are notable for two things: (1) periodic sentences that can be diagrammed only by a German philologist with the patience of Job in waiting for verbs and with a deep tolerance for dangling participles; and (2) lies.

It is not hard to spot the lies half-hidden in the underbrush of euphemism and circumlocution.

I do not refer to relatively harmless ones like your firm denial of any interest in running for vice president. I’m talking about the real whoppers — the ones we used to call mortal sins.

Despite the goings-on in Washington in recent years, Joe, I don’t believe anyone has actually passed legislation revoking the commandment against false witness. It’s time you come clean.

–For some reason, you were calling for an invasion of Iraq and making unsupported claims about its “weapons of mass destruction” even before President George W. Bush came into office.

Later, on Aug. 4, 2002, after it had become clear to many of us that Bush was intent on attacking Iraq, you declared that the U.S. was probably going to war. That was three weeks before Vice President Dick Cheney voiced his spurious “intelligence” and set the terms of reference for the war. And it was a month before the administration launched its marketing campaign for the new “product.”

–You became the administration’s most important congressional backer of Bush’s preemptive-with-nothing-to-preempt war advocated by neoconservatives and various oil-thirsty functionaries.

Former U.N. weapons inspector and ex-U.S. Marine Major Scott Ritter was correct in describing the hearings you chaired during the summer and fall of 2002, from which you were careful to exclude Ritter and other expert witnesses, as a “sham…to provide political cover for a massive military attack on Iraq.”

What the country needed was an appropriately skeptical Sen. William Fulbright who listened to dissenters after he got burned on Vietnam. Instead, you took unusual pains to ensure that those dissenting on Iraq would not get a fair hearing.

Ritter: “While we were never able to provide 100 percent certainty regarding the disposition of Iraq’s proscribed weaponry, we did ascertain a 90-95 percent level of verified disarmament…It is clear that Sen. Biden and his colleagues have no interest in such facts.”

Indeed, just before the Senate voted to give Bush authorization to attack Iraq, Biden plagiarized Cheney in assuring his Senate colleagues that Iraq “possesses chemical and biological weapons and is seeking nuclear weapons.”

And tell us, Joe, why did you join Sen. John McCain and others in voting against the amendment offered by Sen. Carl Levin that would have forced the president to obtain U.N. Security Council approval before launching war on Iraq?

Coffins of U.S. soldiers arriving at Dover Air Force Base in Delaware in 2006. (U.S. government)

‘Explaining’ the Unexplainable

–Then, in 2007, when your catastrophic misjudgments were obvious and hundreds of thousands were dead and maimed, you borrowed the administration’s rhetoric to “explain” to Russert how “everyone in the world thought Saddam had them [WMDs].”

That was rank hyperbole. When you added, “The weapons inspectors said he had them,” that was a lie.

Please, no more torturous explanations of the kind you gave Russert, like this one: “It [the resolution] allowed the president to go to war. It did not authorize him to go to it.”

Come on, Joe. The resolution says: “The president is authorized to use the armed forces of the United States as he determines to be necessary and appropriate.”

Sen. Robert Byrd, who unlike you and some other Democratic senators had no presidential aspirations, rightly observed at the time that those who “voted for a use-of-force resolution handed a ‘blank check’ to the president.”

–When the war/occupation brought bloody chaos, you expressed regret only that the Bush people weren’t doing it right.

For example, in 2004 you told Charlie Rose and in 2007 Russert: “If I’d known that they were going to be so incompetent in using it, I would have never, ever given them the authority.” So you approve of preemptive war as long as no one botches the job?

More recently, Joe, you have said of your vote to authorize the war: “It was a mistake. I regret my vote.”

Pardon the comparison, but you sound like the disgraced Colin Powell, who has expressed regret only for the “blot on my record.” But wait, Joe. “Imagine All the People.”

Your Debate Partner 

(Mike Licht/Flickr)

If you do not find my suggestion for confession and repentance morally compelling, Joe, think of it this way. Your debate partner on Thursday evening will be loaded for bear. I assume you wish to avoid being field dressed.

Ain’t no way out of your dilemma but making a clean breast of it, Joe. She is going to wave her finger at you and quote your fulsome remarks at length — no stranger she to dangling participles.

She will do a John Kerry on you, which worked so well four years ago. You were for the war before you were against it, she will wink. And she will have a field day, if not a field dressing.

I don’t know what your motives were in giving the president permission to attack Iraq — whether it was the neoconservative-cum-Israel-lobby cabal, the Cheney notion that the only way to ensure the supply of foreign oil is to control it, or a calculated move to ensure your viability as a candidate for president (the kind of thinking that turned out to be, deservedly, the kiss of death for Sen. Hillary Clinton).

You had more luck, landing on your feet, sort of.

But you are a “grave and growing” danger (so to speak) to the campaign of Sen. Obama; that is, unless you mount a (God forgive me) “preemptive attack.” And you have only two days — not 10 — in which to do it. It will not wait for Yom Kippur.

And it makes sense from a practical, as well as a moral, point of view.

Here’s What You Do…

Forget the natural inclination to try to defend the indefensible on your cheerleading for the war. To claim you were fooled by the administration, after almost 30 years in the Senate is not going to be any more persuasive or exculpatory than to cite what other pressures you may have yielded to.

Here’s something that might not have occurred to you, since it is a practice that has been out of vogue for so long: Shock everyone by telling the truth! But briefly, please.

Here is some suggested text:

“Gov. Palin, I feel terrible about the role I played in helping President Bush launch this godforsaken war. I confess; it was a terrible decision. I apologize to you and other mothers whose children have been deployed to Iraq, to the nation, to the hundreds of thousands who have died and been injured, to all Americans, to all Iraqis — and I ask for forgiveness. I have learned a painful but powerful lesson; you can count on me never letting that kind of thing happen again.”

Heed Rabbi Lerner’s caution: “Do not mitigate or ‘explain’ — just acknowledge and sincerely ask for forgiveness.”

Now, Joe, to be quite honest, I cannot guarantee a good result from this kind of approach, since I have no empirical evidence. That is, although I’ve been in Washington 45 years, I’ve not seen unvarnished honesty ever risked in quite this way.

But I am guessing it could be quite disarming, and could send your debate partner scurrying for less effective talking points.

You will be debating a “fundamentalist,” but that is actually a misnomer. The fundamentals of Judeo-Christian morality have to do with truth-telling, justice and concern for the unprivileged.

Confessing, forgiving, and repenting are also fundamentals. Don’t be ashamed of them, Joe. Embrace them. My guess is that if you do, you will leave your debate partner shocked — if not speechless.

In the process, you will have succeeded in drawing a stark contrast between the “lies to nowhere” that she continues to tell on the one hand, and your (hopefully) terse, disarming honesty, on the other.

You will be free to go ahead and demonstrate that in John McCain’s selection of Sarah Palin, no presidential candidate in the history of this country has made a more irresponsible selection for a running mate.

And best of all, you will be able to sit back and smile next Sunday as you listen to the second Scripture reading (from Philippians 4):

“Whatever is true, honorable, and just…think about these and keep on doing them…Then the God who gives peace will be with you.”

Let Nathaniel be your model: no duplicity.


Ray McGovern

Ray McGovern works with Tell the Word, the publishing arm of the ecumenical Church of the Saviour in inner-city Washington. He worked as a CIA analyst for 27 years and is now on the Steering Group of Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS).

The views expressed are solely those of the author and may or may not reflect those of Consortium News.

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31 comments for “RAY McGOVERN to Joe Biden: Time for Confession

  1. robert e williamson jr
    March 17, 2020 at 20:46

    Ray is the best! It’s nice to know exactly how he feels!

    Skip Edwards, glad you noticed my feeble attempt at “gallows humor”!

  2. Anonymot
    March 17, 2020 at 08:47

    He will be the nominee, in all probability. If he chooses Hillary I will not vote. If he choses Warren we will know why she failed to support Bernie Sanders, personal, political avarice. He could even choose Michelle Obama, but it makes no difference, he’s controlled by Hillary like a marionette and he will lose.

    The Sanders Senator has consistently had too narrow a program. Tulsi, the most qualified Democrat around, was squashed from Day One by Hillary’s DNC and NYT machines which she owns.

    No one talks about who and what lie behind Hillary Clinton and her front man after the Buttigieg idiocy.

    So Joe lies. They all do. America is leaderless, rudderless and the typhoon is here.

    • ET
      March 18, 2020 at 15:08

      I agree with you on all your points but the rumors are at the convention there are plans to replace Joe Biden with Hillary in the second or third round. Have you heard these rumors?

  3. Eugenie Basile
    March 17, 2020 at 04:21

    Actually it was a rhetorical question but since we are at it : the DNC will have a much harder time blaming the Russians since the DOJ dropped its case against Concord management trollfarm mentioned in Mueller report.

  4. anthonyhall
    March 17, 2020 at 03:43

    Biden, Bush, Cheney and Rumsfeld wanted Iraq`s Oil because in 1973 OPEC and the Saudis jacked up the Price of Oil. This was a Traumatic Shock to the Americans at the Gas Pump and to their Ruling Oligarchs. Since then every Nation with a few Barrels of Oil have been under threat of US Invasion or Sanctions.

  5. Stephen
    March 17, 2020 at 00:32

    Reading this article I couldn’t help but to be reminded of Bob Dylan’s Masters of War.

    A few particularly relevant verses:

    Like Judas of old

    You lie and deceive

    You put a gun in my hand

    And you hide from my eyes

    You fasten the triggers

    For the others to fire

    Then you set back and watch

    When the death count gets higher

    You hide in your mansion

    As young people’s blood

    Flows out of their bodies

    And is buried in the mud

    And my favorite line, and this is basically the punchline —

    Even Jesus would never

    Forgive what you do

  6. GMCasey
    March 16, 2020 at 15:58

    Amazing that this was written 12 years ago, It is relevant to Joe Biden even today. So—Joe Biden , if you are chosen( notice I did not say elected–) -as for one thing, I find it difficult to believe that every county in Michigan voted for you. Joe Biden also said he will have a woman for VP. I suppose it will be Hillary—and wouldn’t that be awful. I would like the electors to be gone forever, as my one person one vote disappears with them. I would also like to be able to see if my vote is actually counted——-but how could anyone prove that?

  7. bobzz
    March 16, 2020 at 13:56

    Why is Biden so popular amongst your Black voters?

    For the same reason blacks voted for Obama—even though he rewarded the banksters with bailout money after they stole 50% of black wealth. Biden was close to Obama as his VP, so he gets to ride his coattails.

  8. robert e williamson jr
    March 16, 2020 at 12:55

    Vengeance vs Justice, ooooooh what do we do!

    Before anyone judges my motives here they should instead study and judge those of our leadership who are nothing more than wanton criminals who have for too dogdamned long not been held accountable. It’s time to do something!

    This country has failed miserably at punishing the most vile of it’s criminals, those who use government service for self enrichment and to carry on personal agendas and vendettas.

    Heinrich Heine German Poet of 13 Dec 1797 – 17 Feb 1856 From Statement of 1848

    “Mine is a most peaceful disposition. My wishes are: a humble cottage with a thatched roof, but a good bed,good food, the freshest milk and butter. flowers before my window, and a few trees before my door; and if God wants to make my happiness complete, he will grant me the joy of seeing some six or seven of my enemies hanging from those trees. Before death I shall, moved in my heart, forgive them all of the wrong they did me in their lifetime. One must, it is true, forgive one’s enemies . . but not before they have been hanged.

    This just may be the only country in the world that will not openly in public discuss politics incessantly in places like bars, dinners and the like but at the first sign of trouble will fight over toilet paper.

    Thanks to all at CN

    • Skip Edwards
      March 16, 2020 at 21:17

      I posted this article and a quote from your comment on FB. Your comment and Ray’s article brought me to tears. I am nearly 75 years old.

  9. Mark Thomason
    March 16, 2020 at 12:36

    The wealthy elite pay Banker Biden to lie for them, to distort the Democratic Party, to shape the world for the rich and against anybody else who might seek a fair share paid in proportion to their contributions. Return on capital investment is maximized when labor is underpaid, and that at its core is Banker Biden’s main job. That is why he did things like the bankruptcy bill for the banks and outside corporations that incorporate in and dominate the business climate of his tiny state. His state and his Senate seat are devoted to serving those interests, and he loyally filled that seat for 36 years before he was the old white guy reassurance that the young black guy Obama would not get too radical if given power.

    Now you expect confession? Honest? Truth? That is the very definition of what Banker Biden has never, ever done. He is the reassurance to the wealthy that it won’t happen.

  10. herbert davis
    March 16, 2020 at 12:28

    Religion is the problem. It dilutes rational thought for many. It sanctions greed and secrecy and will not solve anything.

    I admire Ray McGovern but he seems to be turniong to myth and superstition almost as much as the evangelicals that put the Orange Man in the White House.

  11. Rob
    March 16, 2020 at 12:26

    Listening to Biden in last night’s debate spinning his full-throated support for the Iraq War brought back many painful memories of those days, yet I wonder how many Americans can remember the events as they actually happened. There has been so much revisionism and self-justification since then that the facts have undoubtedly become blurred in the minds of many people. Bernie did his best to remind us politely of the truth, but Biden, like all pathological liars, remained steadfast in his denials of any serious wrongdoing.

    In the general election, Trump will not let him off the hook so easily.

  12. March 16, 2020 at 11:16

    Once again at 80 I will have no one i can vote for in the coming election. IKE where art thou?

  13. Tony
    March 16, 2020 at 10:18

    This article is a truly awful reminder of what Biden is capable of.

    It is also worth bearing in mind that 2011 saw the execution of African American Troy Davis in Georgia.
    Former Republican congressman Bob Barr supported a re-trial as did William Sessions, head of the FBI under Reagan.
    But there was silence from both President Obama and Vice President Biden.

    If Biden is the nominee, then I have two fears for November:

    1. He will lose

    2. He will win

    • Jon Adams
      March 16, 2020 at 13:11

      That is a reminder that Obama himself turned out to be an awful disappointment.

  14. Skip Scott
    March 16, 2020 at 08:32

    I was hoping this was a recent piece that would urge Joe to confess that he is suffering from dementia and it is time to retire.

    • March 16, 2020 at 13:01

      Dementia isn’t the real issue. The problem is that Biden is an evil SOB who will do anything asked of him to keep up this ongoing madness. And what’s more baffling to me is that the majority of our population can’t even remember back to these crimes that are easily verifiable. Or don’t want to.

    • Gregory Herr
      March 16, 2020 at 16:08

      Blessthebeasts, yes, why isn’t it more obvious to people that Biden is an S.O.B.?

    • Skip Scott
      March 17, 2020 at 07:53

      I remember all the crimes very well. And Uncle Joe is an evil SOB with dementia. Bernie looks all set to slide into the role of sheepdog once again (because TRUMP!). How f’d is that? Fool me once…

      BTW, Bernie has a questionable track record on issues of war and peace, and got onboard with the Russiagate BS.

      Sometimes it is hard to find someone to root for. Keep your pitchfork handy.

  15. March 16, 2020 at 06:32

    “This piece, written by Ray McGovern for Consortium News 12 years ago, is unfortunately as relevant now regarding Joe Biden as it was then.”

    Indeed, and how very sad.

    But isn’t that true of almost everything in American behavior concerning those abroad?

    Good God, you still have troops in Iraq. And you are still killing people there.

    And you are still promoting hatred and fear of Russia and China decades after the Cold War ended.

    The same for Iran, more than forty years after its revolution.

    There is something very sad about America itself that it can make so little progress towards decency and peace and truth.

    • Skip Edwards
      March 16, 2020 at 21:25

      I have often, at 74, had those exact thoughts. We must not let the real truths of what the USA was built on and the evil it continues to make the world bear, albeit, in all of our names. It is quit difficult to look in the mirror each morning and realize that a coward is staring back.

  16. Eugenie Basile
    March 16, 2020 at 05:35

    Why do the Democrats insist on chosing this lame duck ? He will get thrashed by Donald.

    • bobzz
      March 16, 2020 at 13:47

      probably because the DNC honchos would rather see Joe go down to Trump than give Bernie more TV time to express his ideas as a presidential candidate.

    • Gregory Herr
      March 16, 2020 at 16:02

      It’s easier, and more up their alley, for the corrupt corporate right-wing Dems to play phony “resistance” to Trump, cashing those campaign contributions, than it would be for them to squirm and worm their way around a President Sanders to-do list.

  17. John Drake
    March 15, 2020 at 23:07

    “… ex-U.S. Marine Major Scott Ritter was correct in describing the hearings you chaired during the summer and fall of 2002, from which you were careful to exclude Ritter and other expert witnesses, as a “sham…to provide political cover for a massive military attack on Iraq.”
    To bad Bernie didn’t have some of these quotes at hand tonight; though he did a good job otherwise holding Biden’s feet to the fire of the mess he helped make.
    De ja vu all over again. Biden did the same thing at the Clarence Thomas hearings excluding witnesses that would corroborate Anita Hill’s accusations of sexual harassment. For which we are still stuck with that mediocrity on the bench.
    We see a pattern here; what in England was described as “fixing intelligence”. Someone who is in the habit of excluding testimony that would contradict their pre-judgement and intention has no business being POTUS or a US Senator. That is the sort of technique common in corrupt organizations and countries. Leadership requires hearing all sides and coming to a rational conclusion. FDR worked that way

  18. Eddie S
    March 15, 2020 at 21:10

    I like Ray’s calling-out Biden on his cheerleading for the Iraq War (crime), but I for-one certainly wouldn’t have believed Biden even IF he took Ray’s advice and said those words of honesty and contrition— it wouldn’t have been any more believable than those fundamentalist preachers who got caught in adulterous affairs and/or stealing funds, and then went on TV crying and asking ‘for forgiveness’. And Biden’s advisors probably told him that most voters wouldn’t know or care about those things and bringing them up might hurt him more than help him, and unfortunately that cynical advice is probably truer than not…

  19. Michael Gallagher
    March 15, 2020 at 19:05

    Excellent piece, Ray!

  20. Dave LaRose
    March 15, 2020 at 19:01

    Thank you, Ray McGovern. Let us not forget Joe’s dirty hands and lyin’ character. Definition of a hack.

    • SRH
      March 16, 2020 at 06:16

      Why is Biden so popular amongst your Black voters? Can’t they see his lies and his record of racism? He enthusiastically worked to put many of their sons in prison.

    • Michele Clement
      March 16, 2020 at 14:46

      SRH, peut-être que l’oppression connue est plus rassurante que la liberté inconnue, pour de trop nombreux humains.

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