Anti-War Veteran Is Furious Trump Is Twisting His Video Protesting Biden's Iraq War Record

Air Force veteran is demanding Trump stop sharing a dated video of him confronting Biden.

Sarah Lazare

Members of About Face: Veterans Against The War (formerly called Iraq Veterans Against the War) protest on the anniversary of the invasion of Iraq in front of San Francisco City Hall on March 19, 2012. Michael Thurman is pictured front, left.  Siri Margerin

A U.S. Air Force vet­er­an who con­front­ed for­mer Vice Pres­i­dent Joe Biden over his Iraq War record in March dur­ing the Demo­c­ra­t­ic pri­ma­ry is demand­ing that Pres­i­dent Trump stop using a dat­ed viral video of the inci­dent to mis­con­strue it” as a ges­ture of sup­port for the president.

Michael Thur­man, 32, is an active mem­ber of the anti-war vet­er­ans’ orga­ni­za­tion About Face: Vet­er­ans Against The War (for­mer­ly called Iraq Vet­er­ans Against the War). He says it has been very stress­ful” and dis­con­cert­ing” to see the Trump admin­is­tra­tion using vet­er­ans as props for their own polit­i­cal gain against the wish­es of those vet­er­ans, myself includ­ed. That’s beyond wrong.”

On Super Tues­day, Thur­man con­front­ed Biden at a din­er in Oak­land, Cal­i­for­nia, where the for­mer vice pres­i­dent was mak­ing a cam­paign stop. In a video that has since gone viral, Thur­man can be heard say­ing to Biden, We are just won­der­ing why we should vote for some­one who vot­ed for a war and enabled a war that killed thou­sands of our broth­ers and sis­ters, count­less Iraqi civilians.”

Joe Biden not only vot­ed to autho­rize the 2003 U.S. inva­sion of Iraq, but played a lead role in con­vinc­ing Democ­rats and the pub­lic to sup­port the war. Accord­ing to Thur­man, the con­fronta­tion was part of a larg­er effort among his orga­ni­za­tion to high­light the impor­tance of anti-war posi­tions in the pres­i­den­tial election.

In the video, Thur­man said to Biden, You enabled that war and you also gave a medal to a man who caused that war. This blood is on your hands as well. You are dis­qual­i­fied sir, you are dis­qual­i­fied. My friends are dead.” Thur­man was ref­er­enc­ing Biden’s pre­sen­ta­tion of the Lib­er­ty Medal to George W. Bush and Lau­ra Bush in Novem­ber 2018.

Biden can then be heard say­ing that his son Beau, who served in Iraq for a year, was also dead, before walk­ing away as Thur­man said, his voice raised, My broth­ers and sis­ters died in Iraq and Afghanistan. He enabled that to hap­pen. He is disqualified.”

On Sep­tem­ber 6, Don­ald Trump Jr. shared the video on Twit­ter, writ­ing, Wow, an Air Force vet calls Biden out for vot­ing for the Iraq War.” Pres­i­dent Trump then retweet­ed his son’s post on Sep­tem­ber 7.

Thur­man wor­ries that view­ers will think the video cap­tures an inci­dent that hap­pened recent­ly, rather than dur­ing the Demo­c­ra­t­ic pri­ma­ry cam­paign. Thur­man says, This was treat­ed by Don­ald Trump Jr. like it just hap­pened. The video was post­ed on Super Tues­day.” His con­cern that view­ers might mis­in­ter­pret the video as an expres­sion of sup­port for Trump, due to the president’s boost­ing, prompt­ed Thur­man to release his own video state­ment con­demn­ing the president.

Thur­man told In These Times that impor­tant nuance did not come across in the video. At one point, dur­ing the con­fronta­tion, Thur­man said to Biden as the lat­ter was walk­ing away, Trump is more anti-war than Joe Biden.”

Thur­man explains that in the hec­tic moment of con­fronting a nation­al politi­cian, it can be dif­fi­cult to express com­plex­i­ty. He says he was try­ing to high­light the prob­lem of bipar­ti­san sup­port for wars, and attempt­ing to make the point that Biden, at the time, was to the right of the Demo­c­ra­t­ic field when it comes to war and mil­i­tarism. I thought most of the oth­er Democ­rats had a bet­ter record than Biden,” he explains. I was more for Sanders and War­ren. I def­i­nite­ly thought that Biden was the worst one out there.”

Thur­man says that, what­ev­er his crit­i­cisms of Biden, he thinks Trump is more harm­ful. I think Trump is worse than Biden,” he says. It’s a real­ly hard pill to swal­low hav­ing to vote for Biden, but as a harm reduc­tion approach, I feel like there is going to be less harm inflict­ed with Joe Biden as pres­i­dent than Trump.”

This has been tak­en out of con­text and mis­con­strued,” says Thur­man. Trump is not anti-war. The wars that were start­ed by George W. Bush and con­tin­ued by the Oba­ma admin­is­tra­tion, he has con­tin­ued him­self and expand­ed those wars. He has tried to foment more wars abroad with Iran, and he is foment­ing a civ­il race war at home.”

In 2018, the Trump admin­is­tra­tion dropped a record num­ber of bombs on Afghanistan, with 5,213 weapons released from manned and unmanned air­crafts between Jan­u­ary and the end of Sep­tem­ber. Trump has also esca­lat­ed U.S. par­tic­i­pa­tion in the Yemen war (ini­ti­at­ed by the Oba­ma-Biden admin­is­tra­tion), has over­seen spikes in civil­ian deaths there, and has vetoed efforts to end U.S. involve­ment in the war. At the begin­ning of 2020, Trump brought the Unit­ed States to the brink of direct war with Iran when his admin­is­tra­tion assas­si­nat­ed Maj. Gen. Qas­sim Suleimani, the com­man­der of Iran’s Quds Force and a rank­ing offi­cial of Iran. Trump also with­drew the Unit­ed States from the Joint Com­pre­hen­sive Plan of Action, pop­u­lar­ly known as the Iran nuclear deal, and imposed dev­as­tat­ing max­i­mum pres­sure” sanc­tions on the country.

Thur­man says he is con­cerned that Trump’s shar­ing of his video is part of a larg­er effort to false­ly brand the pres­i­dent as anti-war. Trump has appeared to be on a spree of spread­ing anti-war sen­ti­ments, recent­ly retweet­ing a tweet by the jour­nal­ist Glenn Green­wald which notes that, in his farewell address, for­mer Pres­i­dent Dwight D. Eisen­how­er had 16 min­utes on TV to warn Amer­i­cans of what he thought they most need­ed to know, and used it pri­mar­i­ly to empha­size the dan­gers of Pen­ta­gon growth, weapons spend­ing, and the threats of End­less War.”

In remarks made at the White House on Sep­tem­ber 7, Trump pre­sent­ed him­self as an oppo­nent of the mil­i­tary-indus­tri­al-com­plex. I’m not say­ing the military’s in love with me — the sol­diers are, the top peo­ple in the Pen­ta­gon prob­a­bly aren’t because they want to do noth­ing but fight wars so that all of those won­der­ful com­pa­nies that make the bombs and make the planes and make every­thing else stay hap­py,” he said.

In fact, Trump has over­seen bloat­ed mil­i­tary bud­gets, a buildup in nuclear weapons, and the appoint­ment of for­mer defense indus­try lob­by­ists like Sec­re­tary of Defense Mark Esper to top posi­tions in his administration.

Thur­man, who served in an intel­li­gence wing of the Air Force state­side, says he became a con­sci­en­tious objec­tor in 2008 after I was exposed to things in my ser­vice I could­n’t con­sci­en­tious­ly be a part of any­more.” A San Fran­cis­co — Bay Area res­i­dent, Thur­man is ask­ing for Trump to imme­di­ate­ly stop shar­ing the video.

Don­ald Trump and his admin­is­tra­tion,” says Thur­man, is the embod­i­ment of every­thing we oppose as we fight for a more just, peace­ful and free world.”

Sarah Lazare is web edi­tor at In These Times. She comes from a back­ground in inde­pen­dent jour­nal­ism for pub­li­ca­tions includ­ing The Inter­cept, The Nation, and Tom Dis­patch. She tweets at @sarahlazare.

Subscribe and Save 66%

Less than $1.67 an issue