you read only the headlines about Al
Gore's speech on Iraq, one would have to think that he
has suddenly been catapulted to the head of the antiwar movement
and also acquired a backbone, along with some principles.
The Los Angeles Times averred that "Gore
Assails Bush's Stance on Iraq": further North, Carla
Marinucci, the San Francisco Chronicle's political
that the speech was "one of the most forceful Democratic
condemnations of President Bush's foreign policy," and
in Washington, D.C., Bill Press, on MSNBC's
Buchanan & Press, declared that Al had taken a "brave
stance"; even Pat seemed to concur. "Gore
Gives Warning on Iraq," the front page Washington
Post headline blared, and the story claimed that "Al
Gore sharply challenged President Bush on Iraq," describing
the speech as "one of the most forceful critiques to
date by any leading Democrat."
that isn't saying much, now is it? And that is precisely the
problem. The Democrats have been veritable church mice on
the war question, with a few hints that they might try to
outflank him on the right. Sure, the Gore speech was "forceful"
compared to Joe Lieberman and Dick Gephardt, who both fulsomely
support the war but are desperately seeking some way to change
the subject to domestic issues. So anything critical,
however mild and opportunistic, is blown way out of proportion
by left-liberal Democrats disappointed in their party's leadership.
I hate to be the one to tell them that they're hallucinating
but somebody has to.
if we look at what Gore actually said, rather than what people
believe he said, the result is that he comes out as
a warmonger lite, who disagrees with the methods but not the
goals of the would-be world-conquerors in Washington. He also
evades the real issues, in spite of his promise at the outset
to "recommend a specific course of action for our country."
It is to me inexplicable that Gore could have bloviated for
a full hour without once mentioning weapons inspections, or
the prospect of negotiations.
is not to say that he failed to make any valid or even useful
points. He did aver that the war on Iraq is a "distraction,"
and that the timing is not right. But this is hardly a critique,
"forceful" or otherwise, of the notion that this
is a just war. Nor is it a challenge to the peculiar notion
inherent in the President's weird idea that this is a war
of "self-defense" that
the Persian Gulf is as strategically necessary to American
security as the Gulf of Mexico.
is a peculiar rhythm to Gore's remarks that might be described
as "one step forward, two steps back." No sooner
does he make a declarative statement then he backs away, in
the very next paragraph, contradicting his previous words
so blatantly that the effect is conceptual nullification.
"First things first," he says, characterizing the
Bush policy as "jump[ing] from one unfinished task to
another" with the clear implication that Bush 43 is
following through on the unfinished conquest that should have
been completed long ago by his father.
of course, is precisely what the neoconservative critics of
mainline Republican foreign policy have been saying all along.
Now that they have finally succeeded in turning the son against
the policies of the father, it is hard to see what Gore's
real objection may be, other than that it should have happened
a lot sooner. Well, if so, then why not now? Gore's
Republican critics are thus spared the necessity of attacking
him on this, since he does such an excellent job of it himself.
For no sooner does he raise this mild "it's a distraction"
criticism of Bush's war policy, then he changes his mind and
declares that it is indeed possible to carry on a two-front
are perfectly capable of staying the course in our war against
Osama Bin Laden and his terrorist network, while simultaneously
taking those steps necessary to build an international coalition
to join us in taking on Saddam Hussein in a timely fashion."
out of both sides of his mouth, Gore veers drunkenly from
one position to another, trying them on for size, tentative
and nervous, like a very bad actor in rehearsal (and we all
know for what). The purely partisan tone of his rhetoric
which naturally went over well on that San Francisco platform
rings a bit hollow on the national stage. After all, "the
timing of this sudden burst of urgency" is suspicious,
as Gore sees it: but doesn't this assume that, "in this
high political season, " the prospect of such a war is
wildly popular? Polls differ, but the trend is definitely
on the side of caution; and if the letters to Congress are
any indication, this war is going to be hugely unpopular even
before the shooting starts.
the consummate opportunist, wants to position himself to ride
the crest of the inevitable reaction to a disastrous and fateful
decision all the while hedging his bets. In the run-up to
the 2000 election, he campaigned on a platform calling for
Saddam's overthrow, and personally
met with and championed the cause of the Iraqi National
Congress the same group the Bushies have anointed as their
future Iraqi satraps. Last February, he called for "a
final reckoning" with Saddam Hussein and described
Iraq as a "virulent threat in a class by itself"
a stance that would certainly seem to justify the Bushian
doctrine of preemption, at least in this case.
Bush, Gore is also throwing out the principle of deterrence:
does pose a serious threat to the stability of the Persian
Gulf and we should organize an international coalition to
eliminate his access to weapons of mass destruction. Iraq's
search for weapons of mass destruction has proven impossible
to completely deter and we should assume that it will continue
for as long as Saddam is in power. Moreover, no international
law can prevent the United States from taking actions
to protect its vital interests, when it is manifestly clear
that there is a choice to be made between law and survival."
short, he agrees with Bush that a broken-down tenth-rate power
like Iraq poses a threat that cannot be deterred and that
it is only a matter of convenience and timing before we exercise
our imperial prerogative, with the pro forma blessing of the
UN, of course. International law? The U.S. is above it, the
hyper-power that hovers over the world in search of targets.
And so the foreign policy "debate" in this country
proceeds along a very narrow spectrum: Iraq now, or Iraq next
year? Such are the predicaments of empire
of which, Gore's use of the term is surprising:
other countries, the Administration's disdain for the views
of others is well documented and need not be reviewed here.
It is more important to note the consequences of an emerging
national strategy that not only celebrates American strengths,
but appears to be glorifying the notion of dominance. If what
America represents to the world is leadership in a commonwealth
of equals, then our friends are legion; if what we represent
to the world is empire, then it is our enemies who will be
he lift that from Pat Buchanan's book, A
Republic, Not an Empire? It sure sounds like it. Or
maybe he's stealing from this column omigod, please, not
that! Anything but that! I must confess to a
feeling of overwhelming relief upon reading a bit further,
as he takes two or perhaps even three steps back from his
previously staunch anti-imperialist stance:
if we quickly succeed in a war against the weakened and depleted
fourth rate military of Iraq and then quickly abandon that
nation as President Bush has abandoned Afghanistan after quickly
defeating a fifth rate military there, the resulting chaos
could easily pose a far greater danger to the United States
than we presently face from Saddam. We know that he has stored
secret supplies of biological and chemical weapons throughout
must stay in Iraq, if we go, indefinitely: that is
opposition to empire, Gore-style. As he conjures up a vision
of a chaotic Middle East sorely in need of American overseers,
the patrician Gore disdains the democratic pretensions of
we end the war in Iraq, the way we ended the war in Afghanistan,
we could easily be worse off than we are today. When Secretary
Rumsfield was asked recently about what our responsibility
for restabilising Iraq would be in an aftermath of an invasion,
he said, 'that's for the Iraqis to come together and decide.'"
not in Al Gore's universe. Apparently that's not part of the
"nation-building" process that both Gore and right-wing
Rich Lowry see as a necessary adjunct to American policy.
of course "nation-building" is empire-building;
it is the ultimate exercise of the imperial prerogative to
build a nation which normally evolves over time from scratch.
The British did it (or tried it) in the Middle East, and we
are to be left with their troublesome legacy the burden of
upholding and protecting the borders of Iraq as
drawn by the British Foreign Office in the early years of
the twentieth century.
go ahead and conquer Iraq, says Gore: just make sure you get
the United Nations Security Council to okay it. And as for
the doctrine of preemption, it "remains to be discussed
subsequently in view of its gravity." In other words:
let's talk about it: maybe we can make a deal
will leave it to others to comb through the various strands
that make up the following bit of Gore's oration, and discern
some meaning other than basic agreement with the Bush administration's
is a case to be made that further delay only works to Saddam
Hussein's advantage, and that the clock should be seen to
have been running on the issue of compliance for a decade:
therefore not needing to be reset again to the starting point.
But to the extent that we have any concern for international
support, whether for its political or material value, hurrying
the process will be costly. Even those who now agree that
Saddam Hussein must go, may divide deeply over the wisdom
of presenting the United States as impatient for war."
the one hand this, on the other hand that: the mere sight
of so much weaving and bobbing is apt to make anyone dizzy,
which is perhaps why so many in the audience mistook this
hemming and hawing for real opposition to Bush's war drive.
Nothing else explains the odd "spin" this speech
has been given, although one wonders what they thought when
Gore expressed the opinion that the Senate resolution approving
military action should be voted for, albeit with certain
modifications. It's true he wants to limit a U.S. invasion
to just Iraq for now but somehow I find it hard to be
very grateful for this generous concession.
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