September 26, 2002

THE NEW REPUBLIC ON GORE'S SPEECH: Thanks to the people who emailed me the text. I still can't get through, so I'm posting a fairly long excerpt:

In the 1980s and 1990s, Al Gore consistently battled the irresponsibility and incoherence on foreign affairs that plagued the Democratic Party. And it was partly out of admiration for that difficult and principled work that this magazine twice endorsed him for president. Unfortunately, that Al Gore didn't show up at the Commonwealth Club in San Francisco on Monday. Instead, the former vice president's speech almost perfectly encapsulated the evasions that have characterized the Democratic Party's response to President Bush's proposed war in Iraq. In typical Democratic style, Gore didn't say he opposed the war. In fact, he endorsed the goal of regime change--before presenting a series of qualifications that would likely make that goal impossible.

First, Gore said that war with Iraq would undermine America's primary mission: fighting terrorism. This mission, he explained, requires ongoing international cooperation. And he suggested that "our ability to secure this kind of cooperation can be severely damaged by unilateral action against Iraq. If the administration has reason to believe otherwise, it ought to share those reasons with the Congress." But surely Gore also has an obligation to share his reasons for believing that war with Iraq will "severely damage" the war on terrorism. The argument, after all, is not self-evident: Germany, the U.S. ally most vocally opposed to attacking Iraq, has simultaneously intensified its assistance in the war on terrorism--signaling that it will take over the international peacekeeping force in Afghanistan. In fact, Gore provides no evidence to support his claim. And thus he fails the very evidentiary standard that he calls on Bush to meet.

Gore's second complaint concerns the timing of the administration's push on Iraq. "President George H.W. Bush," Gore noted approvingly, "purposely waited until after the midterm elections of 1990 to push for a vote. ... President George W. Bush, by contrast, is pushing for a vote in this Congress immediately before the election." But as we argued two weeks ago, it is far better, in a democracy, for legislators to vote on critical issues before an election--so citizens know where they stand when they go to the polls--than to delay such votes until after an election and thus shield legislators from accountability for their views. Gore went on to pronounce "a burden on the shoulders of President Bush to dispel the doubts many have expressed about the role that politics might be playing in the calculations of some in the administration," before adding, "I have not raised those doubts, but many have." But, of course, that is exactly what Gore was doing. And he should have taken responsibility for raising those doubts himself.

Gore's final critique of the administration's preparations for war is that they are proceeding without sufficient regard to international opinion. "[I]n the immediate aftermath of September Eleventh," Gore said, "we had an enormous reservoir of goodwill and sympathy and shared resolve all over the world. That has been squandered in a year's time and replaced with great anxiety all around the world, not primarily about what the terrorist networks are going to do but about what we're going to do." But this ignores the fact that there is not now, nor will there likely be in the foreseeable future, broad international support for regime change in Baghdad. The two honest ways to resolve this problem are to privilege regime change above international consensus--while trying, as the Bush administration has, to pressure and cajole as many allies as possible to go along--or to forego regime change in the name of solidarity without our allies. Instead, Gore swore fealty to both regime change and international consensus, while refusing to acknowledge the conflict between the two. The closest he came was a suggestion that "if the [Security] Council will not provide such language [authorizing force], then other choices remain open." But would Gore support those "other choices," i.e., war? From his San Francisco
speech, you wouldn't know.

Yes, it's this unwillingness to take a position -- and too-obvious positioning to blame Bush if things go wrong -- that renders Gore, and many other Democrats (with the exception of some, like Zell Miller, John Edwards, and Joe Lieberman) so embarrassingly inadequate to the debate. It's opportunism, pure and simple. And it's the transparent and self-defeating opportunism of someone who has memorized the rulebook, but who doesn't understand the game.