Sullivan has been saying a 2002 Gore Administration would have pushed for a full scale Iraq war as well:
I guess my sense is that Gore opposed the Iraq war in part out of bitterness. If you look at Gore’s record – and at TNR, I was hardly unaware of it – it was full of extreme vigilance about Saddam, willingness to use military force for moral ends (as in Bosnia), and completely conventional neo-con views on the Middle East. I can absolutely see him going to war against Saddam if goaded sufficiently. Maybe he would have been persuaded by the intelligence that we didn’t actually have the goods on WMDs; maybe his hawkishness would have waned in office as it did in opposition. But knowing Gore, I stick with my point. In office, I suspect he would have been much closer to my position on invasion at the time than he was.
A truly baffling conclusion. Does Sullivan believe that a Gore Administration would have:
- trusted intelligence that even Bush’s Secretary of State called shaky at best
- ignored Ambassador Joe Wilson’s debunking of yellow cake sales
- sought to smear and expose Valerie Plame as a CIA operative
- deemed an occupation of Iraq as trustworthy
- told us a war in Iraq would be quick and inexpensive.
- reacted more favorable to gamed national security briefings with religious quotes
- adopted a neo-con centered “Gore doctrine”
- ignored the staggering diplomatic, human and financial costs of two perpetual, unilateral military occupations in two different countries
- disregarded a nation spiraling into debt as nations do when they fight wars
- made Vice President Joe Lieberman de facto Commander in Chief
I highly doubt it. And when Sullivan says a post 9/11 Gore would have sought to attackIraq, he ignores that all these things were done by the Bush Administration leading up to the Iraq war being engaged at the same time and detriment to the war in Afghanistan. The TNR characterization of Gore’s public opposition to the George W. Bush Administration’s invasion of Iraq, in his own words on September 23, 2002.
The Course of Action: The War on Terrorism, First
To begin with – to put first things first – I believe we should focus our efforts first and foremost against those who attacked us on September 11th and who have thus far gotten away with it. The vast majority of those who sponsored, planned and implemented the cold-blooded murder of more than 3,000 Americans are still at large, still neither located nor apprehended, much less punished and neutralized. I do not believe that we should allow ourselves to be distracted from this urgent task simply because it is proving to be more difficult and lengthy than was predicted. Great nations persevere and then prevail. They do not jump from one unfinished task to another. We should remain focused on the war against terrorism.
Gore, and President Clinton were constantly monitoring Saddam, but he wasn’t advocating prioritizing a unilateral invasion of Iraq over dealing with the terrorist group Al Qaeda. The “conventional neo-con view” was built around the central tenets of the Bush Doctrine: unitary executive, unilateral preemptive war and exporting democracy through military occupation. Gore’s remarks specifically speak out against these three things. This is not a disagreement based on bitterness. He may have been sour grapes, but he was dead on with his substantive rejection of the Bush Doctrine plan for war. This is the position Sullivan was close to in 2002/2003.
The Gore is just sour grapes meme sounds like classic Bush White House messaging circa 2002. Many liberals as well as almost all conservatives ate it up. They were wrong. Gore is arguing from an executive “if I were in charge of this country” mindset. The main question Gore tried to answer “At What Cost”. TNR and Sullivan scoffed, Bolton style, at the worth of international opinion in determining our allies willingness to follow the Bush Doctrine.
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.
Its odd that these principled folks on the TNR editorial board and a true conservative like Sullivan all ignored the part of Gore’s speech where he outlined a key reason the war in Iraq would damage the war on terrorism. Its something a good executive would think about. Cost. Gore clearly outlined that in point four of five high key differences between the invasion of 1991 vs. Bush’s proposed invasion in 2002.
Fourth, the coalition assembled in 1991 paid all of the significant costs of the war, while this time, the American taxpayers will be asked to shoulder hundreds of billions of dollars in costs on our own.[…]
much as we manage to squander in one year’s time the largest budget surpluses in history and convert them into massive fiscal deficits.
Gore shared a list of key reason with the TNR editors, Sullivan and anyone who would actually listen. Cost. Nothing costs a nation more money and blood than war. We were already in the middle of one war, albeit internationally supported. Gore made the simple case: if we actually go to war in Iraq, we will undergo that war on our own and may give European nations a way out of the war in Afghanistan.
What would have remained the same? Tony Blair would have supported an invasion of Iraq on the same cooked up, flimsy intelligence. He has said as much then and now, so I take him at his word. Sullivan voted Bush vs Gore on personality, he admits, while embracing a record of professional failures versus Gore’s career political record as a centrist Democratic legislator and Vice President. That’s fine. Sullivan was had. But he wasn’t had by Bush’s jocular rhetoric. He was had by his own personal bias against anything Clinton/Gore. TNR and Sullivan established a simple equation to justify thei: If a bad guy has a scent of WMD’s, we must go to war. This is a false choice.
Sullivan said that Gore’s address on 9/23/2002 speech proved Gore was just objecting out of bitterness:
[Gore] is a pure opportunist, with no consistency in his political views on foreign or domestic policy. He’ll say whatever he thinks will get him power or attention or votes. How else to explain his sudden U-turn on Iraq? Two years ago, he was demanding that “Saddam must go“. Seven months ago, he was calling for a “final reckoning” with Iraq, a state that was a “virulent threat in a class by itself.” Now, with Saddam far closer to weapons of mass destruction, Gore is happy to see Saddam stay in place.
When did Gore say a “final reckoning”? Before the CFR, seven months earlier with the following caveats regarding attacking Iraq.
So this time, if we resort to force, we must absolutely get it right. It must be an action set up carefully and on the basis of the most realistic concepts. Failure cannot be an option, which means that we must be prepared to go the limit. And wishful thinking based on best-case scenarios or excessively literal transfers of recent experience to different conditions would be a recipe for disaster.
But still, the question remains – what next? Is Iran under the hard-liners less of a proliferation threat than Iraq? Or less involved with terrorism? If anything, Iran is at this moment a much more dangerous challenge in each area than Iraq. Iran is flight-testing longer range rockets. Iran has loaded up at least one merchant ship with a cargo of death for Israel.
The vast majority of the Iranian people seem to disagree with the policies and actions of the small group of mullahs now in control of their military and intelligence apparatus. We have to deal with that nation’s actions as they take place. In the process, however, we should find ways to encourage the majority who obviously wish to develop a more constructive relationship with us.
Gore did say that “Saddam must go”. He regretted that Saddam was not removed from power during or after Desert Storm. Gore was not happy to see Saddam stay in place. Gore even re-voiced his support for repeated bombing of Saddam’s military interests to cripple his war time capability. But to say he would have launched a full scale war while waging another war in Afghanistan is a dishonest oversimplification of his September 2002 position. Gore wasn’t opposed to aggression against Saddam, he was opposed to a full invasion and occupation of Iraq while we fought a war in Afghanistan which required an executive to build an international coalition to support comprehensive anti-terrorism strategies.
He was opposed to launching headlong into a war in the circumstances of 2002. It became increasingly evident hearing the rhetoric coming from the Bush Administration they wanted war in Iraq regardless of how dangerous Saddam really was and how important it was to keep our military and intelligence operations focused on Iraq Afghanistan.
Even as Sullivan cheers the Green Revolution today, he ignores the fact that Gore had some basic understanding of the nuanced and strained relationship between the Iranian Mullahs and its majority Shiite populace further support 2002 Gore having an understanding that there were dire consequences if we inserted the U.S. between Saddam, the Iranian Mullahs and their citizenries as the occupier of Iraq. The Bush Administration said it would be cheap and quick. Gore understood an Iraq invasion would necessarily mean more than just getting the bad guys. Bush and his Administration did not. The Bush Administration said we will win hearts and minds of Muslims throughout the world by bombing two predominantly Muslim countries.
Gore may have been bitter, but he laid out both his prerequisites for congressional approval of a full scale armed conflict with Iraq and later his case against the Bush Administrations invasion of Iraq in clear terms. He was right in standard and in opposition. It was the bitter taste from Gore’s public personality that led Sullivan and TNR to try and wash it down with a nice long drink of Crawford Cowboy Kool-Aid. They were wrong to support Iraq and were back patting each other in the middle of a massive political pro-Bush group think.
Sometimes a little bitterness is what we need.