August 13, 2005

"A Democratic president would have been at most a year behind the Bush Administration’s track in the War on Terror."

So writes Austin Bay. What do you think? If Gore had won in '00, would he not have gone on the offensive the way Bush did? And all you people who despise Bush, what would you be saying now if Gore had been President all these years and had taken the same approach to national security? If you can perform this mental exercise honestly and see that you would approve of the things you now disapprove, you ought to consider yourself too partisan. I'd certainly say you are.

If you think I'm just jerking you around and being a Republican political partisan, remember that I voted for Gore in 2000. I've thought all along that Gore would have done basically the same thing Bush did.

Bay's piece is commenting on this interview with Christopher Hitchens. An excerpt:
Q - Your much-discussed separation from the American left began shortly after the September 11 attacks. What prompted your displeasure with the left?

A - The September 11 attacks were one of those rare historical moments, like 1933 in Germany or 1936 in Spain or 1968, when you are put in a position to take a strong stand for what is right. The left failed this test. Instead of strongly standing against these nihilistic murderers, people on the left, such as Noam Chomsky, began to make excuses for these murderers, openly saying that Bin ladin was, however crude in his methods, in some ways voicing a liberation theology. This is simply a moral and political collapse.

But its not only that. It’s a missed opportunity for the left. Think of it this way: If a group of theocratic nihilists drive planes full of human beings into buildings full of human beings announcing nothing by way of a program except their nihilism and if they turn out to have been sheltered by two regimes favored by the United States and the national security establishment, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia to be precise, two of only three countries to recognize the Taliban, and if Republicans were totally taken by surprise by this and if the working class of New York had to step forward and become the shield of society in the person of the fire and police brigades, it seemed to me that this would have been a good opportunity for the left to demand a general revision of all the assumptions we carried about the post cold war world. We were attacked by a religious dictatorship and the working class were pushed into defending elites by the total failure of our leadership and total failure of our intelligence. The attack emanated partly from the failure of regimes supported by that same elite national security establishment– Pakistan and Saudi Arabia. If the left can’t take advantage of a moment like that: whats it for? whats its secularism for? Whats its internationalism, class attitude, democracy for?
That's brilliantly well put. Much more at the link.


Mark Daniels said...

"What if?" games are momentarily interesting, but ultimately pointless.

After the war in Vietnam had become terribly unpopular, the acolytes of President Kennedy argued, for example, that had he remained in office, he would have withdrawn forces from Vietnam, rather than increasing their numbers as Lyndon Johnson did. Dave Powers and Kenny O'Donnell make this argument in 'Johnny, We Hardly Knew Ye,' for example.

The problem with this and any other "What if?" argument is that you can make a definitive pronouncement and there is nothing to prove you wrong...or right.

I voted for Bush in 2000. But like you, I don't think that Gore would have reacted much differently in responding to the attacks of September 11, 2001 than Bush did when he sent troops into Afghanistan. Who, with any degree of sense would have reacted much differently, irrespective of ideology?

Of course, where this "What if?" game would get interesting--though fruitlessly so--is whether Gore would have invaded Iraq? Would he have seen such an attack as another theater in the war on terrorists? We don't know the answers to those questions, even though we may have our suppositions.

Art said...

The great unanswered question about a Gore administration is what would his reaction have been when Richard Clarke came into the office "with his hair on fire.?"
If, in response, Gore had ordered battle stations to the FBI and other federal agencies, would they have reacted differently to the reports in the Phoenix and Minneapolis offices?
Would the 9-11 plot, which was not going smoothly, have been disrupted?

Without 9-11, it's hard to see how we would have wound up in Afghanistan or Iraq.

Ron said...

Mark, I disagree with you to the extent that such speculation is 'ultimately pointless.' I feel it is not, because many of the players/attitudes/belief systems are still around and in play. Would Ms. Clinton act like a Gore or a Bush in a similar situation, if she were to become POTUS? This is not a pointless speculation, and exercises like this are the tea leaves we have to read to possibly answer such questions.

Ann Althouse said...

Art: I think you're avoiding the hypothetical. Assume 9/11 happens and Gore is President: then what?

Art said...

In that event, my prediction would be he would have invaded Afghanistan on pretty much the same timetable as Bush did.
I doubt he would have invaded Iraq. He likely would have continued the bombing of strategic targets which began during the Clinton administration.
The invasion of Iraq required such a twisting of intelligence that only a group with an extremely tight ideological core such as Cheney et. al. could have hung in there and pulled it off.
Saddam would still be in power and the sanctions stalemate would have continued.
At some point Saddam would have died. I suspect the military would use that as a chance to depose whichever of his sons took over....and likely would have succeeded.
I think that's about as far as I want to go.

Here's another question. Had Gore not diverted resources to Iraq, would we have captured Osama?
I'm not sure. I think the odds would have been better but nothing comes easily in that part of the world.

leeontheroad said...

My supposition is that 9/11 still would have happened; the US would still have invaded Afghanistan, and thst the US would not have invaded Iraq in spring 2003-- had Al Gore been President. Here's why.

After the federal cooperation (and c.y.a.-ing) imemdiate post-9/11, the same old right-wing canard about not trusting "the left" (not that Gore is actually a leftist, but he is to the left of Repub congressfolks) with a war would have ensured greater oversight and probably less rubber stamping on spending targeted for Afghanistan. That would have meant, I beleive, that the Pres. and Sec Defense could not have diverted huge funds to lay so much concrete etc. in Kuwait and other staging areas for the Iraq invasion. Also, the adminsitraton may not have sought the war plan the Bush adminsitration did. These two would have at least delayed US ability to conduct a ground invasion. (It is also difficult to know if Turkey would have been approached and/or been more cooperative, allowing the northern route the actual 2003 invasion was denied. Turkey was reticent for its own internal reasons.)

Further, with the economy still sluggish in early 2003, I also think the Dem base would have been working toward increasing (or continuing)domestic spending (in the form either of fianlly approving tax cuts not passed in 2002 OR through direct spending); the usual partisan sniping likely would have had Repub operatives all over cable news descrying the state of the economy and getting folks (more) worked up about it than some folks were in the 2004 election cycle.

On the interbational scene, neocons still would have sought out the Iraq invasion. A Gore adminsitration would have been dancing more with the UN and IAEA. This last may or may not have meant inspectors determined there was no WMD before military involvement increased; but the Congress in spring 2003 still likely would not have accepted those findings-- given that both Dem and Repub admin.'s since 1991 have had a regime change policy. And the same folks who (with basis) find the UN ineffective would have marshalled the arguments they do. Of course, since we know Oil-for-Food was a great corrupt cash cow, UN members had an under-the-table incentive to maintain status quo.

Back to DC: Overall, an analysis of US opportunity cost would I think have limited deficit war spending, but not all deficit spending. The Dem motivation for this would have been its usual predominantly domestic focus, and the Repub basis for this would have been to "restrain spending of Democrats" (ignoring that Congress approves allocations). In other words, a Dem adminsitration with a Repub congress woud have been more reticient about invading Iraq; and the Congress would have been more fiscally conservative than it has been, when it now can and has passed just about everything its wanted to, to likely fiscal detriment, in my mind.

It is likely, however, that-- absent an ongoing war in Iraq-- Gore would have been a one-term President. Many of the forces that led to Bush's re-election still would have been in place, Islamo-facist terrorism would still have involved bombings in Bali, Madrid and other places that make Americans etc. more nervous than bombings in Israel, Egypt, and Asia. North Korea would still be a problem. Again, domestic spending on homeland security, necessary if not effective changes in the national intelligence stucture, and and a host of other kinds of spending might still have rid us of supposed surplus, etc. So I think in 2004 a coalition of voters seeking either or both a more hawkish candidate or one perceived to be more fiscally prudent would have come to the fore in 2004. It probably would have been GWB, because the 200 election had been so close, and most (openly) moderates can't seem to get through the primaries.

Many events in 2003 would have been different, but it's never the case, no matter which party's talking points get more traction, that the President alone can control th national and especially international events to which we seek the President to respond.

Contributors said...

Art: "The invasion of Iraq required such a twisting of intelligence that only a group with an extremely tight ideological core such as Cheney et. al. could have hung in there and pulled it off."

The Clinton admin was adamantly convinced Saddam had WMD and would need to be removed. The UN, France, German, and Russia, were convinced Saddam had WMD.

It seems pointless to read past that line of your post because upon reading it one knows you have no respect for the facts.

I'm convinced Gore would've removed the Taliban. And knowing what Bush knew before the Iraq invasion it's hard to imagine Gore NOT going into Iraq.

And sometimes I wish Gore had won in 2000. I think he'd have realized that democratizing the Middle East was a moral way to defeat terrorism and keep us safe -- I think he'd be doing what Bush is doing -- but I think the left and their allies in the media would be behind us instead of against us. And that would help the war effort.

The only reason the left and their allies in the media want us to lose is because they want to regain power. If they had the power they'd behave like patriots again.

And I have no doubt Republicans would've backed this war had Gore waged it. WWII and Vietnam and Kosovo back that up.

Robert Holmgren said...

Gore, like Bush, would've relied heavily on the advice of his military and intelligence advisors. According to Bob Woodward's account of deliberations, much of the planning was the work of George Tenent who was a holdover from the previous administration. The military leadership would also be largely the same. Democrats tout the advice of Gen. Shinseki, but this only has to do with Iraq. Decisions this large tend to have strong bi-partisan support or they don't happen. Consider the results of the Iraq vote in the House and Senate.

dick said...

Given what we know of Gore's personality, I think he would have attacked Afghanistan. At that point he would have taken polls to see what to do next and the balance of his presidency would have worked that way. The man was so poll driven that he really had no backbone without a poll telling him what to do. I can't see that we would have accomplished one tenth of what has been done in Afghanistan under a Gore presidency. The man just does not have it in him to stay the course.

I think the same would have been true with Kerry as well. Neither one has an inkling of an underlying belief system with regard to policy. Both would have just shifted with the wind whichever way their LLL backers had selected.

Ann Althouse said...

Dick: 9/11 dramatically changed Bush's conception of his presidency and would probably have changed Gore's. Gore, like Bush, would have focused on what needed to be done.

Beth said...

I too believe Gore would not have hesitated in attacking Afghanistan. Putting aside Chomsky, who actually does not speak for the bulk of people who stand left of center--I keep him relegated to linguistics in my mind; otherwise, he's absolutely intolerable--there's very little argument against our right and obligation to pursue the terrorists who planned and executed 9/11, and that's where the trail led.

I don't think Gore would have then gone into Iraq. It's no use trying to satisfy you, Harry, I realize that. There's no point in arguing, because it's degenerated to "did too!" and "did not!" The question is what would Gore have done, and he wouldn't have invaded Iraq. Had he, I wouldn't have supported it, for the same reasons I don't support Bush's decision. I'm reacting to the facts, not the man in the office.

The thing with this "great, unanswered question" is that it's nothing of the kind. You know exactly what Hitchens will say in answer because it's purely a rhetorical question for him. It's based on the presumption that the left is just mindlessly anti-war, while the right is sober, noble and contemplative--not partisan at all! Sure.

Bruce Hayden said...

Art said:

"The invasion of Iraq required such a twisting of intelligence that only a group with an extremely tight ideological core such as Cheney et. al. could have hung in there and pulled it off."

Others have pointed out that this overstates the situation.

"Saddam would still be in power and the sanctions stalemate would have continued."

This is the big place where I disagree. The problem was that the sanctions were rapidly losing support, much, as we learned after the invasion of Iraq, due to the massive bribes being diverted from the "Oil For Food" program. The French, in particular, being the most heavily bribed, were starting to openly question the sanctions. But we were also losing Russian support, possibly for similar reasons.

What cannot be ignored I think is the effect that sanctions failing would have had on the geopolitical situation, and, in particular, the WoT. Their failure would have emboldened Saddam Hussein to a very great extent. He would appear to have been vindicated in resisting us, and become, IMHO, the hero of the Islamic Middle East.

You also need to factor in that part of the reason for OBL in Afghanistan (and 9/11) was stated to be that we had all those infidel troops in the Islamic Holy Lands - to support those sanctions and the southern No-Fly zone. This worked against us in two ways. First, it justified the OBL's of the world. And secondly, it increased the pressure to remove the sanctions (and, thus, the No-Fly Zones).

Bruce Hayden said...

I agree that Al Gore would probably have done very similarly in Afghanistan. The problem is, obviously, Iraq.

I don't think he would have invaded because it would have run counter to what appears to me to be the liberal, and, more importantly, Clinton era, theory opposing the use of military force for furthering our national self interest, esp. if an argument can be made that the self interest is economic. Rather, Clinton seemed to only be really comfortable using military force when our national self interest was not really involved.

The problem here is that there is a lot of oil in Iraq, and many of those on the left have felt that any use of military force in furtherence of the economic self interest of this country is illegitimate. I don't see Al Gore being much different here.

Bruce Hayden said...

Let me add to my last point that I truly don't believe that oil really factored into the Bush Administration's decision to invade Iraq, despite all the propoganda on the left to the contrary. In other words, I think that this is a problem that the left faces when going to war that the right doesn't really consider.

Robert Holmgren said...

The Gore we know now isn't the Gore that was a senator, vice president nor presidential candidate. Bitterness seems to have radicalized him such that he's adopted positions he had never voiced. Positions that would have caused the election to be decided decisively for Bush. Had Gore won he wouldn't have consulted Michael Moore for advice.

dick said...

I really don't see how you figure that out, Bob. The man spent his whol campaign asking everyone and his brother what he should do. The difference between Gore and Bush IMNSHO is that Gore is far too insecure to carry through a plan to completion. He would start and then beg for help in making up his mind. That is his MO. That is why I cannot agree with Ann that Gore's change after 9/11 would mirror Bush's change. Gore just does not have the gumption to carry things through. He never has had. Do you think he would have a total transplant of his personality as a result of 9/11? That is what it would take. Bush and his presidency changed after 9/11 but the essential Bush did not. He carried through in the classroom in Florida just as he did later. He did what had to be done to make the country follow him. I just do not see Gore doing that in any way shape or form.

Contributors said...

It's impossible to imagine that with Gore being told what Bush was, Gore wouldn't have gone into Iraq moritifed at the thought of Saddam giving al-Queda WMD.

Yes, Gore was poll-bound but it would take a near psychopath to ignore the threat Iraq seemed to pose ACCORDING TO EVERY INTELLIGENCE AGENCY IN THE WORLD.

I just can't bring myself to think ill enough of Gore to think he would've done nothing about Iraq after being told what Bush was. After being part of the administration that passed a resolution calling for regime change.

Al Gore would've taken his oath seriously to first protect America. The only way to honor that oath is to democratize the Middle East. Gore would've figured that out and done his duty.

chuck b. said...

A very hard game! First of all, I think Gore would have lobbed a few cruise missiles into Afganistan right away for sure (like Clinton did in Africa). It seemed like weeks and weeks before Bush took action there but that could be wrong. We know special forces were on the ground right away. I think Gore would have taken forces in there eventually, just as Bush did.

Gore would also have had Lieberman around. He's been pretty quiet, but sometimes I wish Lieberman was prosecuting the war right now. He alone on the Democrat side seems to possess what Natan Sharansky calls "moral clarity". That, coupled with aggressive, assertive competence is what's needed now. Bush has the moral clarity down cold, but it's the competence I worry about.

Who else would Gore have around him? I can barely remember the names of the big Clintonistas. There'd be no Cheney, no Condi, no Rummy. He'd have Albright, and who else?

Would Gore have gone to Iraq? If so, would he have focused on WMDs as the reason why? Would he have played the long, global game, or called it a day in Afganistan and been done w/ war. Back to negotiations. Back to propping up dictators. Hard to say.

If Gore had gone to Iraq, would he have gone through the United Nations, or NATO?
Gore would have been conflicted. Lieberman saying yes to Iraq and Barbara Mikulski saying no. She's one of his best personal and political friends & I don't know what her position on Iraq is or was. Just pontificating.

Gore's situtation would be a lot like Tony Blair's is today. His own party ready to mutiny, the other party's offer of tepid support. I don't think the neocon arguments driving the outcome of 9/11 now would have found any purchase in a Gore administration. So maybe Gore would have called it a day in Afganistan.

Still, if he'd gone to Iraq too, I like to think Gore would reach out to the Iraqi people more than Bush does--on radio shows and what not. He would implore the Iraqis to consider the histories of countries whose people adhere to the folly of ethnic strife and division. Gore would describe the American Civil War and its aftermath, and how we still live with its lessons every day whether we realize it or not. History gave the Iraqis a rare gift. Freedom and independence after a short, relatively painless war. The value of that cannot be estimated. Gore would point that out to them, over and over and ask them to decide what htey want for their kids.

Looking from my rose-tinted glasses, such appeals for calm, reason, and noble sacrifice would work! Kum-Bay-Ya!

Joseph Angier said...

Re Christopher Hitchen's latest: Enough already with the specter of Noam Chomsky ... the world's longest running straw man for the 'why I had to leave the left' crowd. Out of the hundreds (thousands) of people I know and I've met who've been critical of the war in Iraq, I've yet to meet one - not one - who's expressed, in any way, shape or form, the slightest sympathy for the beliefs and and/or actions of any Islamic terrorists - including, but not limited to, Osama bin laden. Please Mr. Hitchens ... I was just one of many in my circle who actually watched the twin towers collapse... who knew people who perished there. Do you imagine there's any one in that group who's ever felt the need to "understand" the concerns of those killers? Who've tried to imagine that there was some legitimate grievances, however twisted, behind those murders?

I know that Chomsky and his bash-America-first crowd present a tempting target, but you could put them all together in a synagogue, and you wouldn't even have a minyan ... they don't represent what are referred to as "anti-war types." You ask what we all think might have happened if Gore was President on 9/11. I can't imagine any US leader not making an immediate move on the fetid swamp of Afghanistan. As for Iraq? I've heard many credible arguments advanced supporting the invasion of Iraq ... some by Hitchens himself. So was this, in Althouse's phrase, "what needed to be done" ... and would have been done by a President Gore? Maybe. But I can't imagine any other hypothetical President pursuing the war in Iraq with such lethal and arrogant incompetence as I've seen from the Bush administration.

knox said...

I think Gore would have gone into Afghanistan, but I don't think he would have defied the UN and gone into Iraq.

Basically Hitchens is right: if you consider yourself a liberal and you aren't in favor of what the war effort stands against--whether it's the brutal dictatorship of Saddam's Iraq or the religious extremism of the Taliban--then you've lost it.

I'm not a leftist, so I don't really go for all the class strife he bases his arguments around--the "working class" vs the elites, etc... but leftists do, so his challenge to them is very compelling in that sense.

Unknown said...

First, some of Gore's own words on the subject to narrow the need for speculation a bit:

“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.
We know that he has stored secret supplies of biological and chemical weapons throughout his country.”
Al Gore, Former Clinton Vice-President
Speech to San Francisco Commonwealth Club
September 23, 2002,12271,797999,00.html

Al Gore said last night that the time had come for a “final reckoning” with Iraq, describing the country as a “virulent threat in a class by itself” and suggesting that the United States should consider ways to oust Saddam Hussein.
The New York Times
Gore, Championing Bush, Calls For a ‘Final Reckoning’ With Iraq
February 13, 2002"

My base assumption is that any person serving as President of the United States on September 11, 2001 would have been incredibly effected by those attacks. Be it Gore, Bush, or anyone else (except possibly Jimmy Carter) who is not an Islamist, the impact would have reshaped - and rightfully so - their world view. I think it is safe to assume the quotes above emanated in general from the effects felt by Gore over 9/11.

Gore would have gone into Afghanistan, and would have wanted to go into Iraq. I think the timeframes and strategies might have been different than what was chosen by Bush, but if up to Gore, the US would have invaded both Afghanistan and Iraq in time. Given the intelligence available at the time I, for one, would have questioned his sanity and demanded Gore's impeachment had he not.

The anti-Bush's_War effort would not exist as we know it today fueled by their hatred of Bush the presumed presidential usurper. Instead the much, much smaller core anti-war crowd that is always there would be biting at the ankles of Gore, but would not be real factor given the prevailing intelligence at the time on Iraq.

Anonymous said...

basing the left's reaction on chomsky is nearly as pointless as going thru the gore what-ifs.

if i remember right, the leftist pinko's in congress rolled over when presented with going to war w/ iraq...