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Would Al Gore have gone to war?

By Eric Ruder and Lance Selfa | October 3, 2003 | Page 7

WOULD AL Gore have declared war on Iraq if he were in the White House in place of the commander-in-thief, George W. Bush? Many people in the antiwar movement accept the assumption that Gore would have pursued a kinder, gentler foreign policy.

This has become a touchstone for those who believe that the overriding task for antiwar activists must be to drive Bush out of office in 2004, by electing his Democratic opponent. Given the arrogance and recklessness of Bush's foreign policy, this assumption is understandable.

And news reports last year of a well-publicized Gore speech that questioned Bush's drive to war may have helped to cement the impression. Mainstream media stories portrayed Gore's address as a denunciation of Bush's "go-it-alone, cowboy-type reaction to foreign affairs."

But closer attention to Gore's words reveals a different picture. For example, Gore argued that last year's congressional resolution authorizing a war on Iraq should have been "narrowed."

"Nevertheless," he added, "all Americans should acknowledge that Iraq does, indeed, pose a serious threat to the stability of the Persian Gulf region, and we should be about the business of organizing an international coalition to eliminate his access to weapons of mass destruction."

Gore also criticized the war on Iraq because it might "seriously damage our ability to win the war against terrorism and...weaken our ability to lead the world in this new century." In other words, Gore didn't oppose a war in Iraq in principle.

Rather, he urged Bush to build a bigger coalition, have a good plan for a postwar Iraq, and focus on al-Qaeda and Osama bin Laden before dealing with Saddam Hussein. These criticisms of Bush mirrored the noises coming at that time from Republicans--like George Bush Sr.'s advisers James Baker and Brent Scowcroft.

In a recent article in Foreign Affairs, Madeleine Albright--the secretary of state under the Clinton-Gore administration--followed the same pattern of criticizing Bush on tactics, only to say that she supported the basic thrust of his policy. "I remain convinced that had Al Gore been elected president, and had the attacks of September 11 still happened," Albright wrote, "the United States and NATO would have gone to war in Afghanistan together, then deployed forces all around the country and stayed to rebuild it."

In other words, launch the same war on Afghanistan that Bush did--at the cost of thousands of lives of innocent Afghanis. In the case of the war on Iraq, Albright says that Gore would have "concluded that a war against Iraq, although justifiable, was not essential in the short term to protect U.S. security."

But she later adds that she "personally felt the war was justified on the basis of Saddam's decade long refusal to comply with UN Security Council resolutions on [weapons of mass destruction]"--the same rationale that Bush originally gave for the war. Albright even says, "I credit Bush for his ambition and for taking political risks he did not have to take."

Albright's praise for Bush's decision to go to war on Iraq is not surprising. The decision to seek "regime change" was first made part of U.S. policy when Bill Clinton signed the 1998 Iraq Liberation Act.

Throughout the 1990s, the Clinton administration attempted to foment coups against Saddam Hussein. And of course, the Clinton-Gore administration's genocidal policy of enforcing sanctions on Iraq took the lives of more than 1 million people, mostly children.

Albright notoriously defended this policy when asked whether the embargo against Iraq was worth such a terrible loss of life. "The price, we think, is worth it," she said.

The Bush Doctrine of pre-emptive war may represent a new departure for U.S. foreign policy. But this has more to do with how the U.S. government responded to the September 11 attacks than whether Bush or Gore was in the White House.

Nor does the Bush Doctrine represent as radical a break with the past as liberal Democrats would like us to imagine. That's because the Democrats are just as committed to the goal of projecting American economic, political and military power around the globe.

And given the Bush administration's combination of overconfidence and clumsiness, the Democrats may represent the better advocate for U.S. imperialism in the present climate--working in a more collaborative way with other world powers in pursuit of U.S. interests.

Throughout the 20th century, Democratic presidents started every major U.S. wars--except for the first war on Iraq. While many in the antiwar movement concede some of these facts, some are willing to look the other way when it comes to the question of supporting a Democratic presidential candidate against Bush in 2004.

This isn't only a mistake that will be made on Election Day. It can also have damaging consequences for building an opposition to U.S. militarism. Clinton's ability to sell his overseas adventures with the rhetoric of "humanitarian intervention" depended in part on the support he won from those had long records of opposing U.S. military interventions. We shouldn't let history repeat itself in the 2004 elections.

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