THURSDAY, JUNE 3, 2004
GORE ON WAR (PART 2): On September 23, 2002, Al Gore discussed the proposed war in Iraq at San Franciscos Commonwealth Club (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 6/2/04). Roughly halfway through his speech, the former veep noted a fact he called troubling. Despite the high political season, President Bush was seeking a quick vote from the Congress, a vote which would give him authority to wage war on Iraq. Eleven years earlier, Gore recalled, Bushs father had done things quite differently. Back in 1991, Gore said, President George H. W. Bush purposely waited until after the mid-term elections of 1990 in order to push for a vote at the beginning of the new Congress in January of 1991. President George W. Bush, by contrast, is pushing for a vote in this Congress immediately before the election. That wasnt inherently wrong, Gore said. But he noted the way Bush was pummeling Dems on the trail. Rather than making efforts to dispel concerns that he was playing politics, the president is on the campaign trail two and three days a week, Gore said, often publicly taunting Democrats with the political consequences of a no vote. Gore explained the problem with this approach. Many pundits would probably agree with the points Gore made. Welltheyd probably agree with them now:
GORE: I believe this proposed foreshortening of deliberation in the Congress robs the country of the time it needs for careful analysis of exactly what may lie before us. Such consideration is all the more important because the administration has failed thus far to lay out an assessment of how it thinks the course of a war will runeven while it has given free run to persons both within and close to the administration to suggest at every opportunity that this will be a pretty easy matter. And it may well be, but the administration has not said much of anything to clarify its idea of what would follow regime change or the degree of engagement that it is prepared to accept for the United States in Iraq in the months and years after a regime change has taken place.Were engaged in a hasty deliberation, Gore said. And we havent been told what will happen after regime change occurs in Iraq. By now, many pundits would probably agree with the thrust of these pointsif they werent told it was Gore who had made them. Indeed, the New York Times is now beating its breast, apologizing for its careless work in September 2002, even as Gore was delivering this speech. And all of your pundits know to pretend that theyll do it all differently next time.
Yes, even as the Times rushed ahead, Gore was warning against a foreshortened deliberation. Readers, who could fail to think of noble Nestor, the seasoned charioteer, as he cautioned Agamemnon against hasty judgment? We think Professor Fagles has it just about right in his piquant 1990 translation:
NESTOR (The Iliad, 9:80):The troops hung on his words and took his orders, Homer says. But that feast wasnt spread out in 2002. Congress stampeded into a voteand scribes typed the claims of our heroes in error. Two years later, we wring our hands over some of the hasty workand over the lack of planning for post-war Iraq. But noble Nestorexcuse us, Al Gorewarned about this in real time:
GORE: I just think that if we end the war in Iraq the way we ended the war in Afghanistan, we could very well be worse off than we are today. When you ask the administration about this, whats their intention in the aftermath of a war, Secretary Rumsfeld was asked recently about what our responsibility would be for re-stabilizing Iraq in the aftermath of an invasion, and his answer was, Thats for the Iraqis to come together and decide.Why, he even was pointing to Rumsfeld! In retrospect, Gores questions about post-war planning fell under the heading of good sound advice. Indeed, he said the Congress should force the Admin to explain its plans for post-war Iraq. Anticipating that the president will probably still move toward unilateral action, the Congress should establish now what the administrations thinking is regarding the aftermath of a U.S. attack, he said. Many pundits wring their handsnowabout the lack of post-war planning. But good sound advice was offered then about the hasty move toward war.
Readers are free to read or listen to Gores address, which covered many points of concern. (Days before, Bush had introduced the new preemption doctrine; Gore spent a good chunk of time on that.) Meanwhile, readers will note that Gore didnt speak as a dove when it came to Iraq. It would be unwise to attack Iraq in the way Bush was proposing, he said. Nevertheless, 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 said. Indeed, the former veep assumed that Saddam did have secret supplies of biological weapons and chemical weapons on hand in Iraq. But he found no sign of an immediate threat to the U.S. or to U.S. interests, and he said the United States should proceed with the unfinished war against al Qaeda. I believe that we 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, he said. He said that our all-important war on al Qaeda might be damaged by hasty action in Iraqhasty action which flew in the face of world opinion. We need international cooperation to wage the war against al Qaeda, Gore insisted. And heres one of my central points; our ability to secure that kind of multilateral cooperation in the war against terrorism can be severely damaged in the way we go about undertaking unilateral action against Iraq.
Was Gore right in that concern? Different observers will judge different waysand Gore addressed many other matters. But many pundits would agreenowthat Gore was right in one central claim. We were rushing toward a decision, he said, without a plan for post-war Iraq. All pundits know to agree with thatnow. But can you guess they way they reacted to this good sound advice two years back?
TOMORROW: A brilliant pundit wanted to know: Why did Gores hair look so funny?
IFILL KNOWS SCRIPTS: Last week, all good pundits were wringing their hands, deeply troubled by press corps bungling in the run-up to war in Iraq. And every good pundit knew something else too; every good pundit knew what to say when Gore gave his speech to MoveOn.org. Gore is insane, conservatives said, making a nasty joke of your discourse (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 6/2/04). Mainstream pundits were far more thoughtful. Gore was too loud, they all said.
Of course, as weve noted, Gores lengthy speech was quite low-key, except for a few fleeting moments when he called for Admin resignations. On several shows, this created a comical situation, in which pundits complained that Gore had holleredeven as producers played clips in which the ex-veep could barely be heard. Last week, we chuckled as CNNs Soledad OBrien was caught in this awkward situation. I think its fair to use the word rant, she pleasingly said about Gores speechand then her producer played a clip so calm that she was forced to take notice (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 5/28/04). But this fate also befell Gwen Ifill as she pondered Gores speech on Washington Week. Ifill knew she should say that Gore had hollered; after all, Maureen had said the same thing just that morning. But when Ifills producer played a clip, she too had to splain it away:
IFILL: We heard Al Gore come out this week with a speech in which he took the far-left view point of view about this. Lets, lets listen to this salvo from Al Gore:In fact, the rest of the speech was almost wholly low-key, just like the clip which Ifill played. For the record, Ifill also said that Gore had taken the far-left viewalthough the same views had been expressed days earlier by Anthony Zinni, a retired Republican general who says he may still vote for Bush. Its almost impossible to comprehend or convey the poverty of this groups discourse.
But so what? On The Beltway Boys, the same amusement occurred. The boys were troubled by Gores red-faced tirade. But maybe Fred Barnes should have had the red face! His tape also showed Gore was calm:
BARNES: The increasingly shrill rhetoric by the left is putting John Kerry in an awkward position. And now this red-faced tirade by Al Gore this week:Pretty calm? He was almost asleep! Via C-SPAN, readers can watch Gores speech for themselves. But they shouldnt expect many fireworks.
But how about it, readers? What do you think? Do you think Ifill or Barnes had actually watched the speech about which they opined so predictably? Do you think they knew whereof they spoke? On that, well offer a safe guess: No. After all, Gores speech was 64 minutes long. Among major pundits, theres a word for that: Bor-ring. Indeed, here was refreshingly frank David Brooks, voicing his views on The NewsHour:
RAY SUAREZ: By contrast came the speech from the former vice president, Al Gore, a real stem-winder in New York. Did you watch it?Brooks had seen enough excerpts, he said. So, well guess, had Ifill and Barnes. And one more thingthey had seen the corps scripts. As a result, they knew their task. They should gripe about Gores endless hollering.
From the annals of disappeared stories
AT LEAST HE DIDNT RAISE HIS VOICE: Last Wednesday, Attorney General Ashcroft warned about new attacks by al Qaeda (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 5/27/04). Four days later, on Meet the Press, Andrea Mitchell made a striking claim about what Ashcroft said:
RUSSERT: Andrea Mitchell, the attorney general saying, in effect, that al-Qaeda wanted to change the government in Madrid, a presidential election, and blew up a train station and a lot of passengers with it, and that would they try that here for similar consequences?Say what? Indeed, even Stephen Hayes of The Weekly Standard seemed to agree with Mitchells assessment:
RUSSERT: Stephen Hayes, whats your sense of this? John Ashcroft and Tom Ridge were forced to issue a joint statement the next day saying, We really are on the same page.It was even troubling to the Standard! But Ashcrofts apparent blunder didnt seem troubling to the mainstream press. According to Mitchell, another major Admin official had peddled some fake, bogus intel. But this story has barely been mentioned in major press organs. For example, we can find no sign that the Washington Post or the New York Times has mentioned Ashcrofts troubling citation of the Little Brigade That Isnt.
Indeed, the New York Daily News seems to be one of the only papers which even mentioned Ashcrofts odd performance. Here is part of Greg Smiths report:
SMITH (5/27/04): The scariest part of the press conference was Ashcroft alluding to Al Qaeda's claim of being 90% ready to attack.Weird, isnt it? Mitchell said Ashcrofts claim was completely discredited. Even Hayes said the statement was troubling. But the al-Pundit Brigades avoided all notice. They pondered Gores hollering instead.