Liberal Myths: Would Al Gore Have Invaded Iraq?

One persistent justification for “lesser evil” voting, the continuing vilification of Ralph Nader’s 2000 presidential campaign, and the relevance of that justification for this coming election is the notion that but for Nader’s candidacy, Al Gore would have been president instead of George W. Bush, and that “we would not have had Iraq.” What this notion is based on is a mystery, especially given the virtual certitude with which it is asserted. But aside from the impossibility of knowing the outcome of an event that didn’t happen, what evidence there is indicates that it’s not true, that had Gore been elected president, he would indeed have undertaken that disastrous invasion.

On September 23, 2002 in San Francisco, six months prior to the Iraq invasion, Gore gave a major address in which he roundly criticized “the course of action recommended by President Bush” and offered his alternatives. Yet for all his criticism, Gore supported in principle Bush’s determination to invade Iraq.

Gore criticized Bush’s timing in changing the focus of the “War on Terror” away from Afghanistan, Bush’s belligerence, and his distain for the European allies, but then said this:

Nevertheless, Iraq does pose a serious threat to the stability of the Persian Gulf and we should organize an international coalition to eliminate his access to weapons of mass destruction.

Why? Because…

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. Moreover, no international law can prevent the United States from taking actions to protect its vital interests, when it is manifestly clear that there is a choice to be made between law and survival.

Gore clearly accepts the claim of Iraq’s WMDs, and offers a legal justification for an invasion.

Indeed, should we decide to proceed, that action can be justified within the framework of international law rather than outside it. In fact, though a new UN resolution may be helpful in building international consensus, the existing resolutions from 1991 are sufficient from a legal standpoint.

Gore feels Iraq should be invaded, just not yet. He then criticizes Bush’s pre-emption policy, but with a rationale that tells us more about the Clinton-Gore administration than about Bush:

But is a general doctrine of pre-emption necessary in order to deal with this problem? With respect to weapons of mass destruction, the answer is clearly not [sic]. The Clinton Administration launched a massive series of air strikes against Iraq for the stated purpose of setting back his capacity to pursue weapons of mass destruction. There was no perceived need for new doctrine or new authorities to do so.

Apparently Gore thinks the unprovoked, pre-emptive bombing of another country is not a violation of the UN charter, not an act of aggressive war, and does not need any new doctrine. And what about imminence? Is lack of true imminence a problem?

If Saddam Hussein does not present an imminent threat, then is it justifiable for the Administration to be seeking by every means to precipitate a confrontation, to find a cause for war, and to attack? There is a case to be made that further delay only works to Saddam Hussein’s advantage, and that the clock should be seen to have been running on the issue of compliance for a decade: therefore not needing to be reset again to the starting point.

In other words, no! the lack of imminence is not a roadblock for an invasion. Gore is seems to be justifying pretense, and redefining imminence in the process. Gore continues:

But to the extent that we have any concern for international support, whether for its political or material value, hurrying the process will be costly. Even those who now agree that Saddam Hussein must go, may divide deeply over the wisdom of presenting the United States as impatient for war.

Perception, then, is the issue: a unilateral invasion may not look good, so better efforts need to be made to gather international support. But if Gore couldn’t gain wider support, would that have stopped him?

Gore was in fact quite comfortable with military interventions. He highlighted that comfort:

I was one of the few Democrats in the U.S. Senate who supported the war resolution in 1991. And I felt betrayed by the first Bush administration’s hasty departure from the battlefield.

He had already cited Clinton-Gore Administration actions against Iraq and could have included Somalia, Haiti, Afghanistan, Sudan, Bosnia, Kosovo, and the Iraq boycott and regime change policy. In an earlier speech to the Council on Foreign Relations on February 12th 2002, he had said:

Even if we give first priority to the destruction of terrorist networks, and even if we succeed, there are still governments that could bring us great harm. And there is a clear case that one of these governments in particular represents a virulent threat in a class by itself: Iraq.

As far as I am concerned, a final reckoning with that government should be on the table.

Invading Iraq is right and inevitable, the very belief he reiterates nine months later in San Francisco. Further on in that February speech, he said of the proposed invasion:

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 we must be prepared to go the limit.

…thus portending for a Gore presidency what did happen under Bush. It didn’t go as planned, became a quagmire, and the message from Bush (or Gore) year after year was (or would’ve been) “we’ll remain until the mission is completed.”

Now in San Francisco, Gore gives his recommendations:

I believe, therefore, that the resolution that the President has asked Congress to pass is much too broad in the authorities it grants, and needs to be narrowed.

He had explained earlier in the San Francisco speech that the open ended resolution would pave the way to military actions beyond Iraq. Fair enough, although were he president, would he have wanted such limitations on his own war-making discretion, especially against a moving target like al Queda, and given the Clinton era interventions he’s so proud of? No one can say, but his words above indicate otherwise.

But he goes on:

The President should be authorized to take action to deal with Saddam Hussein as being in material breach of the terms of the truce and therefore a continuing threat to the security of the region. To this should be added that his continued pursuit of weapons of mass destruction is potentially a threat to the vital interests of the United States. But Congress should also urge the President to make every effort to obtain a fresh demand from the Security Council for prompt, unconditional compliance by Iraq within a definite period of time. If the Council will not provide such language, then other choices remain open, but in any event the President should be urged to take the time to assemble the broadest possible international support for his course of action. Anticipating that the President will still move toward unilateral action, the Congress should establish now what the administration’s thinking is regarding the aftermath of a US attack for the purpose of regime change.

There you have it; he’d have done things differently, delayed the invasion, and applied different legalities for justifying it. He heavily criticized Bush’s bellicosity, belligerency, pre-emption rhetoric, and disdain for allies, but endorsed the invasion, saying that failure to get broad support from allies was not a deal-breaker, that “other choices remain open.”

And in his next major address one year later on August 7th 2003, after Bush had failed to enlist the majority of the European allies, and when it was clear there was now a sustained resistance to the occupation, he again excoriated Bush’s failures, but nonetheless said this:

The removal of Saddam from power is a positive accomplishment in its own right for which the President deserves credit, just as he deserves credit for removing the Taliban from power in Afghanistan. But in the case of Iraq, we have suffered enormous collateral damage because of the manner in which the Administration went about the invasion. And in both cases, the aftermath has been badly mishandled.

He again criticizes his old adversary’s competence (implying of course that had he been president, he’d have handled it better) but no regrets about the invasion itself.

At this point, it’s fair to project that had Gore been elected instead of Bush, things would not have turned out substantially different. But in clarifying this misconception (“if not for Nader, then no Iraq Invasion”) we are led to it’s antithesis: what if Nader had won? It’s fair to project that we’d have had entirely different international—let alone domestic—circumstances: no Iraq invasion, no Afghanistan quagmire, no Libyan disaster, no Yemen tragedy, no Syrian Civil War, and likely none of the out-of-control worldwide terrorism those evils inspired.

Fate militated against that outcome, so why even consider it? One reason is the self-fulfilling perception of those millions who’d have preferred voting for Nader, but succumbed to their propagandized perception of the impossibility of Nader’s winning. Another is their credibly held fear of Bush, contrasted by their incredibly held belief that Gore was substantially “better,” a notion these speeches should dispel. Many people now vilify Nader for “stealing” votes from Gore, when just the opposite happened—it was Gore who stole millions of votes from Nader. Most important is the relevance for today of that infamous election.

The American public is more jaded about politics than at any time in living memory. They’ve seen 9/11 and the wars it generated metastasize into horrible and never-ending quagmires, epic corporate criminality and the bailouts of the malefactors in the face of it, the abandonment of any pretense of justice and fairness for its many victims, and still more war and rumors of war while climate change goes unaddressed and environmental destruction proceeds, while clueless and corrupted politicians put their true attention to carrying out their corporate supporters’ agendas. The American public wants something different.

And now with Clinton and Trump, perhaps the two most mistrusted and corporate identified candidates for president ever, we are yet again facing the panicked rationale of the “lesser evil.” Julian Assange has compared these candidates to “a choice between Cholera and Gonorrhea.” Yes, they’re different, but is one “better”?

The two major alternative party tickets, the Greens’ Dr. Jill Stein and Ajamu Baraka, and the Libertarians’ Gary Johnson and William Weld have been attracting attention—even some in corporate media. Their stiffest obstacle comes from the collusion between the corporate media and the two corporate parties to block out competition and keep the boatloads of corporate money flowing to the parties, and through them to the media conglomerates during presidential elections—to block out especially competition that might question the role of money in politics and the banal and degenerated horse-race coverage for what is supposed to be an educational function carried out as a public service.

In this so far unpredictable election season, could it conceivably come to pass that by voting for Clinton, one could split the vote and cost Jill Stein the presidency? Or, perhaps, by voting for Trump, cost Johnson the presidency? Wouldn’t that be ironic?