The Self Made Pundit
Friday, November 15, 2002
GORE, THE REPUBLICAN PROPHET: While Al Gore may be an unlikely candidate for Republican Party prophet, the Bush administration has wandered into the very multilateral approach on Iraq proposed by Gore weeks ago. If the rest of the Democratic Party had followed Gore’s approach as much as Bush has, the Democrats would have done far better in the recent midterm elections.
As the Self Made Pundit has discussed in several recent posts, a major cause of the Democrats’ losses in the midterm elections was their timidity in confronting the Bush administration. Along these same lines, a newspaper column and a magazine article argue persuasively that the Democrats’ timorous approach in debating Iraq cost them an opportunity to advance both the national interest and their own partisan interests.
In today’s Washington Post, E.J. Dionne examines how the Democrats missed a major opportunity to contribute to the formulation of policy as the Bush Administration zig-zagged between a unilateral approach aimed at toppling Saddam Hussein and a multilateral approach aided at disarming Iraq of any weapons of mass destruction.
As Dionne notes, the Bush administration is currently in its multilateral phase. After threatening to go it alone in Iraq, the United States has successfully brokered a unanimous Security Council resolution demanding Iraqi compliance with weapons inspections.
Dionne rightfully castigates the Democrats for largely failing to criticize Bush’s herky-jerky approach to the vital issue of Iraq. Dionne believes that if the Democrats had urged Bush to take a more multilateral approach in the months before the midterm elections, they could have taken credit when Bush finally saw the wisdom of working through the U.N. As Dionne comments:
An effective opposition party might have something useful to say about all this uncertainty. .... But too many Democrats simply wanted to push Iraq aside so they could get to that economic message of theirs that worked so brilliantly on Nov. 5.
Had the Democrats made a concerted push much earlier for a tough multilateral approach to Iraq -- as former U.N. ambassador Richard Holbrooke was urging them to do -- the party could have claimed victory when Bush turned toward the United Nations.
Dionne notes that these same points are made in Heather Hurlburt's wise article "War Torn" in the November issue of the Washington Monthly. Hurlburt also assails the Democrats’ timidity as self-defeating:
The irony is that a policy of using the threat of U.S. military power to enforce U.N. mandates in Iraq is one that both the hawks and at least some of the doves in the Democratic Party could have agreed on. Had they taken that position last spring--or even during the summer--Democrats might have helped shift the debate in a more sensible direction earlier, and served the country by limiting the negative international fallout from the hawks' unilateralism. They also might have helped themselves politically: When the president shifted his positions in September, it would have been seen, rightly, as a victory for the Democrats.
I agree with Dionne’s and Hurlburt’s analysis of the Democrats’ missed opportunity to constructively criticize Bush’s Iraqi policy. The failure of most Democrats is even more striking than Dionne and Hurlburt acknowledge, however, because Al Gore was recommending this forceful approach back in September.
On September 23, 2002, Gore made a major foreign policy speech in which he urged Congressional Democrats to push Bush to adopt the very policy that Bush eventually embraced:
I believe 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 severely.
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.
Needless to say, in the days that followed, Republicans attacked Gore’s speech as irrelevant and worse. Typical was one Republican Party hack’s comment that “It seems to be a speech that was more appropriate for a political hack than a presidential candidate, by someone who clearly failed to recognize leadership.” However, in the weeks that followed, Bush adopted the approach recommended by Gore.
Just as Gore suggested, Bush obtained “a fresh demand from the Security Council for prompt, unconditional compliance by Iraq within a definite period of time.”
Such shameless disparaging of Gore’s and other Democrats’ ideas only to later embrace them is of course nothing new for the Republicans. One of the most outrageous recent examples involves the Democrats’ proposal of a Homeland Security Department. Bush spent months opposing the proposal, only to then embrace it and attack the Democrats as unpatriotic for not rubber stamping his version. Another example involving Gore was the Republicans’ ridiculing of Gore in the 2000 campaign for his suggestion that the internal combustion engine would eventually be replaced. The Bush administration has since adopted the goal of eventual replacement of the internal combustion engine.
I think I’ll watch Gore’s appearances on ABC’s 20/20 and CBS’s David Letterman Show tonight to see if Gore makes any other policy suggestions that can be ridiculed by Republicans until a decent interval has passed, at which point they can be adopted by Bush.