Many readers spluttered at my belief that Al Gore would have gone to war against Saddam if he'd been inaugurated in 2000 instead of Bush. As someone who has known Gore for years, and edited TNR with which he was closely associated, and worked for Marty Peretz, one of his closest friends and mentors, I base my assessment on what I know of the guy, and his record. Jeff Weintraub basically agrees, although he argues that the way Gore would have gone to war would have been markedly different than Bush's, a sentiment which I tend to agree with as well. Here's a passage of a speech Gore gave in 2002:
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.
To my way of thinking, the real question is not the principle of the thing, but of making sure that this time we will finish the matter on our terms. But finishing it on our terms means more than a change of regime in Iraq. It means thinking through the consequences of action there on our other vital interests, including the survival in office of Pakistan's leader; avoiding a huge escalation of violence in the Middle East; provision for the security and interests of Saudi Arabia, Turkey and the Gulf States; having a workable plan for preventing the disintegration of Iraq into chaos; and sustaining critically important support within the present coalition.
In 1991, I crossed party lines and supported the use of force against Saddam Hussein, but he was allowed to survive his defeat as the result of a calculation we all had reason to deeply regret for the ensuing decade. And we still do. 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 that we must be prepared to go the limit. And wishful thinking based on best-case scenarios or excessively literal transfers of recent experience to different conditions would be a recipe for disaster.
One wonders, of course, if a war under genuine international auspices, without resorting to institutionalized torture and abuse of prisoners, with serious post-war planning, and more integrated nation-building could have made the invasion and occupation a success. I have to say I doubt it now, and doubt also if it would have made sense given other priorities.
But I also wonder what the impact of a successful Iraq regime change under a Democrat might have been on American politics. But that's history for you. It's done now. And we'll never truly know.
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