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GORE ON WAR (PART 2)! Gore discussed the rush to war, providing some good sound advice:


GORE ON WAR (PART 2): On September 23, 2002, Al Gore discussed the proposed war in Iraq at San Francisco’s 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, Bush’s 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 wasn’t “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. Well–they’d 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 run–even 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.
We’re engaged in a hasty deliberation, Gore said. And we haven’t been told what will happen after regime change occurs in Iraq. By now, many pundits would probably agree with the thrust of these points–if they weren’t 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 they’ll 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):
Atrides, lead the way–you are the greatest king–
spread out a feast for all your senior chiefs.
This is your duty, a service that becomes you...
Come, gather us all and we will heed that man
who gives the best advice. That’s what they need,
I tell you–all the Achaeans–good sound advice.
“The troops hung on his words and took his orders,” Homer says. But that feast wasn’t spread out in 2002. Congress stampeded into a vote–and scribes typed the claims of our “heroes in error.” Two years later, we wring our hands over some of the hasty work–and over the lack of planning for post-war Iraq. But noble Nestor–excuse us, Al Gore–warned 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, what’s 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, “That’s for the Iraqis to come together and decide.”
Why, he even was pointing to Rumsfeld! In retrospect, Gore’s 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 administration’s thinking is regarding the aftermath of a U.S. attack,” he said. Many pundits wring their hands–now–about 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 Gore’s 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 didn’t 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 Iraq–hasty action which flew in the face of world opinion. We need international cooperation to wage the war against al Qaeda, Gore insisted. “And here’s 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 ways–and Gore addressed many other matters. But many pundits would agree–now–that 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 that–now. 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 Gore’s 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 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 we’ve noted, Gore’s 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 hollered–even as producers played clips in which the ex-veep could barely be heard. Last week, we chuckled as CNN’s Soledad O’Brien was caught in this awkward situation. “I think it’s fair to use the word ‘rant,”“ she pleasingly said about Gore’s speech–and 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 Gore’s 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 Ifill’s 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. Let’s, let’s listen to this salvo from Al Gore:

GORE (on videotape): He promised to restore honor and integrity to the White House. Instead, he has brought deep dishonor to our country and built a durable reputation as the most dishonest president since Richard M. Nixon.

IFILL: Now obviously he wasn’t talking about John Kerry there; he was talking about President Bush. And he was–he–the rest of his speech goes into lots of, like, hollering, if I may use that term, in which he was being very passionate about it.

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 view”–although the same views had been expressed days earlier by Anthony Zinni, a retired Republican general who says he may still vote for Bush. It’s almost impossible to comprehend or convey the poverty of this group’s discourse.

But so what? On The Beltway Boys, the same amusement occurred. The boys were troubled by Gore’s “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:

GORE (on videotape): He has brought us humiliation in the eyes of the world. He promised to restore honor and integrity to the White House. Instead he has brought deep dishonor to our country and built a durable reputation as the most dishonest president since Richard M. Nixon.

BARNES: He was just warming up there. Gore got a little more exercised during other parts of the speech. He was, he was pretty calm there.

Pretty calm? He was almost asleep! Via C-SPAN, readers can watch Gore’s speech for themselves. But they shouldn’t 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, we’ll offer a safe guess: No. After all, Gore’s speech was 64 minutes long. Among major pundits, there’s 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: No. I read the transcript. And I’ve seen–I’ve seen enough excerpts.

Brooks had seen “enough excerpts,” he said. So, we’ll guess, had Ifill and Barnes. And one more thing–they had seen the corps’ scripts. As a result, they knew their task. They should gripe about Gore’s endless “hollering.”

From the annals of disappeared stories

AT LEAST HE DIDN’T 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?

MITCHELL: Well, for one thing, the guts of his charge is something that had been completely discredited by American intelligence. He was crediting this to the Al-Masri Brigade, which is a group that has an e-mail address and claimed credit, claimed responsibility for the blackout in New York City, which was, of course, a technical, electronic problem. So it was a completely trumped-up news conference. You notice that Tom Ridge wasn’t there.

Say what? Indeed, even Stephen Hayes of The Weekly Standard seemed to agree with Mitchell’s assessment:
RUSSERT: Stephen Hayes, what’s 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.”

HAYES: Yeah, I think John Ashcroft just got out ahead of the administration on this again. I mean, he’s done this in the past, and I think the fact that he cited this Al-Masri Brigade is troubling.

It was even “troubling” to the Standard! But Ashcroft’s apparent blunder didn’t 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 Ashcroft’s “troubling” citation of the Little Brigade That Isn’t.

Indeed, the New York Daily News seems to be one of the only papers which even mentioned Ashcroft’s odd performance. Here is part of Greg Smith’s 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.

But the reference was to an E-mail sent to newspapers by the al-Masri Brigade, a little-known group that many intelligence officials consider bogus. The group claimed credit for the power blackout in the Northeast last fall.

Weird, isn’t it? Mitchell said Ashcroft’s claim was “completely discredited.” Even Hayes said the statement was “troubling.” But the al-Pundit Brigades avoided all notice. They pondered Gore’s “hollering” instead.