Tuesday December 07, 2021

Al Gore Attacks Bush's Iraq Policy

September 23, 2002

Former Vice-President Al Gore Al Gore, the former Vice-President to Bill Clinton, has delivered a forceful attack on President George W. Bush's policy on Iraq. Gore warned that military action aimed at "regime change" in Iraq will "severely damage" the overall war on terrorism and "weaken" U.S. leadership in the world.

Gore claimed that the hunt for al Qaeda terrorists had bogged down and said this was the reason Bush has shifted the focus to removing Saddam Hussein. Gore said the United States was now the focus of "anger and apprehension" around the world. "By shifting from his early focus after September 11 on war against terrorism to war against Iraq, the president has manifestly disposed of the sympathy, goodwill and solidarity compiled by America and transformed it into a sense of deep misgiving and even hostility," he said.

"I am deeply concerned that the policy we are presently following with respect to Iraq has the potential to seriously damage our ability to win the war against terrorism and to weaken our ability to lead the world in this new century."

Gore is reportedly mulling over whether to contest the 2004 presidential election, a decision expected after the November mid-term congressional elections.

This is the text of former Vice-President Al Gore's speech to the Commonwealth Club of San Francisco.

I certainly appreciate the warmth of your welcome, and I want to thank Gloria Duffy (ph) for that generous, and I hasten to add, overly generous introduction. But Tipper and I both enjoyed listening to that.


And to George Dobbins (ph), the program director, and Connie Shapiro (ph), our moderator today.

Also, I want to thank Mayor Willie Brown for his help in helping to establish this on relatively short notice. I appreciate his friendship.

Thanks for your kind words about my service as vice president. I really felt it was a tremendous honor. I enjoyed the job.

I have to tell you that I did some research about the vice presidency and found that quite a number of my predecessors did not really fully appreciate the job, and some of them resigned. Just to give one example before I get into my speech here, John C. Calhoun actually resigned the vice presidency in 1825 to become a senator from South Carolina. And as many of you know, he subsequently lost that seat to Strom Thurmond . . .



. . . who's still there.


I want to talk about the relationship between America's war against terrorism and America's proposed war against Iraq.

Like most Americans, I've been wrestling with the question of what our country needs to do to defend itself from the kind of focused, intense and evil attack that we suffered a year ago September 11th. We ought to assume that the forces that are responsible for that attack are even now attempting to plan another attack against us.

I'm speaking today in an effort to recommend a specific course of action for our country, which I sincerely believe would be better for our country than the policy that is now being pursued by President Bush. Specifically, I am deeply concerned that the course of action that we are presently embarking upon with respect to Iraq has the potential to seriously damage our ability to win the war against terrorism and to weaken our ability to lead the world in this new century.

To begin with, to put first things first, I believe that we ought to be focusing our efforts first and foremost against those who attacked us on September 11th and who have thus far gotten away with it. The vast majority of those who sponsored, planned and implemented the cold-blooded murder of more than 3,000 Americans are still at large, still neither located nor apprehended, much less punished and neutralized. I do not believe that we should allow ourselves to be distracted from this urgent task simply because it is proving to be more difficult and lengthy than was predicted.

Great nations persevere and then prevail. They do not jump from one unfinished task to another. We should remain focused on the war against terrorism.


And, 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. If you're going after Jesse James, you ought to organize the posse first, especially if you're in the middle of a gunfight with somebody who's out after you.

I don't think we should allow anything to diminish our focus on the necessity for avenging the 3,000 Americans who were murdered and dismantling that network of terrorists that we know were responsible for it. The fact that we don't know where they are should not cause us to focus instead on some other enemy whose location may be easier to identify.

We have other enemies . . .


We have other enemies, but we should focus first and foremost as our top priority on winning the war against terrorism.

Nevertheless, President Bush is telling us that America's most urgent requirement of the moment right now is not to redouble our efforts against Al Qaida, not to stabilize the nation of Afghanistan after driving his host government from power, even as Al Qaida members slip back across the border to set up in Afghanistan again.

Rather, he is telling us that our most urgent task right now is to shift our focus and concentrate on immediately launching a new war against Saddam Hussein. And the president is proclaiming a new uniquely American right to preemptively attack whomsoever he may deem represents a potential future threat.

Moreover, President Bush is demanding, in this high political season, that Congress speedily affirm that he has the necessary authority to proceed immediately against Iraq and, for that matter, under the language of his resolution, against any other nation in the region regardless of subsequent developments or emerging circumstances.

Now, the timing of this sudden burst of urgency to immediately take up this new cause as America's new top priority, displacing our former top priority, the war against Osama bin Laden, was explained by – innocently, I believe – by the White House chief of staff in his now well-known statement, and I quote, "From an advertising point of view, you don't launch a new product line until after Labor Day," end quote.

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. 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.

Now let's be clear: There's no international law that can prevent the United States from taking action to protect our vital interests when it is manifestly clear that there's a choice to be made between law and our survival. Indeed, international law itself recognizes that such choices stay within the purview of all nations.

I believe, however, that such a choice is not presented in the case of Iraq. Indeed, should we decide to proceed, our action can be justified within the framework of international law rather than requiring us to go outside the framework of international law.

In fact, even though a new United Nations resolution might be helpful in the effort to forge an international consensus, I think it's abundantly clear that the existing U.N. resolutions, passed 11 years ago, are completely sufficient from a legal standpoint, so long as it is clear that Saddam Hussein is in breach of the agreements made at the conclusion of the Persian Gulf War.

Now one of the simple points I want to make here today is that we have an obligation to look at the relationship between our war against terrorism and this proposed war against Iraq.

We have a goal of regime change in Iraq; we have had for a number of years. We also have a clear goal of victory in the war against terror.

In the case of Iraq, it would be difficult to go it alone but it's theoretically possible to achieve our goals in Iraq unilaterally.

Nevertheless, by contrast, the war against terrorism manifestly requires a multilateral approach. It is impossible to succeed against terrorism unless we have secured the continuing, sustained cooperation of many nations.

Now, our ability . . .


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.

Now, if the administration has reason to believe otherwise, it ought to share those reasons with the Congress, since it is asking Congress to endorse action that might well impair a much more urgent task; that is, continuing to disrupt and destroy the international terror network.

Now, back in 1991, I was one of a handful of Democrats in the United States Senate to vote in favor of the resolution endorsing the Persian Gulf War, and I felt betrayed by the first Bush administration's hasty departure from the battlefield even as Saddam began to renew his persecution of the Kurds in the north and the Shiites in the south, groups that we had, after all, encouraged to rise up against Saddam.

But look at the differences between the resolution that was voted on in 1991 and the one this administration is proposing that the Congress vote on in 2002. The circumstances are really completely different.

Just to review a few of them briefly, in 1991, Iraq had crossed an international border, invaded a neighboring sovereign nation and annexed its territory.

Now, by contrast, in 2002, there has been no such invasion. We are proposing to cross an international border. And, however justified it may be, we have to recognize that this profound difference in the circumstances now compared to what existed in 1991 has profound implications for the way the rest of the world views what we are doing, and that in turn will have implications for our ability to succeed in our war against terrorism.

What makes Saddam dangerous is his effort to acquire weapons of mass destruction. What makes terrorists so much more dangerous than they have ever been is the prospect that they may get access to weapons of mass destruction. There isn't just one country that is attempting to get access, nor is there just one terrorist group. We have to recognize that this is a whole new era, and the advances in the technology of destruction require us to think anew.

As Abraham Lincoln famously said, "As our case is new, we must think anew and then we will save our country."

Another difference: In 1991, there was a resolution that had been passed by the United Nations. This time--although I don't think we need one if he's in breach, as he is--we nevertheless went to the United Nations to ask for one, and thus far we have not been successful in getting it.

Next, in 1991, the first President Bush patiently and skillfully put together a broad international coalition. Now, his task was easier than the one that confronts this President Bush, in part, because Saddam had invaded another country.

But for whatever reason, back then, every Arab nation except Jordan--of course, Jordan was in Iraq's shadow next door--but every other Arab nation supported our military effort, was a part of the international coalition and some of them supplied troops. Our allies in Europe and Asia supported the coalition without exception.

This year, by contrast, many of our allies in Europe and Asia are thus far openly opposed to what President Bush is doing. And the few who do support us have conditioned their support, most of them, on the passage of a new U.N. resolution.

Fourth, the coalition that was assembled back in 1991 picked up all of the significant costs of the war, while this time the American taxpayers will be asked to shoulder hundreds of billions of dollars in costs on our own.

Fifth, back in 1991 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.

Now, that in itself is not inherently wrong, but I believe that puts a burden on the shoulders of President Bush to dispel the doubts many have expressed about the role that politics might be playing in the calculations of some in the administration.

I have not raised those doubts, but many have. And because they have been raised, this has become a problem for our country's effort to build a national consensus and an international coalition.

Already, just to cite one example, the German-American relationship has faced a dire crisis because of the reprehensible comments of a minister in that government about President Bush's alleged motivations as she saw it.

Now, they've apologized and perhaps we can move on past that. But look at the entire German election campaign. It revealed a profound and troubling change in the attitude of the German electorate toward the United States.

We see our most loyal ally, Tony Blair, who I think's a fantastic leader, getting into what they describe as serious trouble with the British electorate because of similar doubts that have been raised.

Now, rather than making efforts to dispel these concerns at home and abroad about the role of politics in the timing of policy, the president is on the campaign trail two or three days a week, often publicly taunting Democrats with the political consequences of a no vote. The Republican National Committee is running pre-packaged advertising based on the same theme.

All of this apparently in keeping with a political strategy clearly described in a White House aide's misplaced computer disk which advised Republican operatives that their principal game plan for success in the election a few weeks away was to, quote, "focus on the war."

Vice President Cheney, meanwhile, has indignantly described suggestions of any such thing as reprehensible and then the following week took his discussion of the war to the Rush Limbaugh Show.



I believe that 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 as it has given free run to persons, both within and close to the administration, to suggest at every opportunity that this will 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.

Now, I believe that this is unfortunate, because in the immediate aftermath of September 11th, more than a year ago, we had an enormous reservoir of good will and sympathy and shared resolve all over the world. That has been squandered in a year's time and replaced with great anxiety all around the world, not primarily about what the terrorist networks are going to do, but about what we're going to do.


Now, my point is not that they're right to feel that way, but that they do feel that way.

And that has consequences for us. Squandering all that good will and replacing it with anxiety in a year's time is similar to what was done by turning a $100 billion surplus into a $200 billion deficit in a year's time.


Now we have seen the assertion of a brand new doctrine called preemption, based on the idea that in the era of proliferating weapons of mass destruction and against the background of a sophisticated terrorist threat the United States cannot wait for proof of a fully established mortal threat, but should rather act at any point to cut that short.

Now, the problem with preemption is that, in the first instance, it is not needed in order to give the United States the means to act in our own defense either against terrorism in general or against Iraq in particular. But that's a relatively minor issue compared to the longer-term consequences that I think can be foreseen for this doctrine.

To begin with, the doctrine is presented in open-ended terms, which means that if Iraq is the first point of application it is not necessarily the last. In fact, the very logic of the concept suggests a string of military engagements against a succession of sovereign states--Syria, Libya, North Korea, Iran--none of them very popular in the United States, of course, but the implication is that wherever the combination exists of an interest in weapons of mass destruction, together with an ongoing role as host to or participant in terrorist operations, the doctrine will apply.

It also means that if the Congress approves the Iraq resolution just proposed by the administration, it would be simultaneously creating the precedent for preemptive action anywhere, any time this or any future president, as a single individual, albeit head of state, decides that it is time.

Vice President Cheney said after the war against terrorism began, quote, "This war may last for the rest of our lives." Well, I, kind of, think I know what he meant by that, but the apprehensions in the rest of the world that I spoke of earlier are not calmed down any by this doctrine of preemption that they are now asserting.

By now, the Bush administration may be beginning to realize the national and international cohesion are, indeed, strategic assets. But it's a lesson long delayed and clearly not uniformly and consistently accepted by senior members of the Cabinet.

From the outset, the administration has operated in a manner calculated to please the portion of its base that occupies the far right, at the expense of solidarity among all of us as Americans and solidarity between our country and our allies.

On the domestic front, the administration, having delayed for many months before conceding the need to pass Joe Lieberman's bill and create an institution outside the White House to manage homeland defense, has actually been willing to see this legislation held up for the sake of an effort to coerce the Congress into stripping civil service protections from tens of thousands of federal employees.

Now, which is more important, passing the Homeland Security Department act, or satisfying a relatively small yet internally powerful member of the right-wing coalition that has as its number one priority dismantling labor unions? Now, if that's the most important priority in that legislation, that explains why they're refusing to let the bipartisan consensus in favor of it go forward.

Now, far more damaging is the administration's attack on fundamental constitutional rights that we ought to have and do have as American citizens.


The very idea that an American citizen can be imprisoned without recourse to judicial process or remedy, and that this can be done on the sole say-so of the president of the United States or those acting in his name, is beyond the pail and un-American. And it ought to be stopped.


Now, regarding other countries, the administration's disdain for the views of others is well documented, and need not be reviewed here. It is more important to note the consequences of an emerging national strategy that not only celebrates American strength, but actually appears to glorify the notion of dominance. The word itself has been used in the counsels of the administration.

If what America represents to the world is leadership in a commonwealth of equals, then our friends are legions. If what we represent to the world is an empire, then it is our enemies who will be legion.

At this fateful juncture in our history, it is vital that we see clearly who are our enemies, and that we intend to deal with them. It is also important, however, that in the process we preserve not only ourselves as individuals, but our nature as a people dedicated to the rule of law.

Now, here's another of the main points I want to make: If we quickly succeed in a war against the weakened and depleted fourth-rate military of Iraq, and then quickly abandon that nation, as President Bush has quickly abandoned almost all of Afghanistan after defeating a fifth-rate military power there, then the resulting chaos in the aftermath of a military victory in Iraq could easily pose a far greater danger to the United States than we presently face from Saddam.

Here's why I say that. We know that he has stored away secret supplies of biological weapons and chemical weapons throughout his country. As yet, we have no evidence, however, that he has shared any of these weapons with terrorist groups. If the administration has evidence that he has, please present it, because that would change the way we all look at this thing.

But if Iraq came to resemble Afghanistan in its current depleted state, with no central authority – well, they have a central authority, but their central authority, because of the administration's insistence that the international community not be allowed to assemble a peacekeeping force large enough to pacify the countryside, that new government in Afghanistan controls a few precincts in one city, and the warlords or drug lords control the whole rest of the countryside.

What if, in the aftermath of a war against Iraq, we faced a situation like that, because we've washed our hands of it? What would then happen to all of those stored reserves of biological weapons all around the country?

What if the Al Qaida members infiltrated across the borders of Iraq the way they are in Afghanistan? Then the question wouldn't be, "Is Saddam Hussein going to share these weapons with a terrorist group?" The terrorist groups would have an enhanced ability to just walk in there and get them.

Now, I just think that if we end the war in Iraq the way we ended the war in Afghanistan, we could very well be much worse off than we are today.

And 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 restabilizing Iraq in the aftermath of an invasion. And his answer was, and I quote, "That's for the Iraqis to come together and decide."

Now, on the surface, you can understand the logic behind that. And this not an afterthought. This is based on administration policy.

I vividly remember that during one of the campaign debates in 2002 Jim Lehrer asked then Governor Bush whether or not America, after being involved in military action, should engage in any form of nation building. And the answer was, and I quote, "I don't think so. I think what we need to do is to convince people who live in the lands they live in to build the nations."

"Maybe I'm missing something here. We're going to have a kind of nation-building corps in America?"

"Absolutely not."

Now, my point is, this is a Bush doctrine. This is administration policy. Given that it is administration policy, we have to take that into account as a nation in looking at the likely consequences of an overwhelming American military victory against the government of Iraq.

If we go in there and dismantle them--and they deserve to be dismantled--but then we wash our hands of it and walk away and leave it in a situation of chaos and say, "Oh, that's for you all to decide how to put things back together now" . . .


. . . that hurts us.


Now, here we are in the city where the United Nations was established, even before the U.N. was established. You look back over the last 85 to 100 years, there is lots and lots of evidence about why it's almost as important to win the peace following a war as it to win the war itself.

Couple of examples: The absence of any enlightened nation-building after World War I led directly to the conditions which made Germany vulnerable to fascism and the rise of Hitler and made all of Europe vulnerable to his evil design.

By contrast, when the world's leaders met here in San Francisco after World War II, there was an enlightened vision embodied in the Marshall Plan, the U.N., NATO and all of the other nation-building efforts after World War II. And that, in turn, led directly to the conditions that fostered prosperity and American leadership throughout the world.

Another example: Two decades ago, the Soviet Union claimed the right to launch a preemptive war in Afghanistan. And we properly encouraged and then supported the resistance movement, which a decade later succeeded in defeating the Soviet army's effort.

Unfortunately, however, when the Russians left, we abandoned the Afghans, and the lack of any coherent nation-building program led directly to the conditions which allowed the Taliban to take control and to bring in Al Qaida and give them a home and a base for their worldwide terrorist operation. That's where they planned the attack on us a year ago, September 11th.

Now, incredibly, in spite of that vivid lesson, after defeating the Taliban rather easily, and despite pledges from President Bush that we would never again abandon Afghanistan, we have done precisely that. And now the Taliban and Al Qaida are quickly moving back in.

Now, a mere two years later, after we abandoned Afghanistan that first time, Saddam Hussein launched his invasion of Kuwait. And our decision, following a brilliant military campaign, to abandon the effort prematurely to destroy Saddam's military allowed him to remain in power.

Now, this needs to be debated and discussed by the Congress.

You know, what this tells me is that the Congress should require as part of any resolution that it considers some explicit guarantees on whether or not we're proposing to simply abandon the Iraqi people in the aftermath of a military victory there, or whether or not we're going to demand as a nation that this doctrine of wash your hands and walk away be changed so that we can engage in some nation building again and build the kind of peace for the future that our people have a right to expect.


I think specifically the Congress should establish why the president believes that unilateral action would not severely damage the fight against terrorist networks.

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.

Anticipating that the president will probably still move toward unilateral action . . .



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