Rattling the Cage: Run, Gore, run

He's the only top-tier US politician who voted for the 1991 war in Iraq, but opposed the one in 2003.

larry derfner 88 (photo credit: )
larry derfner 88
(photo credit: )
If I could appoint a president of the United States, it would be Al Gore. Whether he's going to run again this time, though, is anybody's guess. It's not clear he could overcome Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton for the Democratic nomination, or beat John McCain or Rudolph Giuliani in next year's election. It's not clear, either, that he would want to run again after his embittering, traumatizing loss in 2000, when he got over 500,000 more popular votes than George W. Bush, the winner by rigged decision. The wild hope among many of Gore's supporters is that he will announce his candidacy on Oscar night, February 25, when he's expected to win for Best Documentary with An Inconvenient Truth, his movie that made global warming an issue with the American public. It also made Gore the unofficial leader of the environmental movement in the US, maybe in the world. So it's easy to understand why he wouldn't put himself through a ravaging, two-year-long campaign for president. He may not have the proverbial fire in the belly anymore. On the other hand, he is ambitious as hell. I don't have any doubt Gore wants to be president, nor do I doubt he agrees with me that he could do a better job than anyone else. So who knows? (Full disclosure: I don't know Gore, never interviewed him, never saw or heard him except on TV.) The decisive reason why I would pick him as president is that he is the only top-tier American politician who voted for the 1991 war in Iraq, but opposed the current one from its beginning in 2003. He broke ranks with the Democrats both times, too, which tells me he's got the courage of his convictions. But even more important - because, after all, Bush also has the courage of his convictions - it tells me he has good judgment in dealing with the threat of Arab/Muslim extremism - which Bush certainly doesn't have, and which I don't know that any other American politician has, either. I'm not going to explain again why America was right to go to war in Iraq in 1991 but wrong in 2003; it's not the point of this column, and anyway most Americans - and maybe even most Israelis - understand by now. The point is that these two wars have been America's most important, most controversial responses to the biggest world threat of our time, Arab/Muslim fanaticism (not Arab/Muslim people, please note, there's a difference), and one war was absolutely necessary while the other was and is absolutely reckless, and only Gore, alone among the possible US presidential contenders, was wise enough to know which was which. And, to the best of my knowledge, he was not just the only front-rank US politician who voted for the first Gulf War and opposed the second one, he was the only US politician, front-rank or backbench, who bucked his party both times. Iraq, Iran, al-Qaida and related sources of Arab/Muslim radicalism are the overriding challenge a US president faces today, and probably will face for a long while. A knee-jerk tendency toward or against military force, a purely conservative or liberal approach to the dangers growing out of the Middle East is guaranteed to make them worse. The only American politician who's proven that he understands the international crisis of this era, and that he has the guts to make decisions based on that understanding, not on the basis of party politics, is Gore. When I think of the kinds of decisions the next president is likely to have to make, the only US politician I trust, the only one I have enough reason to trust, is Gore. NOW IF the main issues facing the next president were not foreign, but domestic, I'd support Barack Obama. If it was in the next president's hands to fight a genuine war on poverty and inequality, which are by far America's worst domestic problems, the candidate I'd trust is Obama, because for him these aren't just talking points, they're at the center of his experience. The problem, though, is that no Democrat is going to fight a genuine war on poverty and inequality because the American public doesn't want one. Except for the minority of poor Americans, the American public wants still lower taxes and still more cuts in welfare and no "social engineering." The Democratic Party has gone along with this long, steady swing to the economic Right, and the most it has suggested is nudging the pendulum back by a degree or two. Any Democratic president would probably do that much - but none, not even Obama, would find it possible politically to do much more. So as far as domestic policy goes, it doesn't make too much difference which Democrat gets the nomination. Yet, as we've seen, when it comes to foreign policy - to war and peace - everything but everything depends on who is sitting in the White House. And between Iraq, Iran, al-Qaida and the rest, American policy on war and peace becomes a fairly critical matter. This is what the presidential campaign is going to be about, or at least this is what it should be about. I know Obama opposed the current war in Iraq all along, and forcefully, and that's all to his credit - but it's not enough. It's not enough for the next president to have better judgment than George W. Bush. And it's not enough for the next president to know the proper limits of force; he or she also has to know the proper uses of force. He or she has to know not to exaggerate the various Middle Eastern threats, but not to minimize them either, because they're big. Nobody knows enough about Obama's views of the Middle East, and even if he comes out with position papers that sound good, he doesn't have enough depth on the issue. When I think of all the variables involved in making American policy toward Iraq and Iran, just for starters, I don't have much of an idea how Obama might decide. So I don't have enough reason to trust him to make the right decisions. However, I trust him a hell of a lot more than I trust Hillary Clinton. For one, Hillary voted for the current Gulf War. And I would bet a whole lot of money she opposed the first one. (Now that I think about it, I would bet a lot of money that Obama opposed it, too.) And while I don't have enough trust in Obama's decision-making on the Middle East, I don't have any trust in Hillary's decision-making on anything. She strikes me as having no principle on earth that she wouldn't sacrifice in an instant if it was costing her politically. Plus, I guess I'm not alone in just being rubbed the wrong way by her. Like my sister said, whenever you listen to Hillary, you feel like you're being scolded by the principal. Unlike Hillary and Obama, Gore is solid and experienced. Another thing - he enlisted in the Army and served in Vietnam. It would be nice, once again, for the US president to be able to say he didn't duck out of his generation's war before going and ordering a new generation to fight. One other thing - if there's any threat to the world that's worse than Arab/Muslim fanaticism, it's global warming. So what more is there to say, except "Gore in 2008"? Unless it's to say "Gore/Obama in 2008."