On the Counterfactual Decade
The tenth anniversary of the Iraq War has been on the minds of many in the past two weeks. Some who supported the war at the time have said that they were deeply wrong. Some who supported the war at the time fail to recognize that it was a collosal, world historical mistake.
Last week I wrote an e-mail to Andrew Sullivan. He was one of those who supported the war in 2002 and 2003, and who turned against the war when it dragged on and the reasons for the war were shown to be nothing more than smoke and mirrors.
Sullian wrote: “In the summer of 2000, when I foolishly found myself wanting Al Gore to lose (Excelsior!), it was not a strong emotion. In the campaign, Gore was the advocate for a larger defense budget and [George W.] Bush was all about being a ‘humble’ nation. I figured there wasn’t much difference between them (and I still think Gore would have launched the Iraq War as well).”
I have to ask. What would the causus belli have been for Gore in this alternate history?
That’s not an idle question. I’ve seen others make the same argument — that there would have been an Iraq War under President Gore (as I recall, The American Prospect ran an article on the very thing at the time) — but no one ever stops to explain how they get from Point A (President Gore) to Point Z (Iraq War). It’s simply accepted.
But it’s unlikely.
True, it’s difficult to argue the counter-factual, Niall Ferguson’s attempts to argue history by counter-factual be damned. But there is evidence in the behaviors of the early Bush administration that led us to Iraq in 2003 that simply wouldn’t have been present in a Gore administration.
Gore wouldn’t have been surrounded at the highest levels of his administration with the Cheney/Rumsfeld/Wolfowitz cabal. These players would have been at the same level as they were in the late Clinton administration when they sent Clinton a letter demanding military action in Iraq. In other words, they would have been nothing more than pundits looking for an outlet for their aggressions.
Gore wouldn’t have dismissed the plans developed by Clinton to retaliate against al-Qaeda after the USS Cole bombing. Clinton had a plan drawn up. The plan was given to the incoming Bush administration because Clinton did not want to gift his successor an ongoing military operation in the same way that he had been “gifted” Somalia by his predecessor. The plan was subsequently dismissed by the Bush administration and never implemented.
Gore wouldn’t have shifted the national security focus in early 2001 from terrorism to the Russians as Bush did. Richard Clarke wouldn’t have been shoved to the side as he was in the Bush administration, where counter-terrorism efforts were shunted aside in favor of nuclear missile defense and repudiating the ABM treaty.
Gore, if given a Presidential Daily Briefing titled “Bin Laden determined to strike in US,” would not have been likely to then tell his briefer that he had “covered [his] ass.” Gore had been through the first World Trade Center bombing as part of the Clinton administration. Gore had first-hand knowledge that terrorism was the threat facing the country.
In short, Gore would have made vastly different decisions in the crucial months of early 2001. I don’t think it’s too far to argue that a strike on al-Qaeda in early 2001 in retaliation for the Cole would have rattled the leadership.
I would even argue that 9/11 wouldn’t have happened in a Gore administration. I’m on shakier ground here, I admit, but a Gore administration would have kept the pressure on al-Qaeda instead of giving al-Qaeda room to breathe in those early months of 2001.
In my mind, Bush v. Gore proves Leibniz wrong. We don’t live in the best of all possible worlds. A world without 9/11, a world with Afghanistan and Iraq is a better world, a far preferable world than this one.
I wonder if the five justices who installed Bush in the Oval Office with Bush v. Gore, especially Sandra Day O’Connor and Anthony Kennedy, have ever recognized that they have the blood of the last decade on their hands.
Somehow, I doubt it.
ETA: And it turns out I blogged about this very subject a year and a half ago. I wasn’t sure if I had or not.