Tuesday, April 1, 2003

What if it had been Al Gore?

Among the unanswerable questions of my generation was, what might have happened in Viet Nam had JFK's Presidency run its course? We'll never know. Now we could ask, where would we be if the decision had gone 5-4 in the other direction and Al Gore was sitting in the White House? We'll probably never know that either.

His late intervention in Bosnia symbolized Bill Clinton's wariness about going to war. His own lack of military service probably impacted upon it. Gore has no such problem. He served in Viet Nam and was among a handful of Democrats in the Senate to vote for the first Gulf War. So, post 9/11, he too may ultimately have taken the military path like George Bush — like, but not the same. We don't know what military plan of action would have been implemented but, the present conversation notwithstanding, that isn't the critical issue.

I think the real difference is more likely to have revolved around the coalition which would have been broad and committed rather than narrow and willing. George Bush's early bravado and concrete actions in pulling away from important global treaties set in motion an antagonistic, not partnering, relationship with the world community including a grudging acceptance only of a UN that would function on our terms. Gore, like Clinton, is an Internationalist. The man who "invented the Information Super Highway" is a connector and its hard to visualize him hanging up on the world. I can't see Gore making provocative American go-it-alone pronouncements or using phrases like "you're either with us or against us." A hard core environmentalist, he certainly would not have pulled out of Kyoto. Richard Holbrook, likely to have been his Secretary of Stated, tilts hawkish on issues like Iraq, but he is a negotiator and coalition builder much as was another former UN Ambassador, George, the father. It's unlikely Evil Axes or Old Europe would have come into the vocabulary with a Gore team in place. This doesn't mean there would be no disagreements with France and others, but that bridges would have been crossed rather than being burnt.

There are numerous reasons why some of us (probably many more than the polls in a time of war reflect) have opposed this conflict. They relate to the war itself — to a lack of demonstrable proof of any near term threat or of any link to the terrorists who attacked our country and my city. But in the long run, the most profound concerns America's intrinsic philosophy and identity and what follows from it. George Bush's America it turns out is not what he pictured during his campaign, humility and respect of sovereign individuality, but a self possessed kind of Isolationist-Imperialism. It's one thing to be proud of our democracy and capitalistic system – both have been good for us. It is another, to see them as the only right way, one that should be adopted by, or imposed upon, others. Among the most disturbing realities of our time is the rise of fundamentalism which, whether Islamic, Christian or Jewish, essentially operates under a notion of absolute rightness and self possessed truth. It's an essential part of what we say we're fighting in our war against terrorism. But democratic fundamentalism as George Bush seems to espouse can have the same characteristics. I believe in our way of life absolutely, for me, but I don't assume it is the only truth, for you.

I don't know if Al Gore would have taken us to war. Perhaps, I'd be writing critical things about him. But I am confident that he is not a fundamentalist, that he never would have gone it alone and that the growing expressions across the world of hatred and disdain for my country would not be moving from rhetoric to the heart. Words are out in the open to be refuted, but the heart is deep inside and changing it is a much greater, perhaps insurmountable, task. How did we get to this place Al Gore, and why aren't you talking about it?

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