In monthly Washington Post column, Kagan baselessly accused Gore of "astonishing reversal" on Iraq

››› ››› JOE BROWN

In his monthly Washington Post column, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace senior associate Robert Kagan assailed Al Gore for what he called an "astonishing reversal" on the United States' Iraq policy. Kagan did not identify the specific issue on which Gore has supposedly reversed himself.

In his monthly Washington Post column published August 6, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace senior associate and German Marshall Fund transatlantic fellow Robert Kagan assailed former Vice President Al Gore for what he called an "astonishing reversal" on the United States' Iraq policy and for "turn[ing] on all those with whom he once agreed." Kagan did not identify the specific issue on which Gore has supposedly reversed himself, but since Gore has consistently opposed an invasion of Iraq, any suggestion that he reversed himself on that hugely significant question is simply false. There is nothing inconsistent in taking the position -- as Gore did -- that it was appropriate for the United States to expel Saddam Hussein's forces from Kuwait in 1991 and in taking the position -- as Gore also did -- that it was not appropriate for the United States to invade Iraq in 2002 or later.

In his column, Kagan also wrote that Gore has "airbrushed" his "history" as a "one-time Clinton administration hawk," but it is unclear what he is referring to. In his September 2002 speech, Gore explained why he supported the 1991 war against Iraq -- which the United States ended after expelling Iraq from Kuwait, without pursuing Saddam's forces into Iraq -- and explained why he thought the situation in 2002 did not call for the United States to initiate war with Iraq.

Kagan praised Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman (D-CT), whom he called "the last honest man," for Lieberman's consistent support of President Bush's Iraq policy. Kagan contrasted Lieberman with other "Democratic senators [who] voted in the fall of 2002 to authorize the invasion of Iraq," and "Democratic foreign policy experts and former officials, including those from the top ranks of the Clinton administration, who supported the war publicly and privately," but later "recant[ed]." He suggested that Lieberman "stands condemned today" and may "lose the Democratic primary in Connecticut" because, unlike other Democrats who "twisted themselves into pretzels to explain away their support for the war," Lieberman "didn't recant," "didn't say he was wrong," and "didn't turn on his former allies and condemn them." Kagan appeared to (incorrectly) include Gore in the category of Democrats who "twisted themselves into pretzels to explain away their support for the war."

Kagan wrote:

These have been the chosen tactics of self-preservation ever since events in Iraq started to go badly and the war became unpopular. Prominent intellectuals, both liberal and conservative, have turned on their friends and allies in an effort to avoid opprobrium for a war they publicly supported. Journalists have turned on their fellow journalists in an effort to make them scapegoats for the whole profession. Politicians have twisted themselves into pretzels to explain away their support for the war or, better still, to blame someone else for persuading them to support it.

Al Gore, the one-time Clinton administration hawk, airbrushed that history from his record. He turned on all those with whom he once agreed about Iraq and about many other foreign policy questions. And for this astonishing reversal he has been applauded by his fellow Democrats and may even get the party's nomination [for president in 2008].

Apparently, amazingly, dispiritingly, it all works. At least in the short run, dishonesty pays. Dissembling pays. Forgetting your past writings and statements pays. Condemning those with whom you once agreed pays. Phony self-flagellation followed by self-righteous self-congratulation pays. The only thing that doesn't pay is honesty. If Joe Lieberman loses, it will not be because he supported the war or even because he still supports it. It will be because he refused to choose one of the many dishonorable paths open to him to salvage his political career.

In fact, Gore laid out his reasons for opposing President Bush's Iraq policy in a September 23, 2002, speech at San Francisco's Commonwealth Club. In that speech, Gore explained how his opposition to Bush's push for military action against Iraq was consistent with his support of the 1991 war against Iraq. He stated that although "in 1991, I was one of a handful of Democrats in the United States Senate to vote in favor of the resolution endorsing the [first] Persian Gulf War," and Saddam's "Iraq does ... pose a serious threat to the stability of the Persian Gulf region," "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."

Gore noted that "in 1991, Iraq had crossed an international border, invaded a neighboring sovereign nation [Kuwait] and annexed its territory. Now by contrast in 2002, there has been no such invasion." Gore stated that Iraq's invasion of Kuwait in 1991 had made it "easier" to assemble "a broad international coalition" that supported and "paid all of the significant costs of the war." In contrast, Gore noted, "many of our allies in Europe and Asia are ... openly opposed to what President Bush is doing [in 2002]." He asserted that if the United States acted against Iraq without the support of a broad coalition, it would "severely damage[]" America's ability to "secure[] the continuing, sustained cooperation of many nations" in the war against terrorism.

Gore further stated: "President George H. W. Bush purposely waited until after the mid-term elections of 1990 in order to push for a vote [to authorize military action against Iraq] 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."

Gore also argued that "we [the United States] should focus our efforts first and foremost against those who attacked us on September 11th and who have thus far gotten away with it." He also criticized Bush for "fail[ing] ... to lay out an assessment of how ... the course of a war will run" and "what would follow ... in Iraq in the months and years after a regime change has taken place," and for "assert[ing] that we will take preemptive action even if the threat we perceive is not imminent." Gore argued that "[i]f other nations assert that same right [to preemption], "then the rule of law will quickly be replaced by the reign of fear."

From Kagan's August 6 Washington Post column:

Twenty-nine Democratic senators voted in the fall of 2002 to authorize the invasion of Iraq. There isn't enough room on this page to list the Democratic foreign policy experts and former officials, including those from the top ranks of the Clinton administration, who supported the war publicly and privately -- some of whom even signed letters calling for the removal of Saddam Hussein. Nor is there any need to list the many liberal, and conservative, columnists on this and other editorial pages around the country who supported the war, or the many prominent journalists who provided the reporting that helped convince so many that the war was necessary.

The question of the day is, what makes Joe Lieberman different? What makes him now anathema to a Democratic Party and to liberal columnists who once supported both him and the war? Why is there now a chance he will lose the Democratic primary in Connecticut after so many years of faithfully serving that state and his own party?

[...]

It will not be because he is a hawk. Lest anyone forget, Lieberman was put on the 2000 ticket partly because he was a foreign policy and defense hawk, and most emphatically on the question of Iraq. In the 1990s he was the leading sponsor of a Senate resolution, which eventually passed with 98 votes, to provide money to Iraqis for the express purpose of overthrowing Hussein. This was what made him attractive to Democrats in 2000. It made him a fitting companion to that other hawk on the ticket, Al Gore. For remember, Gore, too, had gained the nomination as a relative hard-liner on foreign policy, including policy on Iraq.

[...]

Lieberman stands condemned today because he didn't recant. He didn't say he was wrong. He didn't turn on his former allies and condemn them. He didn't claim to be the victim of a hoax. He didn't try to pretend that he never supported the war in the first place. He didn't claim to be led into support for the war by a group of writers and intellectuals whom he can now denounce. He didn't go through a public show of agonizing and phony soul-baring and apologizing in the hopes of resuscitating his reputation, as have some noted "public intellectuals."

These have been the chosen tactics of self-preservation ever since events in Iraq started to go badly and the war became unpopular. Prominent intellectuals, both liberal and conservative, have turned on their friends and allies in an effort to avoid opprobrium for a war they publicly supported. Journalists have turned on their fellow journalists in an effort to make them scapegoats for the whole profession. Politicians have twisted themselves into pretzels to explain away their support for the war or, better still, to blame someone else for persuading them to support it.

Al Gore, the one-time Clinton administration hawk, airbrushed that history from his record. He turned on all those with whom he once agreed about Iraq and about many other foreign policy questions. And for this astonishing reversal he has been applauded by his fellow Democrats and may even get the party's nomination.

Apparently, amazingly, dispiritingly, it all works. At least in the short run, dishonesty pays. Dissembling pays. Forgetting your past writings and statements pays. Condemning those with whom you once agreed pays. Phony self-flagellation followed by self-righteous self-congratulation pays. The only thing that doesn't pay is honesty. If Joe Lieberman loses, it will not be because he supported the war or even because he still supports it. It will be because he refused to choose one of the many dishonorable paths open to him to salvage his political career.

He is the last honest man, and he may pay the price for it. At least he will be able to sleep at night. And he can take some solace in knowing that history, at least an honest history, will be kinder to him than was his own party.

Network/Outlet
The Washington Post
Person
Robert Kagan
Stories/Interests
Attacks on Progressives, Propaganda/Noise Machine, Al Gore, 2008 Elections
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