Gore’s ‘92 speech on Iraq — and why the right has it wrong
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Yesterday, Hot Air, a leading far-right site, posted a YouTube clip from 1992 in which Al Gore blasted the Bush/Quayle team for its Iraq policy. The right was instantly giddy over the video because, as Hot Air perceived it, the clip proves that Gore is a “craven opportunist.” (via Too Sense)
The thesis of the Gore speech: Reagan-Bush had looked the other way and let Saddam Hussein become a terroristic [sic] menace and a WMD developer. They had ignored Saddam’s many operational ties to terrorists over the years so they could maintain relations with him and offset the threat from the mullahs in Iran.
That’s a relatively accurate description. Gore’s speech highlighted a wide variety of Saddam Hussein’s terrorist tendencies, and H.W. Bush’s response to each — which was always tolerance. No matter what Iraq did, and how much it promoted terrorism, and how often it would use chemical weapons, Bush 41 preferred to look the other way.
Gore’s point, in the context of the 1992 presidential campaign was clear — if H.W. Bush wants credit for the 1991 Gulf War, he ought to also accept responsibility for helping enable Saddam Hussein for the better part of a decade.
The right seems to think this should be a stunning embarrassment for Gore. One far-right blogger cited the video as proof that Gore “flip-flopped” and was a “warmonger.” Hot Air argued, “Just so we’re clear on this, the 1992 version of Gore accused Bush 41 of lying by minimizing the threat that Saddam posed to the US and the world. The current version of Gore accuses Bush 43 of lying by overstating the threat that Saddam posed to the US and the world.” Rush Limbaugh has the Gore clip in heavy rotation. I haven’t seen the reports, but several conservative sites noted that Fox News has picked up the Gore clip and have been having fun with it.
I’m curious if any of these conservatives who are so enthralled by the Gore video have actually thought this one through.
None of the conservatives who’ve promoted the video have made any effort to criticize the substance of Gore’s remarks in 1992, which suggests that they believe he was right — Saddam was sponsoring terrorism, using chemical weapons, and faced no adverse consequences at all from the Reagan/Bush/Quayle team(s).
So if Gore was right in ‘92, what are his critics complaining about? That he must be some kind of hypocritical opportunist for accusing Bush 41 of enabling Saddam while criticizing Bush 43 for attacking Saddam.
But the argument doesn’t withstand any real scrutiny. Gore was right in both instances — Bush 41 was wrong to repeatedly cooperate with and reach out to a brutal dictator, and Bush 43 was wrong to launch an unnecessary war under false pretenses and then bungle the conflict every step of the way. The right sees a contradiction here. There isn’t.
This far-right blog’s take was my personal favorite:
“[I]f President George H.W. Bush deserves blame for not taking action against Saddam Hussein, how much blame shall we unload on the Clinton-Gore administration that had 8 years after this speech to do it… yet failed to.”
Well, here’s the thing: Clinton/Gore didn’t fail to take action. On the contrary — Clinton/Gore effectively disarmed Saddam.
Iraq’s weapons and facilities, [David Kay said], had been destroyed in three phases: by allied bombardment in the 1991 Gulf War; by U.N. inspectors in the half-decade after that war; and by President Clinton’s 1998 bombing campaign. (Clinton’s airstrikes, by now widely forgotten, were even at the time widely dismissed as a political diversion; they took place during the weekend when the House of Representatives voted for impeachment. But according to Kay, they destroyed Iraq’s remaining infrastructure for building chemical weapons.) Kay adds that Saddam tried to resuscitate some of these programs, but — due to sanctions, fear of inspections, and lack of resources — he was not able to do so.
Gore said Saddam Hussein was dangerous in 1992. That’s true. Gore said Bush 41 looked the other way while Saddam got more dangerous. That’s true. Gore said the U.S. needed to do more to address the Iraqi threat, and then was part of the administration that disarmed Saddam’s regime. That’s true. Years later, Gore said a war against Iraq was unnecessary and would be a tragic mistake. That’s true.
In other words, the right is trumpeting a video clip that makes Gore look better — he’s not only right about Iraq policy now, he’s been right about Iraq policy for 15 years.
Why conservatives are anxious to make this point remains a mystery.