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What Did Gore Really Say?
February 15, 2002
by Eric Munoz

The media would have us believe that Al Gore’s speech to the Council on Foreign Relations was an endorsement of Bush’s policies. The USA Today, CNN and others blasted headlines proclaiming Gore’s support of Bush’s policies. But on closer inspection, Gore’s speech was critical of Bush’s approach on several fronts, perhaps most importantly, its tendency to act unilaterally.

The sharpest jab was delivered by contrasting the approaches of the previous and current administrations. “The Administration in which I served,” Gore said, “looked at the challenges we faced in the world and said we wished to tackle these ‘With others, if possible; alone, if we must.’ This Administration sometimes seems inclined to stand that on its head, so that the message is: With others, if we must; by ourselves, if possible.” Even more scathing is that these words are from a section titled “Unilateralism and hubris” in the prepared text from which Mr. Gore read.

Gore drew several distinctions between his positions and the positions of George Bush. He subtly and not so subtly criticized Bush’s shortsighted approach to combating terrorism by pointing to its sources: environmental disorder, poverty, ignorance, disease, HIV, oppression and corruption. Gore also criticized the policies of making the world profitable for ourselves at the expense of widening the gap between the haves and the have-nots.

Gore insisted that new alternative energy sources be developed so that Americans can break their dependence on oil. “We must finally develop alternatives to mid-eastern oil, internal combustion engines, inefficient boilers and the inertia that has paralyzed needed efforts at conservation,” Gore warned. Gore’s position can be extrapolated to highlight real differences between himself and Bush. Gore’s call to develop new technologies, explore new sources of renewable energy are in stark contrast to Bush and Cheney’s capitulation to the energy, especially the oil, industry as evidenced by the secret Energy Task Force meetings. Gore’s call is also in stark contrast to Bush’s budget cut—which according to the Environment News Service, “provides $19.0 billion in 2002, which is $700 million, or three percent, below the 2001 budget”—for funding the development of renewable energy sources.

In discussing the roots of terror, Gore pointed out that poverty and hopelessness sow the seeds of terrorism and if terrorism is to be truly defeated we must dry up the ‘aquifer of anger’ that leads to new recruits for terrorist groups. He warned the administration not to leave any nations prematurely, before they were able to stand on their own feet. As an extension of this position, Gore pointed to the need for the US to act in conjunction with other nations, as part of a peace force, for example. The Bush administration has, as Gore pointed out, been quick to denounce the input of other nations and has preferred to act unilaterally.

On the issue of Iraq, Gore declared that a final reckoning was in order, but that it must be done cautiously and in the proper context. Gore summed up his position quite clearly,

“To my way of thinking, the real question is not the principle of the thing, but of making sure that this time we will finish the matter on our terms. But finishing it on our terms means more than a change of regime in Iraq. It means thinking through the consequences of action there on our other vital interests, including the survival in office of Pakistan's leader; avoiding a huge escalation of violence in the Middle East; provision for the security and interests of Saudi Arabia, Turkey and the Gulf States; having a workable plan for preventing the disintegration of Iraq into chaos; and sustaining critically important support within the present coalition.”

The Bush administration, on the other hand, sees the change of regime as the first consideration as opposed to the context and consequences.

While he fell short of criticizing Bush’s choice of words, Gore’s endorsement of the term ‘Axis of Evil’ is tenuous at best. Gore broadens the concept of evil so that the other evils can be recognized on the same plane as terrorism, namely, poverty, disease, ignorance and the rest should be equated with terrorism so that they also receive the same attention and dedication to eradication that is exhibited toward terror. It is reminiscent of Bush’s use of the ‘Leave no child behind’ slogan, capture and use your opposition’s words so that they can be neutralized and even used to further your own agenda. It is also striking, and apparently lost on the media, that Gore chose to quote Michael Novak and in effect chide the President for his use of platitudes and his simple portrayal of this struggle as good vs. evil, saying,

Novak concluded with an important caution: “The word ‘evil’, when used only of others, can intoxicate the user before he knows it. I commend to him [the President], and all of us, [Reinhold] Neibuhr’s pregnant warning: ‘the final enigma of history is therefore not how the righteous will gain victory over the un-righteous, but how the evil in every good and the un-righteousness of the righteous is to be overcome.’”

Gore’s speech has been spun into an endorsement of George Bush, but as with the media’s portrayal of the recount results, the truth is in the pudding. Al Gore’s Presidency, as hinted at in this speech, would be wildly different than is the Bush Presidency. It is marked with a call to multilateral approaches to global problems, a recognition that evil isn’t quite simply ‘them’, an energy policy that makes social and economic sense and a restraint on profit seeking over the common good. In short, a Gore administration would bring the intelligence and maturity that is so sorely lacking in this one.

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