National Review Online | 9.30.02
American Outlook Today | 10.2.02
By Alan W. Dowd
Our message to Saddam is blunt and simple," the speaker intoned. "Destroy your weapons or we will do it for you." Given Saddam Hussein's capabilities and designs, the words could not be more appropriate. But who fired this laser-guided rhetorical salvo? If you guessed George W. Bush, you would be wrong. It was Iain Duncan-Smith, the leader of Britain's opposition party. And he spoke those words as his chief political rival, Tony Blair, made the politically risky case for military action in Iraq. Al Gore would do well to embrace Duncan-Smith's style, if not his rhetoric.
Duncan-Smith truly personifies the loyal opposition. For example, like most Tories he is opposed to Britain's conversion to the euro and wary of British peacekeeping deployments. But he at least expresses those differences politely. "My party is going to campaign against scrapping the pound," he jabbed last June, "and I will lead that vigorously." When Duncan-Smith voiced concerns over a muddled mission in Macedonia, he didn't question the deployment itself, but rather called on Blair to clarify the mission. Although he applauded Blair for standing with the United States in Afghanistan, he urged Blair not to use British troops as a "static…peacekeeping" force.
When Duncan-Smith agrees with Blair's foreign policy, as on Afghanistan and Iraq, he is unapologetic and forthright. "We are united … in our determination not only to extend our genuine and heartfelt sympathy to the United States, but to defend civilized values against those who seek to bring them down by violence," he declared after the terror attacks. There were no "for nows" or "howevers" — only solidarity.
Now, contrast that with Gore's not-so-friendly fire against the Bush administration's war effort. "History," according to Duncan-Smith, "is littered with the desire of decent people to give the likes of Saddam Hussein a second chance." Al Gore seems determined to be one of those people. During his now-infamous speech in San Francisco, he smeared the Pentagon's conquest of what he called a "fifth-rate military power" in Afghanistan. He even said that Bush has "abandoned almost all of Afghanistan." Of course, the very opposite is true. In 2002 alone, the United States will pour $300 million into Afghanistan. U.S. troops are guarding Afghan leader Hamid Karzai. They literally saved his life during an assassination attempt in early September. Hundreds of Americans roam the Afghan countryside, training the future Afghan army, caring for wounded civilians, and hunting al Qaeda. At America's direction, thousands of allied troops have joined this effort. All of this has occurred in less than a year's time. Postwar Afghanistan is not yet fully recovered, but it is anything but abandoned.
Undeterred by the facts, Gore worries that Bush will repeat in Iraq what he did in Afghanistan. The Iraqi people and their neighbors should be so lucky.
According to Gore, "The vast majority of those who sponsored, planned and implemented the cold-blooded murder of more than 3,000 Americans are still at large." Hence, Gore argues, Bush should not take aim at Iraq. By that military logic, FDR shouldn't have fought the Germans in North Africa because he had not yet wiped out the Japanese in the Pacific.
Furthermore, Gore's battlefield assessment isn't exactly accurate. Although al Qaeda is still a serious threat, it is a shell of its former self. Fully half of al Qaeda's 30 most-wanted terrorists are known to have been killed or captured. About 500 of al Qaeda's best are being held at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Pakistan alone has apprehended 378 al Qaeda fighters.
Unlike Gore, Bush has concluded that Saddam's Iraq and bin Laden's al Qaeda are two pieces of a global terror puzzle that also includes Hezbollah, Islamic Jihad, Iran, North Korea, Syria, and others. Bush has further concluded, rightly, that the United States can and must fight on multiple fronts.
That brings us back to Duncan-Smith's Iraq rhetoric. Citing a laundry list of Saddam's crimes — a list which includes invasions of Iran and Kuwait, missile attacks on Saudi Arabia and Israel, the use of chemical weapons against Iranians and Kurds, and the defiant development of nuclear and biological weapons — Duncan-Smith concludes, "Now surely is the time to act." And he asks a hard question of "those who refuse to contemplate military action at any price: How are we to force Saddam to comply with U.N. resolutions that he has flouted for a decade?"
It is almost as if Duncan-Smith is shouting across the Atlantic to Al Gore, and in a sense he is. Gore is one of those who dismiss the need for military action against Iraq, yet he has no real answer to his British counterpart's stubborn question. Gore concedes that "Iraq's search for weapons of mass destruction…will continue for as long as Saddam is in power." But rather than ending that search once and for all by ending Saddam's reign, Gore believes we should continue treating the symptoms.
Remarkably, Gore even goes so far as to imply that because Saddam already has "secret supplies of biological and chemical weapons throughout his country," removing the Iraqi dictator may do more harm than good, since those weapons could be stolen or transferred in the post-Saddam chaos. One can hear the faint echo of the State Department Kremlinologists who argued that keeping the Soviet Union together was preferable to freedom and independence for Moscow's subjects.
Gore doesn't have to agree with Bush, Blair or Duncan-Smith, but he owes it to his country and his cautious cause to make a better case than the one he made last week.