Gore’s speech has generated an exceptionally splenetic reaction from the pro-war crowd. Michael Kelly’s yelp of pure hatred was incomparably the worst I have seen so far:

Gore’s speech was one no decent politician could have delivered. It was dishonest, cheap, low. It was hollow. It was bereft of policy, of solutions, of constructive ideas, very nearly of facts — bereft of anything other than taunts and jibes and embarrassingly obvious lies. It was breathtakingly hypocritical, a naked political assault delivered in tones of moral condescension from a man pretending to be superior to mere politics. It was wretched. It was vile. It was contemptible. But I understate.

But there was lots of piling on. The basic line was that if Gore was a hawk in 1991 and is a dove now, his motive must be crassly political. (Tim Noah gives a detailed analysis defending Gore’s consistency.)

The speech itself was fairly tough on Bush — though never less than polite — but not actually exceptionally dovish. A careful comparison of Gore’s speech with Kelly’s screech should answer the question about which of them is dishonest, cheap, low, wretched, vile, and contemptible.

Gore’s basic points: let’s finish settling with al-Qaeda before going after Iraq; as long as SH is in power, he will go after WMD’s, but the threat isn’t imminent and therefore we have time to build an international consensus rather than going it alone; we have good grounds for attacking Iraq (as a truce violator) that don’t require an open-ended doctrine of pre-emption;action against Iraq should be taken in ways that don’t hurt the project of mounting a global effort against terrorism; the demand that Congress act before the election is substantively bad, and politically motivated; indefinite imprisonment of US citizens on mere presidential say-so is a bad idea; Iraq could be more dangerous to us after we defeat it than it is now, if we don’t do a better job of nation-buildling there than we have in Afghanistan. Therefore:

…the resolution that the President has asked Congress to pass is much too broad in the authorities it grants, and needs to be narrowed. The President should be authorized to take action to deal with Saddam Hussein as being in material breach of the terms of the truce and therefore a continuing threat to the security of the region. To this should be added that his continued pursuit of weapons of mass destruction is potentially a threat to the vital interests of the United States. But Congress should also urge the President to make every effort to obtain a fresh demand from the Security Council for prompt, unconditional compliance by Iraq within a definite period of time. If the Council will not provide such language, then other choices remain open, but in any event the President should be urged to take the time to assemble the broadest possible international support for his course of action.

All in all, it’s a fairly nuanced document, and the savagery of the invective directed against Gore might suggest to the cynical that the war hawks don’t think their case would survive a fair, civil debate.

Still, on the question of whether to strike now, and unilaterally, Gore came down with a clear “No.”

He could be right about this, or he could be wrong. But I hope Ralph Nader, and all the people who voted for him because there was “no real difference” between Gore and Bush, were listening. And I hope they’re satisfied with the result they brought about.

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact: Markarkleiman-at-gmail.com