WASHINGTON--A pudding with no theme but much poison. Such was the foreign policy speech Al Gore delivered in San Francisco on Monday. It was a disgrace--a series of cheap shots strung together without logic or coherence. Most of all, it was brazen. It was delivered as if there had been no Clinton-Gore administration, no 1990s.
The tone of the speech is best reflected in Gore's contemptuous dismissal of the U.S. victory in Afghanistan as ``defeating a fifth-rate military power.'' If the Taliban were a fifth-rate military power, why didn't the Clinton-Gore administration destroy it and spare us Sept. 11?
It is not as if, during Gore's term, al Qaeda had not declared itself nor established its postal address. It issued a declaration of war on the United States, blew up our embassies in Kenya and Tanzania and attacked the USS Cole. What did Gore's administration do? Fire a few missiles into the Afghan desert and a Sudanese pharmaceutical factory, then wash its hands and leave the problem to its successors.
Why didn't the Clinton-Gore administration go after this fifth-rate military power? This is a question that even Russia's President Putin has asked. In an interview with the German newspaper Bild shortly after Sept. 11, Putin recounted having talked to the Clinton administration about Osama bin Laden: ``They wrung their hands so helplessly, and said, `the Taliban are not turning him over, what can one do?' I remember I was surprised: If they are not turning him over, one has to think and do something.''
They did nothing. Gore now scorns the success of the man who did something.
Considering the glass house he inhabits, Gore's attack on Bush is remarkably ad hominem. He implies, first, that the president is going after Iraq to distract attention from not finding Osama. And second, that Bush is doing this for electoral purposes.
Interesting charges. On Aug. 17, 1998, Gore's president, the one he declared ``will be regarded in the history books as one of our greatest presidents,'' made his Monica confession on national television and then slinked away to Martha's Vineyard for penance and isolation. Then, less than three days later, he returned from oblivion with that ostentatious commander-in-chief walk from Marine One to the Oval Office to announce his response to the African embassy bombings: his useless cruise missile salvo against Afghanistan and Sudan.
Then, that December, another bombing spasm, a three-day affair against Iraq that similarly achieved nothing. Operation Desert Fox occurred right in the midst of the House debate on impeachment. The timing was so wag-the-dog precise that it actually caused a postponement of the vote, with some Democrats suggesting that with the country now in crisis the impeachment proceedings should be canceled altogether and the whole mess left to the next Congress.
Gore should be careful about leveling charges about presidents getting combat-happy to distract attention from other problems. Yet what is most remarkable about Gore's speech is that for all its poison, it is profoundly unserious. Take Gore's repeated characterization of the Bush policy on postwar Afghanistan as ``this doctrine of wash your hands and walk away.''
Walk away? Our current policy is to secure Kabul, retrain the army, protect the new president, and establish a small central government that can, over time, expand its political and geographic reach. This is a serious commitment. Our soldiers trying to fulfill it are being shot at regularly. Tell them they're walking away.
There is a serious question about how deeply involved in Afghanistan we ought to be. Are we more likely to bring stability by continuing Afghanistan's long history of decentralization and allowing warlords to act in their traditional areas of influence, or by sending an imperial army to go around imposing order in places where outsiders--the British and the Soviets most notably--have not had much luck imposing their own order?
One can argue either way, but the burden of proof is on those urging the more onerous and risky MacArthur regency. If Gore were a serious man he would make the case. But he doesn't. He doesn't even try to. He is too thin. And too cynical.
The New York Times reports that Gore wrote the speech ``after consulting a fairly far-flung group of advisers that included Rob Reiner.'' The current foreign policy of the United States is the combined product of Donald Rumsfeld, Condoleezza Rice, Dick Cheney, Colin Powell, Paul Wolfowitz and the president. Meanwhile, the pretender is huddling with Meathead.
Had it not been for a few little old ladies baffled by the butterfly ballot in Palm Beach, American foreign policy today would be made by Gore-Reiner instead of the Bush brain trust. Who says God doesn't smile upon the United States of America?