Since Al Gore is not running for office this year, he is not boxed in like the other Democrats with whom he will be contesting for the 2004 nomination. Nor is he risking much.
If by 2004 President Bush has acted against Iraq, his actions will either have been a success or not by that time. If the president is successful, it will be hard for any Democrat to unseat him, but if a war against Iraq produces setbacks and disappointments that the public resents, then that is when the Democratic nomination will really be worth something.
Gore's freedom from the constraints of this year's election allows him to play to the basic attitudes of many of the Democrats' hard-core supporters, who will have a big say in who gets the party's 2004 presidential nomination. These Democrats have long been opposed to any military action, or even spending money on military preparedness. Most Democrats in Congress voted against the Gulf War in 1991, with some predicting a quagmire and huge American casualties.
Gore is able to play to the hard-core Democrats by warning against unilateral action. What this means in practice is limiting what we do to what the lowest common denominator among other countries will support -- and delaying until such support can be mustered, regardless of how much closer to nuclear weapons Saddam Hussein gets in the meantime.
None of this is rocket science, but it does require you to stop and think -- and that is what demagogues are betting that you will not do.