It is perfectly possible that a President Gore would have responded forcefully to the attacks on the World Trade Center. He would have been mindful of the feckless Clinton policy and propelled by the sheer scale of the devastation we suffered to do something other than lob a couple of cruise missiles at empty buildings.
But he would not have done what President Bush is doing -- topple the Taliban regime, hunt down Al Qaeda members worldwide, send special forces troops to the Philippines and elsewhere, and prepare to upend the rogue regimes that are providing the territory, money and support for the worldwide terror network. Nor would he openly express disgust with Yasser Arafat.
Gore would have done none of these things because these are the actions of a self-confident and assertive America. This administration believes that if a group or state is threatening our interests or our citizens, we have every right to take whatever action we think best without checking with the United Nations. This is, in short, a totally post-Vietnam presidency.
Democrats don't think that way. Recall that prior to 9-11, Bush was widely reviled on the left for his "unilateralism." Liberals were offended that he rejected the phony Kyoto Treaty and had U.S. delegates walk out of the anti-Semitic and anti-American Durban Conference on Racism. And when the president signaled that the United States would withdraw from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, the press corps got the vapors. For liberals, the "international community" has moral standing. The United States does not.
A President Gore might have bombed Afghanistan. He probably would have. And he doubtless would have destroyed the terrorist training camps from the air. But would President Gore have put troops on the ground? Would he have been willing to give the CIA its head the way Bush did? No.
Why? Because fundamental to the left's approach to international affairs is the Vietnam-era belief that the American Gulliver must be tied down with a thousand tiny cords of treaties and arrangements with a fatuous entity called "the world community," or else it is likely to cause trouble and woe. This view took root on the left during the Vietnam War and has been rigorously adhered to since. The very notion that the United States can take it upon herself to overturn a regime -- even so vicious a regime as the Taliban -- is simply not in the liberal lexicon.
The left developed a quite passionate hatred for America's military and security services during Vietnam that has since mellowed but not disappeared. The Democrats spent the 1980s urging that the United States unilaterally disarm in the face of the Soviet threat. They argued that the best thing we could do for Latin America, which was then threatened with communist subversion, was to stay aloof. And when the Reagan administration declined to do so, as in Grenada, Democrats like Rep. Ted Weiss, D-N.Y.m said, "Reagan has adopted the tactic of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor as the new American standard of behavior."
Even when he was commander in chief, Bill Clinton declined to be briefed daily by the CIA. While calling for open homosexuals to be permitted in the military, he cut the size of the force by nearly half, yet increased its deployments (usually for peacekeeping) by 300 percent. The spirit of the administration's attitude toward the military could be found in comments like that of Assistant Secretary of the Army Sara Lister, who called the Marines "extremists."
And far from asserting that American interests, all by themselves, were worth defending, Clinton traveled the world apologizing for previous American presidents' actions. Asked to name national security challenges facing the United States in 2000, President Clinton named the AIDS scourge in Africa, The New York Times reported. Gore listed global "pandemics, economic inequality, global warming and the digital divide."
President Bush's State of the Union address made an eloquent case for the kind of world we will help to build -- a world where more people can enjoy freedom and prosperity, and fewer need fear the midnight knock at the door. But he has also shown a confidence in asserting America's national interests that brings down the curtain, finally, on the Vietnam syndrome.