On the Presidency of Al Gore

In less than two weeks the United States will mark a solemn and unfortunate anniversary, the tenth anniversary of 9/11.

I bring this up, not to disturb the memories of some who are still traumatized by the incident, but because of a recent poll that asked Americans what they thought the world would be like if Al Gore had been President. And the truth is, most Americans think we’d be in the same place we are today if Al Gore, not George W. Bush, had been inaugurated in 2001.

There are a few blogs that have been discussing it. Matt Yglesias discusses it. So too does Andrew Sullivan. The point both make is that there would have been some military intervention in Asia and the Middle East, at the very least Afghanistan and possibly Iraq as well, thanks to 9-11.

However, that belief presumes there would have been a need for an invasion of Afghanistan to take down bin Laden in a Gore presidency. It’s difficult to prove the counterfactual, but there’s every reason to think that 9/11 would not have happened.

During the presidential transition in 2001, President Clinton gave Bush a plan to retaliate against al-Qaeda for the USS Cole bombing. Clinton did not implement the plan himself, as he did not want to bequeath his successor a military operation (in the way that Bush pere had left Clinton to clean up the Somalia mess). Bush promptly tossed the retaliatory strike on al-Qaeda because the people he had surrounded himself with believed that terrorism was not a big deal. Gore, on the other hand, would not have been as dismissive of the idea of terrorism, having been in the Clinton administration. Even if the Cole reprisal didn’t disrupt al-Qaeda sufficiently, not backbenching Richard Clarke as Condoleezza Rice had would have paid dividends. That’s not to say that the Bush administration was not aware of the impending attack — John Ashcroft suspected enough that he stopped flying on public planes, Bush was given the PDB of August 6, 2011 that warned of an impending attack — but the Bush administration wasn’t focused on or interested in doing anything about the intel. A President Gore presented with a Presidential Daily Briefing entitled “Bin Laden Determined to Strike In US” would not have said to his CIA briefer, as Bush did, “Okay, now you’ve covered your ass.”

Even presuming that 9/11 occurs on Gore’s watch, we don’t get from Afghanistan to Iraq. Yes, it is true that Gore believed in the existence of Iraqi WMDs. But Gore was not the unilateralist that Bush was, and Gore didn’t have the Cold War Revivalists like Cheney surrounding him. (And, if you accept the premise of Jacob Weisberg’s The Bush Tragedy, Gore didn’t have the psychological and familial issues that pushed Bush into Iraq.) Would Gore have used intelligence he knew to be false and fabricated to make a case for war? I genuinely doubt it. In any event, the link between Afghanistan and Iraq wasn’t just tenuous. It was non-existent. Yet, that purported link was one of the reasons that Bush and his administration argued for war. If you ask people today if there was a link between Osama bin Laden and Saddam Hussein, many many people think there was, because Dick Cheney and George W. Bush kept telling them so. If they weren’t in a position to use the bully pulpit of their offices to tell the American people an outright lie, the non-existent link would not have been forged in the mind of the people. That’s not to say that Cheney couldn’t have written editorials and the like claiming that it was a vital interest of the United States to depose Saddam Hussein. Along with other neocons with the Project for a New American Century, he wrote a letter to Clinton in the mid-90s arguing for regime change in Iraq. There’s a vast difference between writing a letter to a President and being a Vice President with the ear of a President who had something to prove to the world.

In short, the evidence supports the contention that the 9/11 attacks happened because of the incompetence of Bush and his advisors. In a hypothetical world where Gore became President in 2001, there’s every reason to believe that the al-Qaeda attacks on New York and Washington would have been disrupted in advance of the hijackings and the Twin Towers would continue to stands. At times I wonder how people like Sandra Day O’Connor and Anthony Kennedy can sleep at night. They have the blood of the last decade on their hands.at times I wonder how people like Sandra Day O’Connor and Anthony Kennedy can sleep at night. They have the blood of the last decade on their hands. If only for that reason, a world with President Gore would be a better world than the one we inhabit today.

George Bush’s presidency is also an argument against Leibniz — we do not live in the best of all possible worlds.

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