one of the most forceful Democratic condemnations of President Bush's foreign
policy, former Vice President Al Gore warned in San Francisco on Monday that a
pre-emptive strike on Iraq would distract America from its war on terrorism and
"weaken our ability to lead the world."
"After Sept. 11, we had enormous sympathy, goodwill and support around the
world," Gore told about 500 people at the Commonwealth Club of California. "That
has been squandered in a year's time and replaced with great fear, anxiety and
uncertainty around the world, not at what the terrorist network is going to do,
but at what we are going to do."
Gore later told reporters the Bush administration had been guilty of a "do-
it-alone, cowboy-type reaction to foreign affairs," saying "there's ample basis
for taking off after Saddam, but before you ride out after Jesse James, you ought
to put the posse together."
The former vice president delivered his first major remarks on the potential
for war with Iraq before an adoring audience at the Fairmont Hotel in heavily
Democratic San Francisco. The 2000 Democratic presidential candidate was greeted
by cheers, a standing ovation and even an impromptu singing of "Hail to the Chief,"
the presidential anthem, by some in the crowd.
In response to an audience question about another presidential run, Gore said,
"I haven't ruled it out," adding he would decide by December, based on wholly
unscientific "gut feeling."
FOCUS ON WAR ON TERROR
In his 45-minute address, Gore said the Bush administration, rather than beating
the drums for war with Iraq, should focus its efforts on winning the battle against
terrorism and finding and punishing those behind last year's attack on America.
"I do not believe we should allow ourselves to be distracted from this urgent
task simply because it is proving to be more difficult and lengthy than predicted,"
Gore said. "Great nations persevere and then prevail. They do not jump from one
unfinished task to another."
Gore conceded that Saddam Hussein was a threat to world peace but said if he
"does not present an imminent threat, then is it justifiable for the administration
to be seeking by every means to precipitate a confrontation, to find a cause for
war and to attack?"
"Even those who now agree that Saddam Hussein must go may divide deeply over
the wisdom of presenting the United States as impatient for war," he said.
If the United States goes it alone in an attack on Iraq, it could be devastating
for the battle against international terrorism and for the county's standing as
a world leader, Gore suggested.
"Winning the war against terrorism is impossible without broad and continuous
international cooperation," he said. "Our ability to secure this kind of cooperation
can be severely damaged by unilateral action against Iraq."
Gore said the administration was presenting a view that seemed to glorify the
idea of U.S. dominance.
"If what America represents to the world is leadership in a commonwealth of
equals, then our friends are legion," he said. "If what we represent to the world
is empire, then it is our enemies who will be legion."
FIRST OF MANY STRIKES
Gore argued that Bush's proposed doctrine of a pre-emptive strike on those
who threatened the country could lead to more military action -- and while Iraq
might be the first target, it might not necessarily be the last.
"The very logic of the concept suggests a string of military engagements against
a succession of sovereign states: Syria, Libya, North Korea, Iran, none of them
very popular in the United States, of course," Gore said.
And Bush's proposed pre-emptive doctrine also leaves open the possibility that
it would set a damaging precedent. "If other nations assert the same right, then
the rule of law will quickly be replaced by the reign of fear," he said.
Gore enjoyed the enthusiastic reception he received in San Francisco, one of
the most Democratic cities in California, a state where he beat Bush by 1.3 million
Throughout his speech -- and later in a question and answer segment -- the
audience repeatedly showed its support.
Asked at one point, "If you had been elected president . . ." several in the
crowd yelled out "He was!" -- and then took up that chant of "He was! He was!"
Gore, smiling broadly, said, "It's great to be back in California."
The former vice president, though, said he doesn't like to discuss what might
have been. "I try to avoid saying what I would have done differently leading up
to Sept. 11," he said.
Gore also dodged questions about whether Bush was playing politics with Iraq.
"I have purposely avoided making that charge . . ." he said. "The fact that
doubts have been rising up is simply a fact that has to be taken into consideration."
But the crowd erupted in cheers when he added that Bush "should stop using
the (war) issue on the campaign trail."
Yet, Gore drew a line -- forcefully -- when an audience member shouted out
that Americans had more to fear from Bush than Hussein.
'RESPECT THE DEBATE'
Gore warned there was a danger of going too far in the partisan political furor
surrounding the question of war. "We must respect the democratic debate that has
made our country great," he said.
Later, in response to reporters' questions, Gore insisted that his address
was not a campaign speech, but "an effort to present an alternative point of view
and a proposed course of action that I believe would be far better for the country."
Asked whether he was out of step with fellow Democrats, who have been reluctant
to criticize Bush on Iraq, Gore said, "I really don't care -- in the sense that
I'm going to do and say what I think is right."
Prominent Bay Area Democrats in the crowd praised Gore's speech.
"I just really appreciated what he had to say -- and I think he had to say
it," said Susie Tompkins Buell, the co-founder of Esprit and one of the nation's
most generous Democratic donors.
Asked whether Gore had won her support for another presidential bid, Buell
said she remained undecided.
"But I think Al Gore really put himself out today," she said, "and I found
it very strong, and very comforting."
©2002 San Francisco Chronicle