If the Democrats had won in 2000, would American foreign policy after 9/11 have taken an alternative path?by Joshua Kurlantzick / March 20, 2004 / Leave a comment
Published in March 2004 issue of Prospect Magazine
At noon on a Sunday in Washington, the US president stepped before the world’s press. Two hours before, in Baghdad, the head of coalition forces had announced the capture of Saddam Hussein, in hiding since the overthrow of his government eight months earlier. On the podium, the president grinned and called Saddam’s capture a victory for the Iraqi people. Just offstage, the hawkish but low-key vice-president was congratulated by his advisers.
On the Sunday television talk shows, meanwhile, political analysts debated the impact of Saddam’s capture on domestic politics. Some contended that it would be a great boon to the president’s party. Others were not sure. After all, although former Texas governor George W Bush had embarked on some strange misadventures since losing narrowly in 2000 and 2004 – growing a handlebar moustache, taking reporters on week-long tours of the west Texas sagebrush – he had recently started to return to the political stage, positioning himself as a viable challenger to the Democratic candidate in 2008.
A President Gore supporting an invasion of Iraq? Not possible, surely. The left wing of the Democratic party – and many Europeans – would certainly like to think not. Yet until recently, Gore was probably the most hawkish senior Democrat, supporting aid to the Contras in the 1980s, military intervention in the Balkans in the early 1990s and even national missile defence in the late 1990s. Gore supported the 1991 Gulf war, even though 70 per cent of Democratic senators and representatives opposed it. He also pushed Clinton to take a tougher line against Saddam. And Gore’s prospective vice-president, Joe Lieberman, joined with many leading Republicans in the late 1990s to pressure the Clinton administration to launch a pre-emptive strike against Saddam.
Certainly, if Gore had won in 2000 his domestic policies would have been drastically different from those of Bush. Gore’s views on environmental regulation, the deficit and healthcare would clearly have ruled out the regulatory rollback, huge tax cuts and privatisation of government health services that Bush has embraced. But on foreign policy there is less of a red state/blue state divide in America: most foreign issues do not resonate with the public, and since 9/11 ordinary Americans have deferred to the president and the foreign policy establishment. For a combination of reasons, over the past five years much of that establishment, whether Republican or Democrat, has come to view America’s place in the world in a similar way. Both parties embrace US hegemony and military supremacy, and support the aggressive use of that power to promote US national interests by reshaping the world around American values.