Conservatives are pasting Al Gore for flip-flopping on Iraq. In the Wall Street Journal editorial page's "Best of the Web" column, James Taranto quips that the Gore who argued against war with Iraq yesterday at San Francisco's Commonwealth Club must be an "imposter," because previously Gore favored ousting Saddam Hussein. Andrew Sullivan writes on his Web log that Gore's new stance demonstrates that "[h]e'll say whatever he thinks will get him power or attention or votes." Republican National Committee spokesman Jim Dyke told the Washington Post, "the whole speech was a contradiction within a contradiction," and made Gore sound "more like a political hack than a presidential candidate." Even the liberal New York Times, whose convictions about war with Iraq are hard to distinguish from those expressed in Gore's speech, said (in a news story by Dean Murphy) that the speech indicated "a shift in positioning."
In fact, though, Gore's new stance on Iraq is easy to reconcile with his previous one. Let's review the evidence.
Exhibit A: Gore to the Iraqi National Congress, June 28, 2000.
News source: BBC.
Money quote: "There can be no peace for the Middle East so long as Saddam is in a position to brutalize his people and threaten his neighbors."
Money paraphrase: Gore stated that the U.S. remains committed to Saddam's overthrow.
Why this doesn't contradict Gore's Commonwealth Club speech: The comments to the Iraqi National Congress predate Sept. 11. The Commonwealth Club speech states the obvious point that U.S. security needs were altered on Sept. 11 by our urgent need to destroy al-Qaida. Also, even in 2000, Gore wasn't saying the United States should immediately commit troops to overthrowing Saddam.
Exhibit B: Goreto the Council on Foreign Relations, Feb. 12, 2002.
News source: The speech text itself.
1) "There are still governments that could bring us great harm. And there is a clear case that one of these governments in particular represents a virulent threat in a class by itself: Iraq."
2) "As far as I am concerned, a final reckoning with that government should be on the table. To my way of thinking, the real question is not the principle of the thing, but of making sure that this time we will finish the matter on our terms."
Why this doesn't contradict Gore's Commonwealth Club speech: Because Gore's Council on Foreign Relations speech went on to say,
[F]inishing it on our terms means more than a change of regime in Iraq. It means thinking through the consequences of action there on our other vital interests, including the survival in office of Pakistan's leader; avoiding a huge escalation of violence in the Middle East; provision for the security and interests of Saudi Arabia, Turkey and the Gulf States; having a workable plan for preventing the disintegration of Iraq into chaos; and sustaining critically important support within the present coalition.
The implication was that if these other things couldn't be done, the United States shouldn't go to war with Iraq.
Exhibit C: Gore's 1991 vote in support of the Gulf War.
Why this doesn't contradict Gore's Commonwealth Club speech: Because Saddam had just invaded another country, and because the U.S. military action was multilateral. As Gore points out in the Commonwealth Club speech, neither of these is true today.
Exhibit D: Gore's Commonwealth Club speech.