April 07, 2004

Possible worlds

In a piece that was too counterfactual even for The New Republic, apparently, Joshua Kurlantzick asks what would have happened, foreign policy-wise, if Gore had won in 2000. Basically, the scenario shakes down like so:

1. Gore spends pre-9/11 passing energy bills and paving the way towards single-payer health care. Builds lots of international alliances by supporting disarmament, Kyoto, etc.

2. After 9/11, does Afghanistan—the Operation Enduring Freedom part—just like Bush did.

3. Forges doctrine of “enlightened nationalism,” whereby we push liberalism on all our foes, using force if necessary, but take every possible step to strengthen multilateral alliances. Rewrites UN security council rules, making it easier to intervene abroad.

4. Creates international counterterrorism force, involving law enforcement, sharing of intelligence, and anti-terror financial policies.

5. Uses international structure to push Pakistan into opening up its nuclear program to inspectors, and cooperating with U.S. forces in hunting down al-Qaeda.

6. After al-Qaeda eradicated and Pakistan stabilized, Gore focuses on lesser WMD threats, putting big pressure on Saddam Hussein to open country for inspection.

7. When Saddam eventually kicks inspectors out, the U.S. invades, with broad international support (Gore spends a lot of time coalition building, relying on his close ties with European leaders). Muslim nations like Pakistan and Bangladesh assist in Iraq invasion, a big propaganda coup.
Some of this rests on wishful thinking and rather tenuous assumptions. If Gore had become President, Jeffords might not have defected, and Gore might not have used 9/11 as a whacking stick in the 2002 elections, as Bush did. So Gore might have faced a rather belligerent Republican Congress, and he almost certainly would have faced a less compliant media than Bush has (at least through 2003). Plus, Pakistan would have been a tough nut to crack.

Problems aside, this seems exactly right. As I suggested below, Afghanistan and Pakistan need to be dealt with as a unit—and the opportunity to do so was probably in the fall of 2001, with broad international support. Likewise, Iraq certainly could have waited, and if Gore could have roped in international support, we would certainly have a more fruitful time occupying Iraq.

That said, I think Gore almost certainly would have made some occupational blunders, analogous to some of Bush’s ill-fated decisions, like letting the DoD initially handle reconstruction, or disbanding the Iraqi army. But international support would have assuaged the pain, and it was definitely doable, it just would have taken time and effort. We had so much political capital after 9/11. Shame to squander it.
-- Brad Plumer 11:49 PM || ||