It’s impossible to forget those anxious December days when cherry-picked Florida counties continued to find handfuls of new Gore votes as recount after recount marched the 2000 election result towards a reversal of the apparent Bush victory a month earlier. Eventually the Supreme Court put a stop to the selective process which counted hanging chads in Democratic counties differently than in Republican counties.
When Bush won, he brought with him a cabal of staffers broadly known as “neoconservatives” who distinguished themselves from traditional Republicans by ignoring deficit spending and strongly supporting interventionist foreign policy with a heavy emphasis on protecting and advancing America’s petro-allies in the Middle East. Months after September 11, 2001, the Bush Administration diverted America’s response to terrorism by seeking a revenge war in Iraq.
American taxpayers poured trillions of dollars into the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. The wars represented a new golden age for the State Department, the CIA, and the Pentagon, as Americans developed a neo-colonial relationship with the client states in Iraq and Afghanistan. Bush and his allies easily brushed aside the few complaints and warnings from traditional liberals about abuses of civil liberties and the prospect of a never-ending Vietnam-like war. I can still hear the sound of Vice President Dick Cheney chuckling dismissively on the Sunday morning talk shows as he scoffed at these fears. Sure, the wars would be expensive. But “deficits don’t matter” according to the then-vice president.
Oh, what a bitter harvest we have reaped.
History acquitted those chicken-little voices that warned of never-ending wars, ballooning deficits, and the dangers of bloated and politicized intelligence agencies. I admit it. I was wrong about Bush. He was a disaster.
We’re reminded of this point as we watch the humiliating withdrawal of U.S. forces in Afghanistan. Bush’s critics, who seemed so wrong at the time, have been proven right in the sweep of history. The Iraq and Afghanistan wars turned into the very quagmires that the liberals predicted. The Intelligence Agencies were allowed to pursue and harass Muslims in the United States—even setting some up in “Truman Show”-style prosecutions in which the FBI planned and financed almost every detail of terrorism plots to ensnare lonely, mentally disabled Muslim men. The civil liberties of these “terrorists” didn’t seem very important at the time. The liberals warned that these tactics set dangerous precedents that might later be applied to larger and larger swaths of the public.
So would any of this have been different had Al Gore been elected president?
While the former vice president is now regarded as a passionate advocate for the environment, this mostly came to pass after he lost the election. His 2000 campaign promised to continue the Clinton-era budget surplus. His foreign policy focused on cooperation and promoting peace. His domestic proposals were modest: $1.6 billion for classroom internet access and a $1500 tax credit for two years of college tuition. Although Al Gore had tremendous faults that made Bush seem more appealing at the time, Gore did not present himself as the type of transformative president that the next three presidents would prove to be. In retrospect, Al Gore may have been the better choice.
Up until September 11, 2001, Gore’s first term would have looked something like a third Bill Clinton term. Assuming the terrorist attacks would have happened in this alternate universe, we can reasonably expect Gore would have reacted differently than Bush did.
First, unlike Bush, Gore had no particular attachment to the situation in Iraq. Bush’s father started the war with Iraq to protect Saudi Arabia from invasion. Iraqi President Saddam Hussein would later attempt to stage an assassination of Bush’s father as revenge. It was personal. Everyone understands that now. In contrast, we can reasonably assume that Gore would have allowed the sanctions regime against Iraq to collapse while he focused on responding to Al Qaeda.
Obama, not Bush, found and killed Osama bin Laden by circumventing the very duplicitous alliance with Pakistan that Bush had formed in the early part of the war. Gore likely would have borrowed from the Bosnian conflict game plan which relied on airstrikes and very light on-the-ground presence. It’s even possible that Gore would have made a nuclear response instead of attempting to conquer and occupy the entire country of Afghanistan.
Bill Clinton tangled with the FBI in Arkansas and likely did not trust the intelligence community. Likewise, Gore had his own run-in with the FBI during the 1996 campaign. It’s reasonable to assume that a President Gore would have tempered calls to expand and unleash the FBI.
The awful legacy of George Bush split the Republican party during the 2016 presidential campaign. When Trump correctly criticized neocons for their fruitless wars, they became enraged. Until Trump, the pseudo-intellectual near-imperialists wrapped themselves in a protective costume of patriotic rhetoric. Then Trump said the obvious truth that nobody dared speak: these wars are bad for American interests abroad and at home. The Bush Republicans became Hillary Clinton supporters.
Rich Republicans across the country followed Bush into the arms of the Democrats as leftists and corporate America formed their unholy alliance that continues to oppress us today. Thanks to Bush, no party now advocates for fiscal restraint or true free-market principles. Yet another part of Bush’s awful legacy is a culture of debt tolerance that has led us to a catastrophic greater-than-GDP public debt one normally associates with a Third-World country.
What did nearly two decades in Afghanistan and Iraq buy us? Thousands of American dead and trillions more in debt, and Afghanistan is swiftly returning to its pre-invasion configuration. Lots of government contractors and retired generals grew very rich pouring American treasure into the land-locked and barren land. The Bushes themselves have become fabulously wealthy, worth hundreds of millions of dollars. Meanwhile it will take many more years for America to recover from their endless wars and crippling debt. That’s why I’m retroactively endorsing Al Gore for the 2000 presidential election. For all of his faults, he couldn’t have been worse.