Quick on the Trigger
Are you prepared for Gore's foreign policy?
by William D. Hartung
The Progressive magazine, November 2000
Liberal columnists such as Anthony Lewis of The New York Times,
E.J. Dionne of The Washington Post, and Hendrik Hertzberg of The
New Yorker have done contortions to demonstrate that yes, Virginia,
there are significant differences between the Democratic and Republican
Parties. They then argue that Ralph Nader, honorable man though
he may be, should put aside his quixotic quest for the Presidency
before he risks throwing the election to George W. Bush.
But in the field that I know best- U.S. foreign and military
policy-it's no easy matter to make a "lesser of two evils"
argument for the Gore-Lieberman ticket.
On many of the issues that progressives care about most-curbing
pro-corporate trade agreements, stopping the flow of U.S. arms
and training to corrupt and abusive regimes in Colombia and Indonesia,
ending the deadly civilian sanctions against Iraq, reducing the
nation's grotesque $311 billion military budget-the differences
between the standard-bearers of the two major parties range from
subtle to nonexistent.
Peace Action, the nation's largest grassroots peace group,
highlights six issues in its latest Presidential voter guide.
On five of these, Gore and Bush agree: "Increase Pentagon
spending" (Yes), "Spend $60 billion or more on 'Star
Wars' anti-missile system" (Yes), "Give aid to Colombian
army guilty of human rights violations" (Yes), "End
sanctions on food and medicine to civilians in Iraq" (No),
and "Require labor rights and environmental protections in
all trade agreements" (No). Gore's stances are decidedly
against the positions of most progressive organizations and activists.
On only one issue, "Support treaty to ban nuclear testing,"
is Gore in favor and Bush opposed. By contrast, Green Party candidate
Ralph Nader supports the progressive position on all six of the
issues identified by Peace Action.
On missile defense, there may be another important difference
emerging. The Clinton-Gore Administration's recent decision to
put its provocative National Missile Defense program on hold-enunciated
by the President in a September 1 address to incoming students
at Georgetown University and heartily seconded by Vice President
Gore-opens at least the possibility that a Gore-Lieberman Administration
could get back on track toward implementing additional post-Cold
War nuclear arms reductions. Compared with George W. Bush's pledge
to move full speed ahead with a multi-tiered, open-ended missile
defense plan that could be even more costly and provocative than
Ronald Reagan's original Star Wars vision, Gore's position looks
pretty damned good.
For some, this may be enough to cast their lot with the Democratic
ticket. But the rest of us may want to take a closer look at the
records of Al Gore and Joseph Lieberman before we make up our
The Presidential ticket of Al Gore and Joseph Lieberman represents
the ascendancy of the Democratic Leadership Council (DLC), a conservative
current within the Democratic Party that helped catapult Bill
Clinton and Al Gore onto the national scene with a corporate-friendly,
pro-military, fiscally conservative agenda that was designed to
put the party's allegedly ultra-liberal, "McGovernite"
past behind it (see John Nichols's story, "Behind the DLC
Takeover," in the October issue of The Progressive). While
the DLC virtually gave birth to Al Gore as a Presidential candidate,
it has also been central to the rise of Lieberman, who has served
as the organization's chairman for the past five years.
It was Al Gore who first tested the DLC's pro-military themes
in his hapless Presidential campaign of 1988, when he was one
of a cast of relatively unknown and inexperienced Democratic Presidential
contenders referred to derisively by some commentators as the
"seven dwarfs." I remember scratching my head when I
attended the Presidential debate held at Manhattan's Javits Convention
Center in the spring of that year and learned that one of Gore's
distinguishing characteristics was that he was the only Democratic
candidate who had endorsed Ronald Reagan's 1983 invasion of Grenada-
that great and glorious victory in which it was decisively proven
that U.S. Marines in helicopter gunships are mightier than Cuban
construction workers armed with shovels.
While the Grenada case was an extreme example of Gore's eagerness
to endorse the use of military force as a way of demonstrating
that he was a "different kind of Democrat," it is consistent
with many of the positions he has taken since that time. In an
April 1988 speech to the New York Democratic Committee, Gore suggested
that "because of their dovish foreign policy views, the nomination
of Massachusetts Governor Michael S. Dukakis or the Reverend Jesse
Jackson would gravely jeopardize Democratic chances of regaining
the White House," according to Robert Shogan of the Los Angeles
Times. Among the issues Gore chastised his Democratic rivals for
were their failure to endorse Jimmy Carter's decision to put nuclear-armed
Pershing missiles in Germany to reduce our mythical "window
of vulnerability" to nuclear attack by Moscow and their unwillingness
to support Ronald Reagan's decision to provide U.S. military escorts
to Kuwaiti tankers moving through the Persian Gulf.
Gore was an early and consistent supporter of using force
in the Persian Gulf. In 1991, he and Lieberman were two of only
ten Democrats in the Senate to vote for the resolution authorizing
the air war against Iraq. Lieberman also called for the use of
U.S. ground troops to drive Saddam Hussein from power, despite
the fact that such a move would have violated the U.N. resolution
that had authorized U.S. intervention in the conflict.
Lest we think his views have mellowed with age and experience,
Gore has a section on his campaign web site entitled "Gore
Backed Use of Military Force When Necessary to Protect U.S. Interests
and Values," in which he proudly proclaims that he "argued
strongly for punitive air strikes against the Serbs," "supported
air strikes and continuous patrolling of the no-fly zone to contain
Saddam Hussein," and "supported military retaliation
against Osama Bin Laden for terrorist attacks against U.S. embassies
in East Africa." (This retaliation included the bombing of
a building in the Sudan that was later determined to be a pharmaceutical
factory with no documented connection to Bin Laden.)
Look for a Gore and Lieberman Administration to be quick on
the trigger when it comes to launching air strikes on Washington's
designated enemies of the moment. In this, they would continue
the tradition of William Jefferson Clinton, who has used force
overseas more often than any U.S. President of the past two decades,
including Ronald Reagan.
And if you are hoping that Gore and Lieberman might deliver
a peace dividend, think again. During the Presidential debate
in Boston on October 3, Gore proudly proclaimed that his ten-year
Pentagon budget has "set aside more than twice as much"
as George W.'s for upgrading the military. Sadly for progressives,
Gore's boast is true: He proposes to add $10 billion per year
to the Pentagon budget over the next decade, while Bush plans
an increase of "only" $4.5 billion per year. Gore also
went out of his way to criticize Bush for "skipping the next
generation of weapons," he said. "I think that's a big
mistake because I think we have to stay at the cutting edge."
That means Gore is in favor of funding costly, multibillion dollar
weapons systems (for example, the F-22 or the Joint Strike Fighter)
to replace current systems that are already perfectly capable
of defending the United States under all imaginable circumstances.
It looks like the Pentagon and the weapons makers can break out
the champagne regardless of who wins in November.
The people of Iraq, however, would have nothing to celebrate.
Gore and Lieberman are not likely to have much sympathy for calls
to end civilian sanctions on Iraq, despite strong evidence that
ten years of sanctions have contributed to the unnecessary deaths
of one million Iraqi civilians, including the deaths of 4,500
children per month. Apparently, Gore and Lieberman's concern about
the negative impact of the violent words and images visited upon
American children by the entertainment industry does not translate
into sympathy for the deadly impact U.S.-led sanctions have had
on Iraqi children. In Al and Joe's moral universe, all children
are decidedly not created equal.
The Clinton-Gore policy "does not aim to find an alternative
to Hussein or to arouse a democratic fervor in the people, but
rather to continue the status quo, and in the process, test a
few weapons to see how well they work, so they can be marketed
to other countries," says Representative Cynthia McKinney,
Democrat of Georgia. "Unfortunately, innocent women and children
are being killed along the way."
On the issue of U.S.-Israeli relations, Al Gore is likely
to be extremely reluctant to press Tel Aviv to rein in its military
and police forces or to compromise on sensitive issues such as
the status of Jerusalem. Gore's longtime foreign policy adviser,
Leon Fuerth, is the ultimate hardliner on Mideast affairs. When
Gore ran for President in 1988, it was Fuerth who convinced him
to criticize Ronald Reagan from the right, slamming the Republican
Administration for pressing then-Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak
Shamir to trade land for peace. To make matters worse, one of
Gore's current confidants on Mideast policy is New Republic editor-in-chief
Martin Peretz. As Edward W. Said has aptly noted of Peretz, "No
one in American journalism is a more unabashed hater and despiser
of Arabs and Muslims, none more insulting, none more disparaging,
none more reckless and ignorant."
Gore and Lieberman can also be expected to block efforts at
lifting the forty-year-old economic embargo against Cuba. As Vice
President, Al Gore has carefully distanced himself from the Clinton
Administration's modest steps toward relaxing economic and travel
restrictions between the United States and Cuba. On October 4,
The New York Times asked Gore, "Would you press for the lifting
of sanctions?" Gore answered: "No, no, I'm a hardliner
on Castro." He made that clear when he contradicted the U.S.
Justice Department's position that Elian Gonzalez's father-not
the rightwing Cuban American National Foundation and not the child's
Miami-based cousins-should decide where the boy would live. There
is no rational explanation for Gore's embarrassing views on Cuba
other than his desire to pander to conservative Cuban exiles in
Miami in the hopes of stealing a few critical votes from the Republicans
in Florida come November.
Meanwhile, Gore's running mate has an unblemished record of
support for sustaining a tough embargo on Cuba. Lieberman's conservative
stance on this issue dates back to his decision to embrace the
Cuban American National Foundation and its late founder, Jorge
Mas Canosa, during his first run for the Senate against Republican
moderate Lowell Weicker in 1988. In fact, Republican Vice Presidential
candidate Dick Cheney has a far more progressive stance on the
Cuba embargo than Lieberman does. During an appearance on Meet
the Press earlier this year, Cheney criticized the Helms-Burton
Act. "Unilateral sanctions almost never work," Cheney
said. "They are usually politically motivated, responding
to a domestic constituency."
Both Gore and Lieberman are major league practitioners of
the art of pork barrel politics, which they have pursued with
special zeal in order to protect the interests of major weapons
Since the end of the Cold War, U.S. companies have seized
a dominant position in the global arms market, controlling anywhere
from one third to one-half of all international arms sales in
any given year. In 1999, the last year for which full statistics
are available, the Congressional Research Service estimates that
the United States accounted for 54 percent of global weapons deliveries,
more than all the other suppliers in the world combined. Clinton
and Gore have helped promote the U.S. weapons industry at every
turn, following the credo enunciated by the late Commerce Secretary
Ron Brown at the 1993 Paris Air Show that "not only will
we help you promote your products in the world market, but we
will help you close the deal."
Gore has actively involved himself in jawboning Saudi Arabia
and the United Arab Emirates to buy American weaponry. He has
paid special attention to helping Lockheed Martin "close
the deal" on multibillion dollar sales of eighty top-of-the-line
F-16 fighter planes to the United Arab Emirates that will contain
more advanced radar systems than those utilized on the U.S. Air
Force's own versions of the aircraft. Clinton and Gore's service
to the arms industry has not gone unrewarded: Bernard Schwartz,
a former Lockheed Martin board member and the head of Loral Space
and Communications, gave $601,000 in soft money to Democratic
committees in the run-up to the 1996 Presidential election, and
he has nearly doubled that sum this time around, with $1.1 million
in contributions to Democratic committees in the 1997-2000 time
As for Lieberman, he has done what every Connecticut Senator
worth his salt has done for at least two generations: gone to
bat for the state's arms manufacturers at every opportunity. He
has resisted efforts by his Democratic colleagues to cut funds
for Lockheed Martin's F-22 combat aircraft, which at $200 million
per copy is the most expensive fighter plane ever built. The engines
for the aircraft are made in Hartford by the Pratt & Whitney
division of United Technologies. And he joined his home state
colleague Christopher Dodd in a shameless effort to get more Blackhawk
helicopters-built in Connecticut by United Technologies' Sikorsky
unit-included in the Clinton Administration's $1.3 billion aid
package for Colombia instead of the cheaper Huey II, built in
Texas by Textron Bell. In a June 21 speech on the floor of the
Senate, Lieberman openly shilled for Sikorsky, arguing that "the
Blackhawks are fast, they have tremendous capacity, and they are
well suited for long-range operations.... While the Huey II is
an improvement over the 1960s, it does not have the same performance
capabilities, including range, speed, lift, or survivability,
at any altitude as does the Blackhawk."
According to the Center for Responsive Politics, Lieberman
received $33,000 in campaign contributions from United Technologies
and its employees in the most recent election cycle.
The one area where the subtle rhetorical differences between
Gore and Bush could develop into strong, clear policy differences
is in nuclear arms control. In a statement supporting Clinton's
decision to put missile defense on hold, Gore asserted: "As
President, I would oppose the kinds of missile defenses that would
unnecessarily upset strategic stability and threaten to open the
gates for a renewed arms race with Russia and a new arms race
with China, including both offensive and defensive weapons."
But in typical Clinton fashion, Gore left open the prospect for
deploying some kind of system.
Still, Gore's recognition that pushing full speed ahead on
National Missile Defense could spark a new nuclear arms race indicates
that his thinking is light years ahead of Bush's on this issue
(although it must be noted that Lieberman was one of a handful
of early Democratic supporters of Mississippi Republican Thad
Cochran's "Defend America Act," a jingoistic, pro-National
Missile Defense proposal). To their credit, both Gore and Lieberman
support the Comprehensive Test Ban, an important next step in
the global nuclear arms control regime, while Bush is adamantly
opposed to any such agreement.
The Clinton-Gore Administration is the only Administration
since the Eisenhower era that has not negotiated a single significant
nuclear arms control agreement. Indeed, virtually all of the progress
in nuclear arms reductions achieved during the 1 990s was pursuant
to agreements reached under the Administrations of Ronald Reagan
and George Bush. Gore deserves some credit for working closely
with Russia to implement the reductions in nuclear arsenals that
were agreed to under the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, and
more importantly, for persuading Ukraine, Belarus, and Kazakhstan
to abandon their holdings of nuclear weapons after the break-up
of the Soviet Union. And the Clinton-Gore Administration's on-again,
off-again negotiations with North Korea over capping its nuclear
weapons and ballistic missile programs are starting to bear fruit.
But before we get too carried away with the superiority of
the probable Gore-Lieberman positions on nuclear weapons issues,
it should be noted that the Clinton-Gore vision of a "limited"
National Missile Defense system is inherently flawed in its own
right. Thanks to intrepid investigative research by The Bulletin
of the Atomic Scientists, we now know that Clinton's foreign policymakers
tried to reassure their Russian counterparts that a limited missile
defense system wouldn't threaten Moscow's nuclear deterrent by
telling the Russians simply to keep 1,000 or 2,000 nuclear warheads
operative and on high-alert status at all times. That shows how
far Clinton and Gore are from taking a step toward getting rid
of nuclear weapons once and for all. Their missile defense plan-which
is still a very real possibility, pending Russian approval- would
simply reinforce the notion that the two erstwhile Cold War adversaries
should maintain large arsenals of nuclear overkill indefinitely.
And by retaining hair-trigger alert status, Clinton and Gore increase
the risk of a rash decision that leads to nuclear war or an accidental
launch based on a computer foul-up or human error.
Whether Gore builds on the positive elements of his record
on arms control or falls back into playing politics with nuclear
issues in an effort to show he's "tougher" than Republicans
will depend on how much pressure a Gore-Lieberman Administration
receives from the public and arms control advocates in Congress.
At least as important as what happens in the voting booth
in November will be what progressives and liberals do in the event
that Gore and Lieberman get elected. Will the Democratic base
give them the benefit of the doubt, as happened for much of the
Clinton-Gore term, or will progressives join with sympathetic
members of Congress to vigorously and publicly oppose the most
noxious elements of the Gore-Lieberman foreign policy agenda?
Most important of all will be the question of whether independent
movements for peace and social justice, such as the growing coalition
against pro-corporate globalization schemes, can alter the political
climate of the country to the point where the two major parties
will have no choice but to address the deeper issues that are
largely being ignored in the current Presidential campaign.
As you may recall, Clinton and Gore's unofficial theme song
was Fleetwood Mac's "Don't Stop Thinking About Tomorrow."
This time around, a far better theme song for progressives would
be The Who's "Won't Get Fooled Again."
Wlliam D. Hartung is the Presidents Fellow at the World Policy
Institute at the New School of Social Research and the military
affairs adviser to Foreign Policy in Focus, a joint project of
the Interhemispheric Resource Center and the Institute for Policy