Horowitz vs. Gore

Family gatherings for me have become a chance to talk politics with my Dad, whose politics are well to the right of mine (though, as engineers, neither of us can comprehend the Republicans' hatred of the theories of global warming and of evolution), and my sister, whose politics are well to the left of mine.

This year, having become a fan of book clubs, I suggested that we all read Al Gore's book "The Assault On Reason" ahead of time, to give us something concrete to talk about. (I am also compiling a page of notes about Gore's book for use during book club discussions.)

To my delight, Dad took me up on the offer. He even looked up David Horowitz's essay on "Why We Went to War in Iraq", and asked me what I thought of it. So here goes.

In his essay, Horowitz first implies that we went to war because Clinton and Gore did nothing to combat terrorism, then tries to rebut three claims in Gore's book. At first I only covered Horowitz's rebuttals first, but my Dad said "You ignored lots of other stuff in the essay! Liberals are always doing that!", so I follow up with a section on his other statements.

  1. Horowitz's Rebuttals of Gore's Book
    1. Why did we go to war?
    2. Which did Bush prefer, war or diplomacy?
    3. Did Bush use Forged Intelligence about Iraq buying uranium to help justify the war?
  2. Horowitz's Other Statements
    1. Was it Clinton/Gore's fault?
    2. Was UN Resolution 1441 authorization to go to war?

Horowitz's Rebuttals of Gore's Book

Here are Gore's claims, Horowitz's rebuttals, and my fact-checking.

1. Why did we go to war?

It should be easy enough to check whether WMD was the main reason given for war. Let's look at the record and see what arguments were made at the time:

It looks very much as if UN Resolution 1441, Bush's speech on the eve of the Senate vote, and his State of the Union address on the eve of the war, and his press conference in 2006 all point to WMD as the main justification for the war to oust Saddam.

Point: Gore.

2. Which did Bush prefer, war or diplomacy?

Since the public arguments for the war at the time revolved around whether Iraq had WMDs, the most crucial question is how Bush reacted to diplomatic overtures from Iraq to resume UN weapons inspections. On Sept 17, 2002, Iraq hand-delivered a letter to the U.N. inviting weapons inspectors to return "to remove any doubts that Iraq still possesses weapons of mass destruction.". Bush's response: "We do not take what Saddam says at face value... there will be no negotiating."

It's as if Bush didn't even hear Iraq asking for inspectors to return to verify the absense of weapons. That doesn't sound like a man interested in diplomacy.

Point: Gore

3. Did Bush use Forged Intelligence about Iraq buying uranium to help justify the war?

So, did Iraq try to buy uranium in Africa? The Senate report of July 7, 2004 on prewar iraq intelligence said:
On June 17, 2003, nearly five months after the President delivered the State of the Union address, the CIA produced a memorandum for the DCI which said, "since learning that the Iraq-Niger uranium deal was based on false documents earlier this spring, we no longer believe that there is sufficient other reporting to conclude that Iraq pursued uranium from abroad.
So it seems Iraq really wasn't.

Also, stepping back from our current overheated partisan atmosphere for a minute, a reasonable person would probably agree that if the president mentions a report in his State of the Union address, he has rigorously checked it and believes it to be true. (i.e. no decent President would repeat rumors he didn't believe.) And The head of the CIA agreed as much later, when he said "This did not rise to the level of certainty which should be required for Presidential speeches, and CIA should have ensured that it was removed."

In Horowitz's defence, Gore probably shouldn't have used the words "documentary evidence". But the fact that the CIA apologized for letting that sentence in to Bush's speech, and later concluded that Iraq was in fact not seeking uranium from abroad, mean that Gore was more right than Horowitz here.

Point: Gore.

So it seems Horowitz was wrong on all three rebuttals; on the whole, Gore had his facts right.

Horowitz's Other Statements

Was it Clinton/Gore's fault?

Horowitz opened the essay with two paragraphs which claimed Gore (and Clinton) failed to respond to many terrorist attacks, did nothing to counter Al Queda, and did not have a comprehensive anti-terrorism plan.

The well-known rumor debunking site Snopes.com says Clinton did indeed track down the perpetrators of the earlier attacks. In fact, as early as 1995, Clinton authorized covert action against Al Queda, and both the FBI and CIA were looking for him vigorously for years. Richard Clarke, a longtime State Department employee who was in charge of counterterrorism under Clinton and continued in that role under Bush, tried to warn Bush about Al Queda on January 25, 2001, but was demoted and ignored. Finally, Clinton proposed a forerunner of the Patriot Act in 1995, the "Omnibus Counter Terrorism Act of 1995" -- but it was shot down by Republicans.

It seems there's plenty of evidence that the Clinton administration was indeed paying close attention to the threat from terrorism.

Beyond the fact that Horowitz is wrong on that charge, notice what he's doing here -- he's implying that Al Quada's attack on the US in 2001 was somehow linked to Iraq, and justified attacking Iraq in retaliation. But even Bush admits that Iraq had nothing to do with the 9/11 attack. In his 2006 press conference, he said "Nobody has ever suggested that the attacks of September the 11th were ordered by Iraq". And Bush's director of the CIA said in his memoirs, "the CIA found absolutely no linkage between Saddam and 9/11.".

So it seems Horowitz's paragraphs about Clinton's antiterrorism efforts, besides being false, have absolutely no bearing on why we went to war against Iraq.

Was UN Resolution 1441 authorization to go to war?

Mixed in among his rebuttals of Gore's book, Horowitz says UN Security Council Resolution 1441 was a "war ultimatum to Saddam, giving him "one final opportunity" to disarm - or else", and that since he didn't, we had the authority to go to war.

Saddam did in fact comply with that resolution, and allowed inspectors back in. They didn't find any weapons because, as it turns out, there weren't any. And that resolution was not a war ultimatum, and did not authorize force; even the US ambassador to the UN tried to downplay that at the time, saying

"This resolution contains no "hidden triggers" and no "automaticity" with respect to the use of force. If there is a further Iraqi breach, reported to the Council by UNMOVIC, the IAEA or a Member State, the matter will return to the Council for discussions as required in paragraph 12."
In fact, if the US had said at the time that the resolution was a war ultimatum that authorized military force, it is very unlikely that the resolution would have passed. The US, by attacking without a further UN resolution authorizing force, was in fact going against the words it used to get resolution 1441 passed.

OK, Dad, your turn :-)

Copyright 2007, Dan Kegel Back to kegel.com