Volume 16 • Issue 37 | February 13 - 19, 2004

Gore says Bush ‘abused’ nation’s trust on Iraq

By Lincoln Anderson

Downtown Express photo by Elisabeth Robert

Al Gore said “it’s great to be in a blue state,” before he accused President Bush — the last man to carry red states – of taking the country to war under “false pretenses.”

Speaking Downtown a week ago, former Vice President Al Gore accused President Bush of exploiting Americans’ fears after 9/11 to wage war against Iraq.

“He abused the trust of the American people,” Gore said of George W. Bush, “in order to take this nation on an adventure that was preordained and designed before the Sept. 11 attacks ever took place.” Gore said the Iraq war was based on “patently false pretenses” and against a country that did not threaten us.

The former vice president made his comments Feb. 5 during his keynote speech opening a three-day conference at New School University, entitled “Fear: It’s Political Uses and Abuses.” The speech foreshadowed a Gore address a few days later in Tennessee that received wider press coverage.

Gore was well-received by the capacity crowd at New School’s John L. Tishman Auditorium on W. 12th St., who gave him a solid minute of applause after he was introduced by New School president Bob Kerrey, the former senator from Nebraska.

Kerrey called Gore “unique in politics,” saying he “not only has the willingness, but the ability, to probe deep into issues and consult with people. Very smart. Very capable.”

Gore showed touches of humor, such as his opening ice-breaker: “I’m Al Gore. I used to be the next president of the United States…. It’s great to be in a blue state.”

But Gore’s speech was serious, as were his charges against the president.

Saying that the Village auditorium was not far from ground zero, he suggested they begin with a moment of silence and respect for those who died in or were bereaved by the Trade Center attack.

“Terrorism’s ultimate goal is the distortion of the reality of fear in a nation, by creating fear that is hugely disproportionate from what they are really capable of posing,” Gore said. Yet, he charged, the Bush administration, instead of trying to lessen that fear, has intentionally heightened it to justify invading Iraq and eroding civil liberties.

Gore said the former chief U.S. weapons inspector David Kay’s statement the previous week that Iraq doesn’t have weapons of mass destruction — “We were all wrong” — was a “devastating verdict.”

He accused the Bush administration of painting a “grossly distorted picture of Iraq.” “Could it have been intentional?” he asked.

Answering his own question, he said the “fear of Iraq was precisely timed for the midterm elections…curious timing.” Gore said, the war in Afghanistan and against Osama bin Laden had “lost some of its pizzazz…. It was time for a ‘new product’ ” — taking out Saddam Hussein — to be marketed to the American people,” Gore added, repeating a phrase Andrew Card, White House chief of staff, used to describe the plan for war with Iraq.

The war “served to distract the country from pesky domestic issues, like the economy,” said Gore, who added that he thought it turned the focus away from a much more critical task to our safety — dismantling Al Qaeda.

Gore noted there still is no answer on who was responsible for a document, later discovered forged, that Bush cited in his State of the Union speech, alleging Iraq tried to obtain Nigerien uranium.

“The White House doesn’t seem too concerned who forged that document,” he said. “I’m curious who forged that document — and why has no one pursued it?”

The New School’s Kerrey sat impassively at a table on one side of stage while Gore, from a podium on the other side, blasted the war. A former Democratic senator who ran for president in 1992, Kerrey supported the war.

On cuts in civil liberties, Gore compared this moment to others in American history when rights were curtailed — the Alien and Sedition Acts under President John Adams, the Japanese internment camps and McCarthyism.

He said it shows something is wrong in our country when an administration can so easily manipulate the population.

“How could our nation have become so susceptible to fear?” Gore asked. “It is a serious indictment of our political discourse that almost three-quarters of all Americans were so easily led to believe that Saddam Hussein was personally involved in the attacks of Sept. 11; that nearly half of all Americans still believe that most of the hijackers were Iraqis; and that more than 40 percent were so easily convinced that Iraq did in fact have nuclear weapons.”

Gore said the country’s media is to blame — by allowing the administration’s misinformation and deceptions to go unchallenged.

“A free press is supposed to function as our democracy’s immune system against such gross distortions,” he said. “What happened?” Gore attributed the problem to the shift, which started in the 1960s, whereby most Americans get their news from television. Thirty-second sound bites now dominate.

Noting he’d spoken to neurological experts at the conference who would be discussing how fear works, Gore explained that compelling images of violence on TV — like the Trade Center attack — become burned in the midbrain, in the amygdala — a word he doubted Bush could even pronounce. Seeing these images again can trigger the original sensations.

He appeared to take a not-so-veiled swipe at conservatives such as Rush Limbaugh, William Bennett, Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell, saying there’s “a growing part of the media characterized by paranoia, presented as entertainment — the part that allows drug-addled hypocrites, compulsive gamblers and assorted religious bigots to masquerade as moral guides for the nation.”

Gore concluded by vehemently hoping that the politics of fear will be replaced by the politics of trust, then quoted Abraham Lincoln.

“Where there is leadership with vision and moral courage, the people will flourish and redeem Lincoln’s prophesy at Gettysburg: that government of the people, by the people and for the people shall not perish from the Earth.”



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