Jewish World Review Feb. 20, 2002 / 8 Adar, 5762
The two members of the 2000 presidential ticket have enunciated a foreign policy that's simultaneously tough and idealistic - one that would give Democrats credibility in a contest with President Bush.
Even they probably couldn't erase the wide lead that Republicans hold over Democrats on dealing with terrorism and foreign policy (up to 40 points in some polls), but they might narrow it some.
Most other Democrats, as Will Marshall of the centrist Progressive Policy Institute notes, have opted for a "me too" stance, saying they support Bush on terrorism and then trying as fast as possible to shift the conversation to domestic policy.
"Democrats shouldn't cede the nation's top-priority issue to the Republicans," Marshall said he's been telling Members of Congress.
"They've got to craft their own alternative policy on this new threat," he told me, "drawing on the rich tradition of Harry Truman and Dean Acheson in devising the containment policy at the outset of the Cold War."
Actually, some Democratic leaders - notably Senate Majority Leader Thomas Daschle (S.D.), another potential 2004 candidate - have sounded an even more uncertain note than "me too," questioning whether Bush should mount an attack on Iraq and other nations he has labeled part of an "axis of evil."
Both Lieberman and Gore have come out strongly for ending the threat posed by Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein - and doing so unilaterally if allies will not follow America's lead.
Lieberman offered this opinion, in fact, before Bush did - actually on Oct. 15. Gore did so in his speech Tuesday at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York.
Lieberman has said he won't run in 2004 if Gore does, out of a sense of loyalty to the man who picked him for the 2000 ticket. Based on their foreign policy statements, I hope Lieberman can find a way around that promise.
Gore's speech was deeply derivative of Lieberman's - right to the edge of plagiarism, in fact - and Lieberman's was much more strategic-minded.
Both Democrats, while endorsing Bush's forceful military stance toward America's enemies, added a call for aggressive U.S. action to promote human rights, economic development and respect for other cultures in the Muslim world.
Lieberman said on Jan. 14, "As we continue the critical work of rooting out our terrorist enemies militarily, we must launch a long-term geopolitical and ideological initiative - akin to the great campaign that won the Cold War - to combat the despotism, poverty and isolation that terrorists exploit."
He added that "Islamic terrorism grew in a swamp" of "limited freedom, increased isolation, repression and anti-American anger." He said, "While we drain the swamp we must also seed the garden."
Here's Gore on Tuesday: "We may well put down terror in its present manifestation. But if we do not attend to the larger fundamentals as well, then the ground has been seeded for the next generation of those born to hate us ...
"Draining the swamp of terrorism must, of course, mean destroying the ability of terrorist networks to function. But drying it up at its source must also mean draining the aquifer of anger that underlies terrorism."
Even as he tracked Lieberman closely in analyzing foreign policy as hydrology, Gore went beyond him in exploring what Republicans used to criticize as "foreign policy social work," otherwise known as "nation-building."
He indulged in what might be called foreign policy psychoanalysis, presuming to combat "the anger that enflames the hearts of so many young men and makes them willing, dedicated recruits for terror."
Gore mused, "What is evil, anyway?" And he went on to theorize that it grows out of "disrespect, the feeling that one has become one of history's losers." But he offered little in the way of practical remedies for dealing with it beyond attacking poverty, "environmental disorder" and the world HIV/AIDS epidemic.
By contrast, Lieberman recommended a series of specific political strategies for addressing the ills of the Islamic world, putting more emphasis on human rights in U.S. diplomacy, promoting free trade and free economies in the Arab world, and re-energizing America's public diplomacy and foreign aid programs.
Moreover, while Gore endorsed action against "evil axis" adversaries, there was a distinct "yes, but" quality to his remarks.
About Iraq, he said, "If we resort to force, we must absolutely get it right. It must be an action set up carefully and on the basis of the most realistic concepts," not of "best-case scenarios or excessively literal transfers from recent experience" in Afghanistan.
If foreign policy speeches constitute very early pre-primary positioning by presidential candidates, I'd say Lieberman is in the lead.
Democrats are, and likely will remain, far behind the President as long as he executes U.S. foreign policy successfully. What's more, Bush's State of the Union address suggested a new long-term dedication to human rights and nation-building previously missing from administration policy.
But to pass a threshold of electability, Democratic candidates need to have a forceful, coherent foreign policy. Right now two of them do - only two.