In 2001, on this day Lexington wrote in the Economist ~ THIS has been a truly remarkable week for President Al Gore. The Taliban is in full retreat in Afghanistan.
Al Gore discovers himselfVladimir Putin has agreed to scrap more than two-thirds of Russia's nuclear weapons, fulfilling a dream that Mr Gore has cherished since he first went into politics. And Congress stands poised to pass a giant stimulus package. No wonder the president's approval rate stands at a stratospheric 87 percent.
An article by LexingtonIt seems almost churlish at such a time to bring up the little matter of the 2000 vote. But after last November's disputed election a consortium of conservative newspapers, led by the Washington Times, decided to pay for a recount of all the Florida votes. A million dollars of Richard Mellon Scaife's money and thousands of man-hours later, these Republican geniuses have proved what we all knew already: that the election was damn close. If Mr Gore had followed the advice of some of his more cynical advisers and concentrated on counting the votes in just four Democrat-controlled counties, rather than doing the honest thing and calling for a recount of all the votes in the state, he would have lost to George Bush."After September 11th, Al Gore at last realised what God put him on earth to achieve"
Can you imagine it? Mr Bush has gone into semi-retirement in Austin, his limited abilities as Texas's governor taxed by a legislature that meets only every other year. But the mere thought that he might have been president sends shivers down the spine. This is a man whose idea of foreign travel was to visit a barrio or two when he wished to appear "compassionate", and who would have conducted foreign policy from behind a Maginot Line of missiles. There is every reason to believe that, after September 11th, a President Bush would have struck out blindly at Osama bin Laden, perhaps even using nuclear weapons.
Which all goes to show how sensible the American people were to choose a man with real experience. Mr Gore has brought a remarkable set of skills to the present crisis, honed by a lifetime in politics and eight years in the vice-presidency. His "golden Rolodex", as one commentator has called it, has been invaluable to his building of a grand alliance against terror. He used his close personal relationship with Mr Putin to bring a reluctant Russia into the war, fundamentally changing the whole pattern of geopolitics. He used his ideological ties to Tony Blair, forged at many a seminar on the Third Way, to turn Britain into a bedrock of support. It is fair to say that Mr Gore has not one secretary of state but two: the indomitable Richard Holbrooke and the ever-loyal British prime minister.
The mention of Mr Holbrooke points to another extraordinary fact about the Gore presidency: the quality of the people he can call on. It is no exaggeration to say that Mr Gore has the entire brainpower of the country, from Washington think-tanks to the Ivy League universities, at his disposal. And there are few brains as acute as the secretary of state's.
Mr Holbrooke is one of the most experienced diplomats in the business. Mr Gore credits him with getting Germany wholeheartedly to join the anti-terrorist campaign, thanks to his time as ambassador there. But in some ways Mr Holbrooke still has to come into his own. The very qualities that make the secretary of state so unpopular in polite circles-his abrasive self-importance, his absolute confidence that he is right on matters big and small-make him a giant when it comes to negotiating with primitive warlords. He knocked heads together with extraordinary success in Bosnia; he will do the same thing in Afghanistan.
Fiddle, fiddle, fiddle
Mr Gore's extraordinary knowledge of Washington has been more of a mixed blessing in two other areas. The first is military strategy. The president has been a military buff ever since he became a congressman back in 1977. But his encyclopedic knowledge of warfare-and his iron belief in his own abilities-have inevitably led to clashes with the Pentagon. The generals grumble that Mr Gore wanted to control where every bomb was dropped, and that the result was a much more hesitant start than necessary to the war.
On the home front, Mr Gore was furious at the way the anthrax outbreak threw his administration into confusion. He could not understand why the Centres for Disease Control did not know more about the illness. He was apoplectic when he discovered that the FBI did not even know which laboratories in the country were licensed to produce the stuff. Yet his decision to put himself in charge of a special task-force has failed to produce results. Even more unsatisfactory has been his handling of the question of airport security. His remarks that those Republicans who oppose federalising security workers are "Neanderthals with the blood of the American people on their hands" is hardly likely to produce compromise.
Mr Gore's habit of micromanaging events is clearly his biggest weakness: a weakness that has been made worse by the decision to put Vice-President Joseph Lieberman (who had aroused much wrath on the Arab street because of his Jewish background) into a permanent secret location. But all this pales into insignificance beside Mr Gore's secret weapon during these dark days: his discovery of his true self.
The strongest criticism of Mr Gore has always been that he does not know who he is. Throughout his career, he reinvented himself to suit the mood of the times. In his first run for the presidency, he presented himself as a champion of the business-minded New Democrats; in his second run, he campaigned for the people against the powerful. All this left the impression that he had no hard centre, but was simply playing at politics in order to appease his father's ghost.
All this changed on September 11th. The collapse of the twin towers gave this extraordinarily restless and energetic man the task he has been seeking all his life: the war against terrorism. Al Gore at last knows what God put him on earth to achieve.