GORE SHOWS HIS ROOTS. Via Mickey Kaus, Al Gore raised questions about setting a deadline for withdrawing from Iraq during his This Week appearance yesterday. Some will say that this puts Gore to the right of likely '08 presidential contenders John Kerry, Russ Feingold, and, after his recent comments, perhaps even Evan Bayh, but I'd disagree. Gore has always been a sensible centrist, and his opposition to the invasion of Iraq was a manifestation of his steady understanding of the dangers of pre-emptive war at a time when too many people were seduced by the chest-thumping and martial rhetoric of the right, and not of any native dovishness. He certainly didn't win any popularity contests for taking that stance at that time, and I don't think he's going to win any now either, when many on the left, who've become his biggest supporters, believe in immediate withdrawal or deadline setting. Instead, Gore is, once again, following his own path, based on the facts as he sees them. From ABC News:

Gore, however, disagreed with Sen. John Kerry's, D-Mass., call to withdraw all U.S. troops from Iraq by the end of the year.

"I would pursue the twin objectives of trying to withdraw our forces as quickly as we possibly can, while at the same time minimizing the risk that we'll make the mess over there even worse and raise even higher the danger of civil war," Gore said.

Dismissing calls for any deadline, Gore added, "It's possible that setting a deadline could set in motion forces that would make it even worse. I think that we should analyze that very carefully. My guess is that a deadline is probably not the right approach; but again, you have to weigh that question in the context of how the political decisions are made between the Congress and the executive branch. Sometimes the Congress itself has blunt instruments and limited options to play a role in matters like this."

That he's continuing to articulate inconvenient truths about the war suggests to me that Gore's demurrals about his political future are real. If he were really going to run for President, why would he, at the height of his comeback, potentially alienate the affections of the party activists drawn to him over the past few years and relinquish a chance to define himself in opposition to Hillary Clinton? Maybe because he's genuinely not running. The alternate explanation, of course, would be that he agrees with Clinton that a more centrist public image and not setting a deadline for withdrawal are both good politics and good policy. And yet, that agreement would hardly seem to strengthen his eventual position. More likely, it will strengthen hers. Because, if even Al Gore, with his history of giving anti-war speeches under the MoveOn banner, is worried about civil war breaking out if the United States withdraws from Iraq abruptly, maybe Clinton's stance is not that far right after all.

--Garance Franke-Ruta

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