In advance of the tenth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, 60 Minutes and Vanity Fair commissioned a poll asking Americans how different they think the world would be if our response had been led not by George W. Bush but by Al Gore, Jr. A 56 percent majority responded they really did not think anything would be different, breaking down as 57 percent of Republicans, 62 percent of Independents, and even 48 percent of Democrats. Two progessive pundits surprised by these results gave their own speculation, but reached quite different conclusions.

At The Hill, Brent Budowski took the route of pure partisan hackery, despite the sensitivity of the topic:

If Al Gore had won, for starters: Had Gore been briefed by intelligence officers as Bush was in August 2001 about terrorist planes attacking buildings, Gore would have put our services on red alert and might well have prevented 9/11.

Budowski has either not read the 9/11 Commission Report on this subject or not understood it, so I will put this in terms he will understand: If other, much smarter, partisan Democrats on the Commission could not figure out a way to credibly blame Bush for 9/11 based on the events of August 2001, Brent Budowski has zero chance of doing so. But Budowski he blundered onward, arguing that even if 9/11 had happened:

Gore would never have made the blunder of invading Iraq. Those American lives of troops KIA would have been saved. He would have focused on Afghanistan, which would have been won for keeps most likely by 2003.

Clearly, Budowski has read neither the history of military operations by great powers in Afghanistan, nor studies on the typical length of wars of counter-insurgency. However, let’s focus on Budowsky’s one-sentence dismissal of the Iraq question.

Salon’s Steve Kornacki examined this question at length and reached the conclusion that Gore might well have invaded Iraq after the 9/11 attacks. Kornacki begins by remembering both Saddam Hussein’s villain status and how easy war seemed after our first confrontation with Saddam.

Kornacki recalls that Pres. Clinton “approved some airstrikes, and signed the Iraq Liberation Act of 1998, which put the US government on record supporting regime change.” It would be more accurate to note Clinton approved Operation Desert Fox with the goal of degrading Saddam’s ability to make and to use weapons of mass destruction.

Kornacki observes that Gore, like Bush, would have been hearing loud, influential, non-conservative voices — including (but not limited to, I would add) Joe Lieberman, Marty Peretz, Tom Friedman and Peter Beinart — calling for Saddam’s removal. Kornacki fails to note that Gore was one of many prominent Democratic officials emphasizing the threat posed by Saddam and his WMD programs during this period. However, Kornacki does note that as a Senator, Gore had positioned himself as “one of his party’s foremost hawks,” adding that:

when he announced his opposition to Bush’s war push in the fall of ’02, Gore endorsed the basic goal of removing Hussein and securing his (supposed) WMD stockpiles. What he objected to was more the go-it-alone nature of Bush’s approach. In other words, you could also argue that Gore, still stung by the 2000 election outcome, may have been motivated in some way by his desire to stage a big, principled fight with Bush — and that a different result in ’00 might have produced a different, more hawkish response from Gore, one that would have led to … an invasion of Iraq.

Kornacki gives a counter-argument to that, as well as a rejoiner to his counter-argument, so RTWT. However, Kornacki also misses a rather basic supporting argument in favor of the thesis that Gore would have invaded Iraq. Although I feel sure I have written something roughly similar elsewhere, I have been unable to find it via search engine, and so reproduce it here.

Consider, as Kornacki correctly does, Gore’s relatively hawkish history and support for the Clinton administration’s prior attacks on Iraq. On 9/11, Gore would likely have had the same basic reaction that Bush likely had. Whatever you thought your job was on 9/10, your mission was now set for you. You would feel a moral (and political) imperative to try to prevent another 9/11. And it would not take very long for it occur to you that the only thing worse than another 9/11 would be a terror attack with weapons of mass destruction.

On the first point, the immediate response was fairly obvious — to destroy Al Qaeda’s operations in Afghanistan, as well as the Taliban government that supported them. But future attacks might not have an obvious signature, so what would an administration do?

Cabinet officials would give the president — Bush or Gore — the list of nations supporting terrorism and the list of nations with or pursuing WMDs. Much attention would be paid to the part of the Venn diagram where those lists overlap. The resulting list would seem fairly manageable. Afghanistan’s neighbor, Pakistan, is nuclear — but could be strongarmed into cooperating lest it become the secondary target of the obvious war to come in Afghanistan. Libya supported terrorists and was pursuing WMDs, but almost immediately entered into negotiations to cooperate; it would ultimately renounce WMD efforts around the time the US invaded Iraq. This would leave the now-familiar troika of North Korea, Iran and Iraq.

As Kornacki noted, Gore’s objection in the real world was the supposed unilateralism of Bush’s invasion (it wasn’t unilateral, but whatevs). In the alternate dimension, faced with the axis of evil, and based on Saddam’s long rap sheet at the UN, wouldn’t a Pres. Gore have seen Iraq as the most likely candidate for getting that UN stamp of approval, just as Bush undoubtedly did? And after a few months getting jerked around in the UNSC, would a Pres. Gore simply thrown up his hands and told the American people that he simply had to accept a French, Russian or Chinese veto of his efforts? It seems… unlikely.

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