So, this happened the other day. Ralph Nader, best known as a consumer advocate and civil attorney, lashed out at Pres. Obama, calling him a “war criminal” and saying he’s worse than former Pres. George W. Bush, “in the sense that [Obama is] more aggressive, more illegal worldwide.”
I don’t know what the phrase “more illegal worldwide” is supposed to mean. I do know that Ralph Nader suffers from a near terminal lack of self-awareness.
Pres. Obama is a “war criminal” who’s worse than George W. Bush? Hmm. There are more than a hundred thousand Iraqis – and a good 4,400 American soldiers and marines – who can’t be reached for comment, given that they died in Pres. Bush’s ill conceived and illegal war against Saddam Hussein and his non-existent weapons of mass destruction. But I’m sure if they could speak from beyond the grave, they’d thank Mr. Nader for helping George W. Bush defeat Al Gore in 2000.
Yes, Mr. Nader helped George Bush win in 2000. The facts are these: When the final, Supreme-Court-approved tally was in, Pres. Bush took all 25 electoral votes from the state of Florida, because, out of 5,963,110 total votes cast there, he received 2,912,790 to Al Gore’s 2,912,253. In other words, Pres. Bush won Florida by 537 votes. Mr. Nader’s vote total in Florida was 97,488, or more than 181 times Pres. Bush’s margin of victory. Had Mr. Nader not run, it’s inconceivable that Pres. Bush would have won Florida. There’s simply no way that all of Nader’s voters would have stayed at home or voted for another, more obscure third party candidate. And all though some of those votes may have gone to George W. Bush as a protest, it’s hard to imagine any scenario where a significant majority of those votes would not have gone to Al Gore – certainly more than enough to make up the 537 vote gap.
And, of course, after the Supreme Court decided Bush v. Gore, 531 U.S. 98 (2000), effectively sealing George Bush’s narrow victory in Florida, Bush won the Electoral College with 271 votes – just one more than the required 270. Had Florida gone to Al Gore, he would have won 291-245.
Furthermore, had Gore become president in 2000, there’s little doubt we would have avoided the biggest mistake of George W. Bush’s failed presidency – the unmitigated disaster that was the Iraq War, a war without any conceivable legal justification. I know it was tempting for liberals to think (as Mr. Nader liked to say) that there was no difference between Bush and Gore, but at least on the subject of Iraq, that’s manifestly untrue. The Clinton administration – of which, of course, Vice Pres. Gore was a major part – pursued a much saner strategy towards Iraq … the very strategy, in fact, that ultimately disarmed Saddam Hussein’s regime of its weapons of mass destruction.
Even so, you might say that while Mr. Nader may have helped George Bush win the 2000 presidential election, he can’t be blamed for Pres. Bush’s subsequent mistakes in office, especially his biggest and deadliest mistake. But hold on. Recall that as a candidate for the presidency, Mr. Nader had little if any concern for foreign policy; his focus was on the supposed “corporatist” agenda of both major parties. Candidate Bush, on the other hand, made no secret of his desire to go to war in Iraq. From independent journalist Russ Baker:
Two years before the September 11 attacks, presidential candidate George W. Bush was already talking privately about the political benefits of attacking Iraq, according to his former ghost writer, who held many conversations with then-Texas Governor Bush in preparation for a planned autobiography.
“He was thinking about invading Iraq in 1999,” said author and journalist Mickey Herskowitz. “It was on his mind. He said to me: ‘One of the keys to being seen as a great leader is to be seen as a commander-in-chief.’ And he said, ‘My father had all this political capital built up when he drove the Iraqis out of Kuwait and he wasted it.’ He said, ‘If I have a chance to invade….if I had that much capital, I’m not going to waste it. I’m going to get everything passed that I want to get passed and I’m going to have a successful presidency.”
In December 1999, some six months after his talks with Herskowitz, Bush surprised veteran political chroniclers, including the Boston Globe’s David Nyhan, with his blunt pronouncements about Saddam at a six-way New Hampshire primary event that got little notice: “It was a gaffe-free evening for the rookie front-runner, till he was asked about Saddam’s weapons stash,” wrote Nyhan. ‘I’d take ’em out,’ [Bush] grinned cavalierly, ‘take out the weapons of mass destruction…I’m surprised he’s still there,” said Bush of the despot who remains in power after losing the Gulf War to Bush Jr.’s father…It remains to be seen if that offhand declaration of war was just Texas talk, a sort of locker room braggadocio, or whether it was Bush’s first big clinker. ”
If, perhaps, as a candidate in 2000, Mr. Nader had actually paid attention to foreign policy, and, for that matter, to what his opponents were saying about foreign policy, it might have occurred to him that George W. Bush was a dangerous fellow; that even if Mr. Gore was in the hip pocket of Wall Street to the same extent as Mr. Bush, one of them was far more likely to go to war in Iraq than the other. And that, as it turns out, was not an insignificant difference between the two.
In any event, I suspect the victims of Bush’s invasion would’ve been far less blasé than Mr. Nader when it came to U.S. foreign policy in the region. But we’ll never know, will we?
None of this is meant to be an endorsement of Pres. Obama’s actions in the so-called “war on terror.” I’ve made my opposition to those policies clear, and I’ll repeat it here: The very idea of a “war on terror” is nonsensical; it does more harm than good, and we should put an immediate end to it. Full stop.
But when Ralph Nader starts tossing around phrases like “war criminal” just a few weeks before a presidential election, I’ll be damned if I’m going to give him the time of day. Because the truth is, he bears a fair amount of responsibility for why we’re in this mess in the first place.