Sen. Al Gore, the only Democratic presidential hopeful who supported the use-of-force resolution to oust Iraq from Kuwait, presents a different kind of political challenge for President Bush. As a caustic and comprehensive critic of administration policy since the cease-fire at the end of February, Mr. Gore cannot be dismissed as a dove turning fierce after the battle is won. He is, instead, a hawk calling for the ouster of Saddam Hussein and his whole clique by economic isolation, suspension from the United Nations and, perhaps, by force.
Nineteen months before election day, 1992, this may seem a remote political consideration. But if Mr. Gore should win the Democratic nomination and if the power lineup in Baghdad remains unchanged and if the Kurds and Shiites are still being victimized by Saddam's Baathist enforcers, there is the potential here for a hot campaign issue.
Before the president switched course and sent U.S. military units into northern Iraq on a massive refugee relief mission, Senator Gore was assailing the president's seeming "indifference" to the plight of refugees under attack by Saddam's helicopter gun ships, tanks and artillery.
Equating the situation to the Nazi butchering of the Polish resistance while the Red Army deliberately remained outside Warsaw, the Tennessee Democrat said "the most bitter memories of humankind's worse moments" had been revived.
Now that the president has resorted to airlift relief and the deployment of U.S. troops in northern Iraq for humanitarian purposes, Mr. Gore is questioning the administration's willingness to accept and even support continuing Baathist control in Baghdad even if Saddam himself is ousted.
Mr. Gore's phrase for this is "cool amoralism." He disputes administration reliance on the present Sunni regime as the guarantor of a unified Iraq. Insisting that the various Iraqi population groups are capable of living "within a democratic and just framework," he says "that "if we do not want to be forced to reintroduce our armies at some future date, we must recognize that the elimination of Saddam Hussein and his government are vital pieces of unfinished business."
To achieve this "elimination," Senator Gore said the Iraqi regime should be informed the United States will never be reconciled to its continuation in power and will be prepared to consider any number of military options to get rid of it. He mentioned U.S. military aid to Afghan rebels fighting the Soviet occupation of their country.
It is doubtful Senator Gore's arguments will be persuasive with the president, whose preference for dealing with established governments rather than dissident elements has been evident from the Baltics to Beijing. Nonetheless, the luster of Mr. Bush's triumph in Operation Desert Storm has been tarnished by the human anguish of a Kurdish refugee problem the administration admits it did not anticipate. This could, indeed, be the makings of a presidential campaign issue.