NEWSMAKER INTERVIEW WITH
DECEMBER 13, 1995
JIM LEHRER: Mr. Vice President, welcome.
VICE PRESIDENT AL GORE: Thank you, Jim.
JIM LEHRER: So how do the Senate votes look to you right now?
VICE PRESIDENT GORE: Well, we'll know pretty soon. I'm hopeful and optimistic that the Senate will endorse the policy and the mission the troops are embarking upon and I'm encouraged.
JIM LEHRER: But they're not going to endorse the policy, are they? Isn't the plan to support the troops but not the policy, as you understand it?
VICE PRESIDENT GORE: Well, there are three different resolutions. The resolution cutting off the money for the mission just as it's about to begin lost overwhelmingly, as you would expect, and two other resolutions are being debated and will be voted upon. And one of them endorses the mission. The other one says, well, we hope nothing happens to our troops, but we think their mission is pretty dumb, and we don't support it, and I hope that will not carry, but the one that does endorse the mission expresses some reservations but basically says our country is now unified, we think this mission is, is correct, and we support our troops overwhelmingly.
JIM LEHRER: That's the Dole-McCain resolution?
VICE PRESIDENT GORE: That is correct.
JIM LEHRER: But, Mr. Vice President, the country, as a matter of fact, is not unified behind this mission, is it?
VICE PRESIDENT GORE: Well, the country was not unified in advance of the country's mission in the Persian Gulf, and we had a very vigorous debate, passionate expressions of disagreement, but then we decided as a nation by a relatively close vote to endorse that mission, and then instantly, the debate was over, and the country was unified in supporting the decision that our country made. And that's when we are at our best. When we're unified, it measurably increases the margin of safety for our troops and the chance for success in the mission.
JIM LEHRER: Why--what is your analysis of why the public, as well as the Congress, has not rallied to the President's side on this?
VICE PRESIDENT GORE: Oh, I, I think it's traditional for Americans to have a great deal of apprehension about any deployment of our troops in a foreign country. Adolf Hitler had already invaded Poland and was on the rampage across Europe when the draft was renewed by a margin of only one vote in the House of Representatives. There's nothing new about these kinds of apprehensions, but we Americans have more than a single opinion. The country overwhelmingly has been heartsick about the ethnic cleansing, the mass rape and mass murders there, and excited about the breakthrough in Dayton, when Americans of all faiths formed a prayer circle around the negotiating site, and through the very hard work of the President's delegates there, the agreement was finally hammered out, and the war was brought to an end. As the debate, quite naturally, focuses on the remaining risks associated with this peacekeeping mission, naturally there are going to be apprehensions, but the risks of not undertaking this mission are catastrophic, the destruction of NATO, a sharp loss of U.S. influence, and capacity to lead in the world, renewed fighting and renewed risks that the war will spread, involving Greece and Turkey, and others in a wider regional conflict that would threaten the stability of Europe and the moral risks of renewed ethnic cleansing, more mass rapes, more Srebrenicas. What would it do to us as a people having the opportunity to bring this to an end to walk away from it and see the resumption of all these horrific events and then wring our hands and say this is terrible, we feel badly about it, and we'll try to express our disappointment, but we won't really do anything about it. We, we have the chance now not in a war but in a peace to bring that to an end and to eliminate those risks and the risks of undertaking the mission again have been minimized.
JIM LEHRER: Now, you have said this many times. The President has said this many times; he said it in an Oval Office address to the American people. It's been repeated time and time again over the last several weeks, and yet, the polls still show the American people do not agree with the version that you just said, and the Congress has said the same thing. So what's missing here? Why has the message not been agreed to and not been gotten over?
VICE PRESIDENT GORE: Well, again, it is not at all unusual in our history to see apprehensions of that kind expressed. Indeed, before the mission in the Persian Gulf, opinion was sharply divided in the country. There was very strong opposition to it. I remember as one of the Democrats who supported that mission that it was a very unpopular thing to do. But once the mission began and a more realistic picture emerged, then public opinion solidified in favor of it. You know what's interesting, Jim, the congressional delegations that have gone to visit the actual scene there in Bosnia have come back with virtually every single member coming back persuaded that, yes, this is the right thing to do, very few exceptions to that rule. And I think our country as a whole will have a similar experience in getting immersed in the details of exactly what is involved and what is not involved, seeing that, in fact, it is a peace and not a war, seeing the reaction of the people in all of the groups represented there expressing their gratitude to the United States of America for providing the leadership in an international coalition of 30 nations, bringing peace to this part of the world that has suffered so much.
JIM LEHRER: Sen. Brown, Republican of Colorado, is one member of Congress who went to Sarajevo, and he came back and said on the floor of the Senate yesterday that it was goofy, the whole mission was goofy to put U.S. troops between two warring factions, two warring sides that have hated each other and have essentially been at war for hundreds of years.
VICE PRESIDENT GORE: He's the exception, rather than the rule. I think those who have gone have overwhelmingly come back convinced that this is the right thing to do, Democrats and Republicans.
JIM LEHRER: Does this debate, this lack of enthusiastic public and congressional support, mean that the mission, itself, doesn't--there's not going to be any slack given if something goes wrong, if there's a little problem here, or a little problem there, there's going to be--in other words, is it going to affect its possible effectiveness?
VICE PRESIDENT GORE: Is what going to affect it?
JIM LEHRER: The lack of enthusiastic public and congressional support.
VICE PRESIDENT GORE: Well, I think that we have an excellent chance to see something approximating the result in the Persian Gulf crisis; when the debate featured the divisions, aired the differences, but then yielded when the decision was made to a decision by the country to unify and say, look, whatever reservations some of us may have had about this, our troops are involved in this now, our nation is involved in it, and we're going to make sure that this is successful. National unity in a situation like this, after a full democratic debate where the differences are aired, national unity is an extremely important strategic asset. It helps our troops, it improves their safety, it improves the chances for success in this important mission.
JIM LEHRER: How should the doubters assess success of this mission?
VICE PRESIDENT GORE: Well, the military mission is very sharply defined and clearly focused and will be almost completely finished within ninety to a hundred and twenty days, certainly within six months. The remaining mission after those maps are completed, marking the boundaries, separating the forces, establishing freedom to move along the highways, after those missions are completed, then the task is to continue providing a level of confidence on the part of all the parties that the peace is going to endure, diminishing their fear that the other side may be up to something they're not aware of, and as a result, they need to start behaving aggressively and to continue that level of confidence that they can believe in this peace for approximately a year, during which time a balance of power will be established, eliminating the weakness in the Bosnian federation that invited the aggression to begin with. It was a relative weakness. Now it will be a relative balance. Police forces will be organized and deployed in the separate entities. Elections will be held and civic authority established. The economic benefits will begin to flow as they reach out for reconstruction and rebuilding their country as the neighbors, Croatia and Serbia, strive to enter into a normal relationship with the civilized world and a web of economic contacts with the European common market and the rest of the world, escape the threat that sanctions will be reimposed. All of these things will take place during a period of time when the people of Bosnia will have twelve months plus the two months of the cease-fire already during which they will feel the benefits of peace. People on all sides tell all of the people who study their opinions that overwhelmingly all of them are sick of this war. They want this peace that they have finally established with our help. And having experienced it for a year and having then the emergence of a stable configuration with the forces separated and these new entities established, I think the chances are overwhelming that at the end of the military mission you're going to see this peace endure.
JIM LEHRER: All right. Mr. Vice President, thank you very much.
VICE PRESIDENT GORE: Thank you, Jim.