BackgroundDuring the Florida Recount of 2000, poll workers, many inexperienced and without proper training, mishandled a number of ballots in Palm Beach County, causing some of the infamous “hanging chads” to tip the recount vote in the opposite direction. By the narrowest of margins, Vice President Al Gore won the Florida recount by 22 votes, and was sworn into office on January 20, 2001 as the 43rd President of the United States.
Once in office, President Gore followed through on his campaign promise to lift the “Don’t ask, don’t tell” policy on gays in the military. When heavy opposition from Conservative groups and Republicans in both the House and Senate blocked legislation to revoke the law, President Gore issued an Executive Order on April 1, 2001, rescinding the ban to take effect in 90 days. Two days later, he made a public apology to the Chinese government for "downing" their aircraft over Hainan, and begged them to release the air crew of the Navy EP-3. Domestically, law enforcement and intelligence agencies were directed by Attorney General Eric Holder to focus their efforts on hate crimes and right-wing militia groups, and this prevailing thought was emphasized by AG Holder when he stated “we have to prevent the next Oklahoma City.” National Security Adviser Richard Clarke and Secretary of Defense Sandy Berger concurred with this policy, as neither saw any major threat coming to United States soil. Under Secretary Berger, the Department of Defense used available military assets to monitor climate changes and used many active duty troops to participate in United Nation peacekeeping operations around the globe. These actions led many in the military to resign their commissions, or let their enlistments expire, and saw many seasoned professionals in both the FBI and CIA retire. To counter this wave, Gore placed more emphasis on diplomacy and in Secretary of State Richard Holbrooke.
On the economic front, President Gore sought to push his environmental agenda, and initiated the first of his “Green America” campaign. Based on the advice of his Treasury Secretary Robert Reich, Gore lobbied Congress to enact a $0.25/gallon tax on gasoline to help finance Green America. At the time, oil was only $30/barrel. However, Vice President Lieberman’s speech in Tel Aviv supporting the existence of Israel angered many Arab nations (who were already upset with Gore selecting a Jew as his running mate and the prospect of decreased oil exports under the new Gore plan). In the summer of 2001, OPEC nations decided on to cut production of oil by 10%, and with high demand, the price of oil began to steadily climb. Gore, knowing that he would face considerable opposition in Congress, unilaterally declared that the United States would abide by the Kyoto Protocol. Though legislation had yet to be passed, many businesses feared the effect of Gore’s policy on their operating costs and profit margins. With the economy in a slowdown following the burst of the Internet bubble, many businesses began to cut back on their largest operating cost – labor. Al Gore inherited a 4.2% unemployment rate from President Clinton; by June 2001, the rate was at 5.1%.As another method to finance his Green America agenda, President Gore was able to convince Congressional Democrats (and several moderate Republicans) to make spending cuts in the government budget. This coalition unanimously agreed to cut the military and intelligence services budget to redirect funding to Gore’s program. The military was already strained from the cutbacks of the Clinton Administration, and operations in Bosnia, Kosovo and enforcing the no-fly zone over Iraq constituted the majority of the military’s training and operational budget. Additional funding was to be raised through a series of taxes on higher income earners, and Gore lowered the top income threshold to $95,000, forcing earners in this category to face a 39% tax rate. This was to be combined with a new 25% tax rate on capital gains on investments. Despite heavy conservative opposition, Gore pushed through with his proposal and barely passed in August of 2001, with Vice President Lieberman the tie breaking vote in the Senate.
By September 1, 2001, a growing number of Americans were disturbed over the course the nation was heading. Even some former Gore supporters were suffering from “buyer’s remorse.” However, a majority of the media continued to paint a picture of success in the Gore Administration and whatever the country was suffering at the moment were only “slight growing pains.” At the close of business on September 10, 2001, the Dow Jones was at 8351.83, the US unemployment rate stood at 5.5%, and the price of oil was $38/barrel (with the average national price of gasoline $2.06/gallon).
September 11, 2001
On the morning of September 11, 2001, terrorists hijacked four airliners and used them as suicide aircraft against the World Trade Center towers and the Pentagon. A fourth aircraft, United Flight 93, crashed in rural Pennsylvania when passengers aboard engaged the hijackers, who crash the plane into an empty field.
President Gore was at the Davis-Besse nuclear power plant in Oak Harbor, Ohio, at the time of the attack, to give an early morning speech to Sierra Club activists. Many environmental groups cited the plant as unsafe and called for the closure of the plant, and an end to nuclear power. Gore himself had prepared this speech for several weeks and had planned to attack the facility (the shutdown of this facility was a pet project for him) as an example of unsafe practices in the nuclear power industry, a speech he planned would help convince the public to push for cleaner, renewable energy programs. Just before the start of the speech, President Gore is informed at 8:55 AM that a plane has hit one of the towers of the World Trade Center. Gore acknowledges the event and asks his advisers to keep him informed. At 9:00 AM, Gore in introduced to the podium and begins his speech.
By 9:10, Gore passionately delivers his speech when an aide attempts to interrupt him and inform him that a second plane has hit the South Tower of the WTC. As the aide rushes to the podium, Gore snaps at the aide for interpreting him, and the aide slowly steps back from Gore. The President regains his composure and continues his speech. Many news agencies covering the speech run a split screen showing the President on one side and the burning towers on the other. President Gore concludes his speech at 9:23 AM, to the applause of the assembled crowd. At 9:24, Gore is then informed of the second plane crash. The assembled press corps asks Gore for a statement on the two plane crashes into the WTC. He expresses his regrets and sympathies for the lives lost in the “accidents” and promises to get to the bottom of the causes of the tragedy. Gore then concludes his statement with a call for energy before his motorcade departs the power plant and heads for Air Force One.
At 9:40, President Gore is informed of the airline crash into the Pentagon. Five minutes later, he orders the suspension of all inbound and outbound flights to the US. Gore and members of his administration begin to suspect terrorism, and specifically, Osama bin Laden’s al-Qaeda.
At 10:10 AM, President Gore is informed that a fourth aircraft is reported down in a rural Pennsylvania field. At 9:00 PM EST, having returned to Washington, President Gore addressed the nation on television and urges calm. In his speech, he declared his heart was with the 3000 people who lost their lives in the attacks. He declared September 12 a day of mourning, and state that he would use the full resources of the US to get to the bottom of these attacks.
Post-attacks and OPERATION MOUNTAIN FURYPresident Gore immediately ordered the CIA and FBI to investigate the attacks. Hamstrung from budget cutbacks and personnel attrition, their job was increasingly difficult. President Gore and his security adviser discussed options over the next few days following the attacks. CIA Director George Tenet presented his proposal for covert anti-terrorism measures around the world, ranging from propaganda to lethal covert action in preparation for military support. Given the current state of military readiness, Secretary Berger advised against a full-scale military operation and instead, encouraged pin-point military strikes against al-Qaeda targets in Afghanistan. Secretaries Holbrooke and Berger advocated working with the nations of the Arabian Gulf and Pakistan for basing rights to launch the strikes. Gore agreed and directed Holbrooke to lead the effort. Secretary Holbrooke also took steps to build military support with the NATO alliance in support of the proposed strikes, nearly all of whom pledged support for the operation.
After the meeting in Brussels, Secretary Holbrooke headed to Saudi Arabia to negotiate with Arab leaders in Riyadh for basing rights. At the summit, Saudi leaders reluctantly agreed to the plan, but on the terms that they are given prior knowledge of the strikes before they occur. Holbrooke agreed to the terms. He then left for Karachi, Pakistan, to meet with President Pervez Musharraf. The Pakistani President was not open to military action against the Taliban regime but acquiesces to Holbrooke’s demands when the US Secretary threatened to garner support from India for basing rights. Musharraf agreed, but like the Saudis, wished to be kept informed of pending strikes. As a token of support, he offered support from his military intelligence infrastructure to help target al-Qaeda bases and training centers.On September 20, President Gore spoke to a joint session of Congress in which he announced his plan to address the United Nations General Assembly and call for the law enforcement agencies of the world to combat global terrorism. At this televised speech, he held up a stack of recent Justice Department indictments against Osama bin Laden and his organization. Gore, citing previous successes in arresting the individuals responsible for the African embassy bombings in 1998 and the current World Court trial of Slobodan Milošević, assured the assembled representatives that “through global action and partnerships, we can bring criminals such as these to justice.” The speech received resounding praise from Democrats and analysts in the media, but opinions on conservative talk radio overwhelmingly called for stronger action against terrorism, stating the “fight should be taken to them.”
President Gore addressed the United Nations General Assembly on September 24 and called for global support for “against terrorist acts.” He asks the assembled nations to press the World Court to pressure the Taliban regime to arrest Osama bin Laden and bring him before the Hague. Gore also uses the opportunity to press for global partnership on environmental issues, stating, “if we can work together to stop terrorists from attacking our cities, we can work to defeat another great threat to our existence, that of global warming.” Democrats and the media praise Gore’s “multi-tasking capability” in the speech, while Conservatives in Congress question the President’s priorities.
- Main article: Department of National Protection
To protect the US Homeland, President Gore created the Office of National Protection (ONP), with the goal of implementing a “comprehensive national strategy to secure the United States from terrorist threats or attacks. The Office will coordinate the executive branch’s efforts to detect, prepare for, prevent, protect against, respond to, and recover from terrorist attacks within the United States.” Gore tapped former Chief of Staff for President Clinton Leon Panetta to lead the effort. When critics objected to his lack of intelligence or security experience, Panetta responded by saying he did have tangential exposure to intelligence operations as Chief of Staff, where he “sat in on the daily intelligence briefings as Chief of Staff, and he reviewed the nation's most secret intelligence-collection and covert-action programs in his previous post as director of the Office of Management and Budget.” Panetta was confirmed in a controversial voice vote in the Senate (the vote was closed to broadcast and according to witnesses, the “nays” were louder than the “ayes.”) However, Vice President Lieberman struck the gavel as an affirmative for Panetta and he began his duties on October 8, 2001.
As far as the course of action against al-Qaeda, there was a split over which course the US should take. Those advocating a strong military response proudly displayed flags in their homes and vehicles and called for support of the military. Others organized massive protests in New York, San Francisco, and Washington, DC. The group A.N.S.W.E.R. organized the largest such protest in Washington, drawing 30,000 people to the rally, calling for “Justice, but fairly” and “Courts, not the military, are the A.N.S.W.E.R.”
OPERATION MOUNTAIN FURY
- Main article: Operation Mountain Fury
On October 15, US-led war planes operating from bases in the Middle East and Pakistan launched air strikes against suspected al-Qaeda bases and training camps in Afghanistan, dubbed OPERATION MOUNTAIN FURY. The Coalition conducted multiple attacks against Taliban and al-Qaeda targets in Afghanistan, while it tried (with no success) to launch covert operations in the country. As casualties began to mount in the campaign, bombings were ceased after one week, and both Secretary Berger and President Gore gave televised conferences and stated with confidence that the al-Qaeda network had been seriously damaged, and the organization would not be capable of striking the US again. In his address, President Gore announced that his administration would devolve the pursuit of bin Laden to the law enforcement community and turn US efforts to economic and environmental issues.
November 2001 – April 2002On December 19, a British citizen and al-Qaeda operative named Richard Reid is sidelined with the flu and is unable to board American Airlines Flight 63 from Paris to Miami on December 22. He later received a phone call from Afghanistan telling him to recover from his illness and wait for further instruction. That same day, a car bomb nearly misses King Faud of Saudi Arabia.
By the close of 2001, the attacks of September 11 began to fade from the public conscious, save for those who still have the “Remember WTC” bumper stickers on their vehicles. There were a series of sporadic hate crimes against persons of Arabic descent but those subsided after a “tolerance and understanding” media campaign, which included a series of public service announcements by many Hollywood celebrities. Hollywood prepared a series of movies aimed at framing public opinion to understanding the events of the past few months, in what would later become known as the “Tolerance Trilogy.” National Security Adviser Clarke issues a public statement that motives for the attacks stemmed from US foreign policy in the Middle East and support for Israel. Government spending proposals and environmental issues dominate the news and Sunday talk shows, and occasionally, the public will hear of an arrest or indictment of an individual connected to the September 11 attacks, the biggest of which is Zacarias Moussaoui, a self-admitted al-Qaeda member who claimed to be part of another al-Qaeda attack on the US. Director Tenet requests that the CIA be allowed to interrogate Moussaoui, but AG Holder denies the request, citing a violation of Moussaoui’s civil rights. Groups such as the ACLU step in to ensure that Moussaoui is questioned in a “proper, but humane” manner. After being read his Miranda rights, Moussaoui immediately gets an attorney and refuses to speak. Law enforcement officials receive next to nothing in the way of information.December 31, 2001, is a short trading day on Wall Street, with the Dow Jones closing at 7922.19. The US unemployment rate stayed, for the second month, at 6.1%, and the price of oil closed at $43/barrel (with the average national price of gasoline $2.14/gallon). The airline industry limps along following the attacks, as people are reluctant to deal with the new security measures, and the financial costs of reinforcing the cockpit doors (though public announcements to this new measure are widely promoted in preventing similar attacks in the future). President Gore’s approval rating closes the year at 57%.
The first four months of 2002 passed uneventfully in the search for Osama bin Laden and in the global campaign to combat terrorism. In the minds of many in the public and the media, aside from the periodic memorial, the September 11 attacks faded much like the Oklahoma City attacks seven years ago. The economy remained stagnant for Q1 2002.
Around the world, sporadic attacks occurred against targets in Europe and Israel, the most notable being the multiple car bomb attack in Marseilles, France, on March 15, 2002 (a car bomb was also found in Naples, Italy on the same day, but failed to detonate due to a faulty detonator). Al-Qaeda’s biggest claim of responsibility during this time was the April 11, 2002 truck bomb attack against a synagogue in Tunisia.
On April 22, the world again hears from Osama bin Laden, who appeared in a video with his deputy, Ayman Zawahiri. The video contained nothing more than rhetoric and an appeal to attack the West, and intelligence officials believed the video was shot near the Afghan-Pakistani border.
On April 26, Pakistani Pervez Musharraf was assassinated by a remote controlled car bomb attack, orchestrated by Waseem Akhtara, a member of the Pakistani Rangers, who provided al-Qaeda operatives information on the movements of Musharraf. Over the next five days, that country fell into chaos. US intelligence officials monitored the security of the Pakistani nuclear arsenal but could not get an accurate assessment of the status and security of the weapons.
The May Day attacks
- Main article: The May Day attacks (aka Bojinka II)
On May 1, al-Qaeda struck again on United States soil when operatives hijacked an aircraft and conducted a kamikaze-style attack against the Library Tower in Los Angeles, destroying the tower. As that attack was underway, operatives aboard four separate aircraft in various locations attempt to detonate bombs once the planes are airborne - three operatives succeed, but the fourth operative, Richard Reid, is overpowered by the passengers and crew, preventing him from detonating his bomb. The attacks killed over 1900 people.As with the 9/11 attacks, the May Day attacks became the only news item dominating the news cycle for days. The financial markets responded with a freefall – on May 1, the Dow Jones fell over 600 points as panicked Americans and global investors began to question the security of the US financial markets and the country as a whole. The US economy, which was already suffering from the economic slowdown and higher energy costs, was beginning to crack. At the end of the day, the Dow closed at 6793.05, and oil closed at $52/barrel (gasoline at $2.54/gallon). By the end of the week, unemployment figures, already high from the sour economy, reflected the shock of the attacks and climbed to 8.2%.
Gore and his immediate staff purposely avoided public comments or statements on the attacks, speaking only through releases from White House press secretaries. Publicly, the Gore Administration was being lambasted for their incompetence in handling their counter terrorism policy, and received no mercy from his political opponents. In a 24 minute monologue on May 6, 2002, conservative commentator Rush Limbaugh chastised the Gore Administration, saying “you don’t call 911 when you have someone in your house trying to kill you! If you have the ability to fight back, FIGHT BACK! We HAD that ability, Mr. President, until you chose to gut the military and make it your little social experiment and favorite for budget cuts. What good is cleaner air, cleaner water if you are too DEAD to enjoy it?”
Republicans in Congress also called for stronger action against al-Qaeda, and pulled every parliamentary procedure to get around Senate Leader Daschle’s objections to their calls for military support and rebukes of President Gore. Daschle soon found himself in the minority as conservative Democrats in the Senate sided with Republicans to provide financial and moral support to military action in Afghanistan. Soon the American public - and the world - knew that stronger military action was coming when the White House directed the Pentagon to call up military reservists in preparation for a major operation.
President Gore knew that he had to take stronger action against al-Qaeda, and dispatched Secretary Holbrooke to rally international support for a proposed OPERATION MOUNTAIN FURY II. This time, however, Holbrooke faced mounting difficulties to his task. With the exception of the UK and Canada, most NATO allies balked at Holbrooke’s overtures as “too little, too late.” European countries with substantial Muslim populations did not wish to risk inflaming resentment against their governments. Additionally, with the exception of Kuwait, rulers in the Middle East also rejected Holbrooke’s plan, saying that they would not support basing rights for Western military forces in their countries, for fear of stoking further radical Islamic sentiment.
With substantial regions of Pakistan in still in disarray (the military government formed after Musharraf’s death was still dealing with civil unrest), Holbrooke’s only option was to open negotiations with President Vladimir Putin. Holbrooke, having served in the Balkans and Kosovo diplomatic campaigns, was wary of Putin’s intentions but faced with limited options, he went hat in hand to Russia on May 14, 2002. During their meeting, Putin agreed to grant basing rights for NATO forces in Russia and influence former Soviet states in Central Asia to do the same. In exchange, Putin wanted two principles: the West would fight the war against radical Islam “Russia’s way,” calling for a hardline, no mercy approach to warfare and interrogation techniques, and an up front agreement that the US and NATO would block any attempt by Kosovo to declare independence, and would guarantee the use of military force – both Russian and NATO – to enforce that provision. Holbrooke emphatically refused Putin’s demands and left with no guarantee of partnership.
The next strike on Afghanistan was going to be considerably more difficult than the mission eight months prior, and this time, the Taliban would be ready for a military response.
OPERATION MOUNTAIN FURY II
- Main article: Operation Mountain Fury II
At the same time, CIA paramilitary forces and US Special Ops forces continued their hunt for top al-Qaeda leaders. However, to their dismay, they discovered that most of al-Qaeda’s senior leadership had fled to the hills of Pakistan. Efforts to gain concessions or assistance from the military government in Pakistan went nowhere, as American and British agents found the Pakistanis reluctant to assist the West this time.
US and allied forces slowly poured into Afghanistan, and despite mounting casualties, began to take more control of the country from the Taliban. Many engagements in the city were fought house to house, and troops faced constant sniper and IED attacks in their push through the country. After two weeks of full scale military operations involving ground troops, Coalition casualties stood at 532 killed. Within six weeks of the start of the operation, Coalition forces took the city of Kabul, and after 841 dead, gained control over a major portion of Afghanistan. Final control of Afghanistan came with the bloody Battle of Mazar-i-Sharif on May 21, 2003.
Publicly, the Gore Administration declared the operation a success, but sources inside the Pentagon informed the President of the long and difficult road ahead. According to classified briefs (leaked to the media), military forces faced a logistics nightmare for sustainable supplies and equipment – as a landlocked nation, there were no seaports to use, and suitable seaports in countries surrounding Afghanistan – Iran and Pakistan – were closed to the Coalition. This left air transportation as the only option, an expensive method of supplying goods and material. Additionally, intelligence estimates determined that key al-Qaeda personnel had refuge in Pakistan, a denied area to Coalition forces as the military government jealously guarded its borders. The 90,000 US troops (along with 32,000 British, Canadian and Australian forces) also had to contend with local warlords who began to form alliances with the Taliban and engage in hit-and-run and IED attacks against the Coalition. August 19, 2002, marked the 1,000th death of a US service member in Afghanistan.
With major combat operations ceased, the Gore Administration again tried to reach out to allies and the United Nations. Reluctantly, some members of the European Union and United Nations agreed to provide humanitarian aid and assistance to Afghanistan. However, the task with security and safety of humanitarian operations fell to Coalition forces. Both in the US and across the world, as casualties and near daily bombing attacks began to increase, so did opposition to continued presence in Afghanistan. Major media outlets in the United States regularly described events as “few protesters”, but independent media outlets (accurately) described attendance at these events into the hundreds.
Al-Qaeda’s Media CampaignAs OPERATION MOUNTAIN FURY II continued, al-Qaeda released a new video, but this time, it was not from bin Laden or Zawahiri, but from someone who identified himself of “Azzam the American.” The 92 minute video featured a person wrapped in a headscarf, but spoke in clear and precise American-accented English. The video, featured prominently on the internet, was a notice to the West and Coalition forces that al-Qaeda and the “Great Sheik” bin Laden were alive and safe, and ready to continue their strikes against the West.
However, one telling comment in the video came when the hooded speaker called for “men like me to strike at the heart of the infidel.” Law enforcement and intelligence personnel took this to be a sign that al-Qaeda was attempting to recruit more Western-appearing operatives in the United States.
The 2002 Congressional Campaign and the Rise of the “Passionate Conservative”
Though President Gore received a moderate boost in his approval rating with the initiation of OPERATION MOUNTAIN FURY II, his averages over the summer in most mainstream media outlets hovered around 45% (other polls showed him in the high 30s), and the summer of 2002 saw a huge push for change not seen since the summer of 1994. In addition to National Security, the other topic of concern amongst the public was the economy – after 18 months of the Gore Administration, the Dow Jones stood at 6419.43, oil averaged over $50/barrel, and as of July 1, 2002, unemployment broke the 9% mark.
The tone of the 2002 also marked a significant point of departure for Republicans as they abandoned any pretexts of bipartisanship, taking a stronger and unabashed conviction in their beliefs. In 2000, George W. Bush campaigned as a “Compassionate Conservative,” and to many in the GOP, the watered-down, milquetoast approach to conservative values awakened many Republicans to return to their “Reagan roots.” Members of this new movement became known as the “Passionate Conservatives,” and gave a feeling to some in the GOP that “moderates need not apply.” Leaders in this movement were Congressman Darrell Issa (R-CA) in the House and Bill Frist (R-TN) in the Senate, and together, they lead a media campaign to press their ideas – a stronger and safer United States through a firm stance and decisive action against Islamic extremists, and a reversal of the sour economy through free market principles. Many in the media lambasted their ideas as “radical” and “unrealistic for these times” – but Americans, eager for a change in direction, began to listen to these ideas.
The most prominent image featured during the 2002 campaign was the famous split image of President Gore speaking at the Davis-Besse plant during the 9/11 attacks, an image that reminded many of Gore’s inability to handle the rise in terrorism across the globe. Many Democrats running for reelection, even in those in traditionally “safe” districts, found themselves in a fight for their political careers. Anyone closely associated with President Gore in 2001 did their best to run from him in 2002.