- The Washington Times - Monday, October 9, 2000

In between sighs, exaggerations and inaccuracies, Vice President Al Gore managed to a make a gaffe during last week's presidential debate in an area where he is trying to claim superiority: foreign policy. Were it not for his inability to rein in an unmistakable haughtiness, Mr. Gore would have minimized his margin for error. But impulse lured Mr. Gore into misstep, and now the vice president is in the very awkward position of having made a mistake out of arrogance.

During the debate, when moderator Jim Lehrer asked Mr. Gore what the United States should do if Yugoslavia's president, Slobodan Milosevic, refused to accept the country's election results and leave office, Mr. Gore, showcasing his familiarity with geography, said: "I think we should support the people of Serbia, and the, Yugoslavia, as they call Serbia plus Montenegro, and put pressure in every way possible to recognize the lawful outcome of the election."

Then the question was posed to Mr. Bush, who answered: "This would be an interesting moment for the Russians to step up and lead as well. It would be a wonderful time for the president of Russia to step into the Balkans and convince Mr. Milosevic it's in his best interest and his country's best interest to leave office. The Russians have got a lot of sway in that part of the world and we'd like to see them use that sway to encourage democracy to take hold."

As it turns out, Mr. Bush's policy recommendation was right on target. It was only after Russia intervened in Yugoslavia and recognized the triumph of Mr. Kostunica in the elections that Mr. Milosevic admitted defeat.

But at the time Mr. Gore failed to recognize the wisdom of Mr. Bush's recommendation, claiming that: "Now I understand what the governor has said about asking the Russians to be involved and under some circumstances that might be a good idea. But being as they have not yet been willing to recognize Kostunica as the lawful winner of the election, I'm not sure that it's right for us to invite the president of Russia to mediate this dispute there because we might not like the result that comes out of that. They currently favor going forward with a run-off election. I think that's the wrong thing."

Had the vice president left his response at that, he would have expressed a misguided but not unreasonable opinion regarding Russia's involvement. But after Mr. Bush explained he naturally wouldn't have Russia intervene if the Kremlin wasn't going to agree with the United States, Mr. Gore added sharply: "Well they don't."

By any estimation, Mr. Gore was unwise to make such a categorical statement about a situation still in flux. The vice president was almost begging to be proved wrong, which, as fate would have it, he very soon was. Perhaps the next time around Mr. Gore should summon some humility.

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