Rudy Giuliani v. Ron Paul, and Reality
by John Nichols
Rudy Giuliani made clear in Tuesday night’s Republican presidential debate that he is not ready to let the facts get in the way of his approach to foreign policy.
The most heated moment in the debate, which aired live on the conservative Fox News network, came when the former New York mayor and current GOP front-runner angrily refused to entertain a serious discussion about the role that actions taken by the United States prior to the September 11, 2OO1, terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon may have played in inspiring or encouraging those attacks.
Giuliani led the crowd of contenders on attacking Texas Congressman Ron Paul after the anti-war Republican restated facts that are outlined in the report of the The National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States.
Asked about his opposition to the invasion and occupation of Iraq, Paul repeated his oft-expressed concern that instead of making the U.S. safer, U.S. interventions in the Middle East over the years have stirred up anti-American sentiment. As he did in the previous Republican debate, the Texan suggested that former President Ronald Reagan’s decisions to withdraw U.S. troops from the region in the 198Os were wiser than the moves by successive Republican and Democratic presidents to increase U.S. military involvement there.
Speaking of extremists who target the U.S, Paul said, “They attack us because we’ve been over there. We’ve been bombing Iraq for 10 years. We’ve been in the Middle East [for years]. I think (Ronald) Reagan was right. We don’t understand the irrationality of Middle Eastern politics. Right now, we’re building an embassy in Iraq that is bigger than the Vatican. We’re building 14 permanent bases. What would we say here if China was doing this in our country or in the Gulf of Mexico? We would be objecting.”
Paul argued that Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda are “delighted that we’re over there” in Iraq, pointing out that, “They have already… killed 3,400 of our men and I don’t think it was necessary.”
Giuliani, going for an applause line with a conservative South Carolina audience that was not exactly sympathetic with his support for abortion rights and other socially liberal positions, leapt on Paul’s remarks. Interrupting the flow of the debate, Giuliani declared, “That’s really an extraordinary statement. That’s really an extraordinary statement, as someone who lived through the attack of Sept. 11, that we invited the attack because we were attacking Iraq. I don’t think I have ever heard that before and I have heard some pretty absurd explanations for Sept. 11. I would ask the congressman withdraw that comment and tell us that he didn’t really mean that.”
The mayor, who is making his response to the 9-11 attacks on New York a central feature of his presidential campaign, was joined in the assault on Paul by many of the other candidates.
But congressman did not back down, and for good reason. Unlike Giuliani, the Texan has actually read the record.
The 9-11 Commission report detailed how bin Laden had, in 1996, issued “his self-styled fatwa calling on Muslims to drive American soldiers out of Saudi Arabia” and identified that declaration and another in 1998 as part of “a long series” of statements objecting to U.S. military interventions in his native Saudi Arabia in particular and the Middle East in general. Statements from bin Laden and those associated with him prior to 9-11 consistently expressed anger with the U.S. military presence on the Arabian Peninsula, U.S. aggression against the Iraqi people and U.S. support of Israel.
The 9-11 Commission based its assessments on testimony from experts on terrorism and the Middle East. Asked about the motivations of the terrorists, FBI Special Agent James Fitzgerald told the commission: “I believe they feel a sense of outrage against the United States. They identify with the Palestinian problem, they identify with people who oppose repressive regimes, and I believe they tend to focus their anger on the United States.”
Fitzgerald’s was not a lonely voice in the intelligence community.
Michael Scheuer, the former Central Intelligence Agency specialist on bin Laden and al-Qaeda, has objected to simplistic suggestions by President Bush and others that terrorists are motivated by an ill-defined irrational hatred of the United States. “The politicians really are at great fault for not squaring with the American people,” Scheuer said in a CNN interview. “We’re being attacked for what we do in the Islamic world, not for who we are or what we believe in or how we live. And there’s a huge burden of guilt to be laid at Mr. Bush, Mr. Clinton, both parties for simply lying to the American people.”
It is true that reasonable people might disagree about the legitimacy of Muslim and Arab objections to U.S. military policies. And, certainly, the vast majority of Americans would object to any attempt to justify the attacks on this country, its citizen and its soldiers.
But that was not what Paul was doing. He was trying to make a case, based on what we know from past experience, for bringing U.S. troops home from Iraq.
Giuliani’s reaction to Paul’s comments, especially the suggestion that they should be withdrawn, marked him as the candidate peddling “absurd explanations.”
Viewers of the debate appear to have agreed. An unscientific survey by Fox News asked its viewers to send text messages identifying the winner. Tens of thousands were received and Paul ranked along with Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney as having made the best showing.
No wonder then that, when asked about his dust-up with Giuliani, Paul said he’d be “delighted” to debate the front-runner on foreign policy.
John Nichols’ new book is THE GENIUS OF IMPEACHMENT: The Founders’ Cure for Royalism. Rolling Stone’s Tim Dickinson hails it as a “nervy, acerbic, passionately argued history-cum-polemic [that] combines a rich examination of the parliamentary roots and past use of the ‘heroic medicine’ that is impeachment with a call for Democratic leaders to ‘reclaim and reuse the most vital tool handed to us by the founders for the defense of our most basic liberties.'”