Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Giuliani's Blowback

The Nation's John Nichols beat us to the story that we had planned to write about the Ron Paul/Rudy Giuliani foreign policy "exchange" at the debate in South Carolina last night.

From Nichols' post:

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.

Ron Paul is absolutely right that the Middle East is far more complicated that most politicians would admit.

And while GreenMountainPolitcs1 is all for using Predator drones and Hellfire missiles "in the right situation", it is disingenuous for us not to expect Blowback after 70 years of an American foreign policy that props up repressive foreign regimes in order to keep America's oil prices artificially low.

Or did folks actually think that we support Saudi Arabia (how many hijackers from 9/11 were from the Kingdom?) for some reason other than their oil reserves and the trillions they have in the American stock market?

It's a complicated and fast changing world out there.

So GreenMountainPolitics1 feels that what this country really needs is another 4 years of a two-dimensional "shoot first, ask questions later" approach to foreign policy.

Right Your Honor?

And yeah, we get that the shoot first, ask questions later approach might play well in the GOP Primary for Giuliani.

But so what? He wants to be President. He should act Presidential. He should actually know what the hell it is that he's talking about.

We're just saying.