The Republican Party is in desperate straits. How else to explain that Rudy Giuliani a former mayor with no foreign policy experience is the Republican front-runner, largely based on his supposed foreign policy expertise?
That the former mayor is unsuited to be president is evident from his recent essay in Foreign Affairs. He is breathtakingly naive, shockingly irresponsible, and cynically dishonest in turn. Indeed, since this document was undoubtedly carefully drafted and vetted by his campaign staff and outside policy advisers, his personal instincts likely are even more extreme.
Giuliani was an unpopular lame duck until 9/11, which transformed his public image. Thus, he begins with that tragic day. “We are all members of the 9/11 generation,” he grandly declares.
He has routinely postured as the only candidate who understands terrorism, as if the attack on the Twin Towers gave him special insight: the Democrats and some Republicans don’t “understand Islamic terrorism,” he claims. But his Foreign Affairs article demonstrates that he is the one who does not understand Islamic terrorism, let alone foreign policy more generally. The terror attacks were awful deeds, obviously, and ones that required a response. Nevertheless, terrorism does not possess the global significance suggested by Giuliani.
Most bizarrely, he contends that “Confronted with an act of war on American soil, our old assumptions about conflict between nation-states fell away.” Yet the U.S. attacked Afghanistan because that nation aided Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda; they would have been far less effective without such state assistance. Moreover, the Bush administration invaded Iraq because that government supposedly had become more dangerous in the aftermath of 9/11.
Further, the damage that al-Qaeda could wreak pales compared to that from a nuclear strike by Russia today or an empowered China tomorrow. The greatest threats to the U.S. remain nation states, even though America is more than capable of meeting both present and future challenges. Terrorism is the greatest ongoing concern, but it does not pose an existential threat to America as did the Soviet Union.
Nevertheless, Giuliani calls it an “assault on world order.” Indeed, “civilization itself, and the international system, had come under attack by a ruthless and radical Islamist enemy.” We face “radical Islamic terrorism, which uses the mask of religion to further totalitarian goals and aims to destroy the existing international system.”
This is breathtaking nonsense. Ruthless the terrorists were (and remain), but the 9/11 attackers weren’t much interested in world order and civilization, or Disneyland, MTV, cultural licentiousness, the Bill of Rights, and America’s freedoms, as others, including President George W. Bush, have claimed. The terrorists also weren’t particularly interested in imposing Islam on America, let alone throughout Western civilization. Rather, the 9/11 terrorists, prosperous Saudis whose idea of a good time included visiting an American strip club, were most interested in fighting back against an America which they believed had attacked Islamic peoples and societies.
The fact that some people perceive America in this way does not mean that they are right. But if Giuliani wants to be a good president and make good policy, he needs to understand why people are prepared to die attempting to kill Americans. He is not a stupid man; more likely, his argument that Osama bin Laden is a Hitler-wannabe is cynical and opportunistic.
First, if Giuliani is right, why have Islamic jihadists been targeting only America and its military allies? “Islamic fascists” seeking world domination should be bombing Russia, China, India, Japan, and most European nations. Prudish Islamic fascists should be bombing the Nordic countries, other European states, and Russia.
Islamists may hate many countries for many reasons, but few seem interested in sacrificing much to browbeat most global leaders. The U.S. (and its military allies) are targets of violence because they are perceived as employing violence against Muslims. As the Independent Institute’s Ivan Eland puts it, “The major difference between the United States and other wealthy democratic nations is that it is an interventionist superpower.” That intervention is routinely military.
To explain that terrorists have reasons does not justify terrorism, of course. But throughout history terrorists have had political reasons for their actions. Terrorists have changed history by killing a Czar and the heir-apparent in the Austro-Hungarian Empire. They arguably achieved their political ends with the independence of such countries as Algeria and Ireland. Organized terrorism continues in Spain, Sri Lanka, and Turkey. The Islamists are no different.
Michael Scheuer, who tracked Osama bin Laden while at the CIA and author of Imperial Hubris: Why the West is Losing the War on Terror himself somewhat of a hawk cites U.S. troops in Saudi Arabia, sanctions against Iraq, backing for a panoply of Arab dictators, and sustained aid for Israel. Although the motives for any particular terrorist and reason for any particular terrorist attack can be complex, some cases are clear.
For example, the 1983 bombing of the Marine Corps barracks in Lebanon, 1996 truck bombing of the Khobar Towers in Saudi Arabia, and 2000 bombing of the U.S.S. Cole in Yemen were because we were there, as Rep. Ron Paul (R-Tex.) put it. Even Giuliani must understand that if you intervene in someone else’s conflict, you become a combatant, subject to attack. The perpetrators of other terrorist assaults, including 9/11, pointed to more general U.S. policies. That doesn’t justify their actions. But it does highlight the importance of having a president who actually understands terrorism, rather than one like Giuliani, who understands how to posture about terrorism.
Since he misperceives the terrorist threat, he suggests policies that would worsen the problem. For instance, everything is a matter of will, not policy. Giuliani derides “signs of weakness” which allegedly emboldened our enemies after past attacks: “In some instances, we responded inadequately. In others, we failed to respond at all. Our retreat from Lebanon in 1983 and from Somalia in 1993 convinced them that our will was weak.” Yet there would have been no terrorist attacks had we not intervened in the latter two failed states, taking sides in a civil war and social conflict. Moreover, what does Giuliani believe Washington should have done: chosen the faction that it liked, bombed everyone else, and attempted to rebuild Lebanese and Somali societies? That would have been a prescription for endless war for no purpose, with even less justification than the continued occupation of Iraq.
But Giuliani apparently believes that fighting terrorism requires endless war plus a few other things tossed in. Writes Giuliani in Foreign Affairs:
“The next U.S. president will face three key foreign policy challenges. First and foremost will be to set a course for victory in the terrorists’ war on global order. The second will be to strengthen the international system that the terrorists seek to destroy. The third will be to extend the benefits of the international system in an ever-widening arc of security and stability across the globe. The most effective means for achieving these goals are building a stronger defense, developing a determined diplomacy, and expanding our economic and cultural influence. Using all three, the next president can build the foundations of a lasting, realistic peace.”
For Giuliani, the military remains supreme. Most obviously, the U.S. will have to stay in Iraq until a functioning democracy arises along the Euphrates. He explains, “The purpose of this fight must be to defeat the terrorists and the insurgents in Iraq and Afghanistan and to allow these countries to become members of the international system in good standing.” Failure to meet this goal would be, well, catastrophic. Why, the world would come close to ending:
“Afghanistan would revert to being a safe haven for terrorists, and Iraq would become another one larger, richer, and more strategically located. Parts of Iraq would undoubtedly fall under the sway of our enemies, particularly Iran, which would use its influence to direct even more terror at U.S. interests and U.S. allies than it does today. The balance of power in the Middle East would tip further toward terror, extremism, and repression. America’s influence and prestige not just in the Middle East but around the world would be dealt a shattering blow. Our allies would conclude that we cannot back up our commitments with sustained action. Our enemies both terrorists and rogue states would be emboldened. They would see further opportunities to weaken the international state system that is the primary defense of civilization. Much as our enemies in the 1990s concluded from our inconsistent response to terrorism then, our enemies today would conclude that America’s will is weak and the civilization we pledged to defend is tired. Failure would be an invitation for more war, in even more difficult and dangerous circumstances.”
Where to begin?
Were the likely consequences of failure so huge, the Bush administration should have more carefully considered its policy before careening off into war. Although Giuliani cannot be held responsible for President George W. Bush’s disastrous decision to invade Iraq and irresponsibly botched occupation, Hizzoner could seek to reassure Americans that he has learned something from the Iraq debacle. To the contrary, Giuliani seems to be channeling Vice President Richard Cheney, even more determined to go to war with as many countries as frequently as possible.
Giuliani’s plea for remaining in Iraq sounds an awful lot like the man who murders his parents and then requests public assistance for being an orphan. Yes, we blew up Iraq and the Mideast and created an awful mess. Yes, we opened Iraq to religious strife and immeasurably strengthened Iran’s geopolitical position. Yes, we set the stage for regional Sunni-Shi’ite conflict. But now you have to support us as we attempt to clean up the mess. Otherwise things will get really bad.
Moreover, Giuliani undercuts his own case by pointing to Vietnam, arguing that we had almost won when we withdrew, leaving world domination in the hands of the communist North, Cambodia’s Khmer Rouge, and “a newly energized and expansionist Soviet Union.” (President Bush, too, has attempted to use the Vietnam War, in which he and his vice president avoided serving, to make the case for remaining in Iraq.) Apparently Giuliani was too busy practicing law to notice that the U.S. won the Cold War despite losing in Vietnam.
Indeed, Vietnam, though nominally communist, is reforming. The Khmer Rouge was ousted from Cambodia nearly three decades ago. And the Soviet Union no longer exists. Given what the region looks like today, one could be forgiven for believing that America won the war. The Mideast might not turn out so well after a withdrawal, but there’s no reason to believe a continued occupation will lead to better results.
To the contrary, the war in Iraq has had disastrous consequences on the larger war on terror. First, it is nonsensical to treat Iraqi insurgents and terrorists as equivalents. Indeed, the U.S. military has made dramatic progress in Iraq’s Anbar province precisely by splitting the two, since even Sunni fighters have little desire to slaughter Shi’ite civilians. Notes Fred Kaplan of Slate: “By equating insurgents with terrorists, and by lumping all Islamic radicals into a monolithic threat akin to global fascism, Giuliani not only exaggerates their strength and cohesion but also overlooks declares impossible any opportunities for playing the various movements off one another.”
Obviously, Giuliani, like President Bush, doesn’t “do nuance.” The former writes that “the United States must not rest until the al-Qaeda network is destroyed and its leaders, from Osama bin Laden on down, are killed or captured. And the United States must not rest until the global terrorist movement and its ideology are defeated.”
Wonderful sentiments, but utterly unrealistic, given the policies that he advocates. After all, the attack on Iraq aided the escape of many of the true culprits of 9/11. The premature transfer of U.S. troops from Afghanistan relaxed pressure on bin Laden and the Taliban. The administration’s fixation on Hussein turned out to be their salvation.
The issue is not just bin Laden’s survival, as both a human being and an international symbol. The latest National Intelligence Estimate warned that al-Qaeda has regained much of its potency. This is a testament to the folly of having left the job of destroying al-Qaeda half-done. The only reason the independent Iraqi terrorists adopted the al-Qaeda franchise is because the administration didn’t finish off the international group.
Moreover, the American people understand what Giuliani does not: fighting an unnecessary war in a hostile land that is viewed unfavorably around the world creates more terrorists than it kills. More than half of Americans told a recent UPI/Zogby poll that they believed America’s military presence in Iraq itself incites terrorism against the U.S.
Of course, President Bush has studiously ignored the consequences of his policy. So does Giuliani. In fact, the invasion and occupation of Iraq have greatly exacerbated the problem of terrorism.
Daniel Benjamin of the Brookings Institution told Congress earlier this year that “the invasion of Iraq gave the jihadists an unmistakable boost. Terrorism is about advancing a narrative and persuading a targeted audience to believe it.” U.S. policies “have too often lent inadvertent confirmation to the terrorists’ narrative.”
London’s Chatham House reported that Iraq “imposed particular difficulties for the UK, and for the wider coalition against terrorism. It gave a boost to the al-Qaeda network’s propaganda, recruitment and fundraising, caused a major split in the coalition, provided an ideal targeting and training area for al-Qaeda-linked terrorists.” Britain’s Intelligence and Security Committee studied the July 2005 London attacks and concluded: “Iraq continues to act as a motivation and focus for terrorist activity in the UK.”
Many Islamists say the same thing. Ironically, conservatives point to statements from violent jihadists to argue that “we are at war” but ignore the reasons advanced by those who wish America ill. Iraq is yet another perceived attack on Islam. Of course, having gone this far, al-Qaeda’s leaders aren’t likely to voluntarily quit, irrespective of American policy in Iraq or elsewhere. However, Iraq is spawning new recruits around the world as well as fortifying old believers.
Some of them are determined to commit murder and mayhem at home, whether that be Great Britain, Indonesia, Jordan, or Spain. Others have traveled to Iraq to battle U.S. forces. Moreover, there may be 15,000 or more Iraqi members of al-Qaeda. Explains Daniel Benjamin: “The chaos in Iraq has allowed for extensive training and development in various terrorist tactics and urban warfare, including increasingly proficient use of improvised explosive devices.” Graduates of Terrorism U will likely circulate the globe, multiplying their bloody work.
In the name of fighting terrorism, Giuliani would continue a policy that is creating more terrorists. You’d do a heck’uva job, Rudy!
Routinely threatening and attacking other countries has additional adverse consequences. For instance, Giuliani declares: “The theocrats ruling Iran need to understand that we can wield the stick as well as the carrot, by undermining popular support for their regime, damaging the Iranian economy, weakening Iran’s military, and, should all else fail, destroying its nuclear infrastructure.” Since the Bush administration has done nothing but wield the stick, does he really believe the ruling mullahs don’t understand? Of course they do, which is one reason they are fomenting resistance to Washington in Iraq. And probably one reason they want to develop nuclear weapons.
North Korea, too, undoubtedly has learned the lesson from American attacks on Serbia and Iraq, carried out despite the lack of any threat to America and without international approval. In broad sweep, countries either bomb or get bombed. Acquiring a nuclear capability will move you from the latter to the former category. Even India has learned this lesson after the first Gulf War, an Indian military official was asked what he learned: don’t go to war with the United States without nuclear weapons, he responded. The U.S. has been mentioned in political debates over the desired reach of India’s missiles and size of its arsenal.
Of course, to back up his policy of endless war, Giuliani wants an even larger military, ten new combat brigades for the U.S. Army at least, as well as more bombers and submarines. He explains:
“For 15 years, the de facto policy of both Republicans and Democrats has been to ask the U.S. military to do increasingly more with increasingly less. The idea of a post-Cold War ‘peace dividend’ was a serious mistake the product of wishful thinking and the opposite of true realism. As a result of taking this dividend, our military is too small to meet its current commitments or shoulder the burden of any additional challenges that might arise. We must rebuild a military force that can deter aggression and meet the wide variety of present and future challenges. When America appears bogged down and unready to face aggressors, it invites conflict.”
In an essay filled with silly nonsense, this statement stands out as being uniquely stupid. Between 1980 and 2000 the Soviet Union disintegrated, the Warsaw Pact disbanded, Maoism disappeared from China, the former Soviet republics and Eastern European satellites gravitated towards America and Europe, and Vietnam opened to the West. As a result, the United States found itself allied with every major industrialized state as well as many former communist countries while, as Colin Powell famously put it, America’s enemies were down to Cuba and North Korea. In this new world, Giuliani believes that the U.S. shouldn’t have reduced military spending even a little?
Today the U.S. accounts for half of the globe’s military spending. Europe spends far more than Russia on defense. South Korea vastly overmatches the North. Japan can, and is starting, to do, far more to ensure East Asian security. Just how much would be enough to satisfy Giuliani? Two-thirds of the world’s military outlays? Three-fourths? Or should we shoot for a nine-tenths, just to be sure?
Moreover, Giuliani doesn’t bother to explain where the extra troops will come from to fill his expanded Army. That service has had particular recruiting difficulties and has had to lower its standards, including granting thousands of “moral waivers” for enlistees with felony convictions. Is he prepared to conscript American young people if they don’t share his enthusiasm for fighting the many wars he expects to wage around the world?
The problem is not an insufficient military, but too many commitments. Why are U.S. troops still stationed in Germany, South Korea, Great Britain, Japan, and more? Giuliani doesn’t say. Yet he wants the U.S. to guarantee the security of more nations. NATO, he argues, should include “any state that meets basic standards of good governance, military readiness, and global responsibility, regardless of location.” Ah, like Nepal, Thailand, Mongolia, Morocco, South Africa, Fiji, and Chile? Is there any country which Giuliani would not have us defend, if they met his standards? Maybe we could bring in India and Pakistan together, and protect each from the other. Why not invite China and Russia to join? Then we could rename the North Atlantic Treaty Organization the North Atlantic North Pacific Treaty Organization.
Further, the U.S. should engage in less nation-building in fewer hostile lands, not more. In effect, Giuliani wants an empire, though he doesn’t use that word. But that’s a natural step for someone who apparently thinks that running the world is essentially the same as running a city. Explains Giuliani: “I know from personal experience that when security is reliably established in a troubled part of a city, normal life rapidly reestablishes itself: shops open, people move back in, children start playing ball on the sidewalks again, and soon a decent and law-abiding community returns to life. The same is true in world affairs. Disorder in the world’s bad neighborhoods tends to spread. Tolerating bad behavior breeds more bad behavior. But concerted action to uphold international standards will help peoples, economies, and states to thrive. Civil society can triumph over chaos if it is backed by determined action.”
Does he really believe that fixing failed societies is so simple? If so, should the U.S. look forward to President Giuliani stationing American forces around the globe to bring order? Let’s see: Iraq is the equivalent of Harlem; Venezuela looks like the south Bronx; Nepal is Queens; Kosovo fits the financial district; Burma matches Staten Island; Indonesia counts as Greenwich Village. Alas, improving policing within a city neighborhood is a little different than attempting to restructure a foreign society, transcending national, political, ethnic, religious, and historic differences. One must hope that Giuliani doesn’t believe what he says, but merely is trying to turn his lack of foreign policy experience into an asset.
He provides a lot of other blather about how the U.S. should do all sorts of things punish countries that exhibit anti-Americanism, for instance. America should “work to strengthen the international system,” whatever that entails. The ubiquitous “international community must also learn from the mistakes that allowed the genocide in Darfur to begin and have prevented the relevant international organizations from ending it,” as if the Sudanese asked for the world’s permission before killing one another. Moreover, “Washington should also make clear that only if China and Russia move toward democracy, civil liberties, and an open and uncorrupted economy will they benefit from the vast possibilities available in the world today.”
Apparently Giuliani hasn’t gone shopping recently. These countries don’t need America’s permission to benefit from the globe’s many opportunities. As Fred Kaplan observes: “Here we see at work one of Giuliani’s most deluded assumptions that the United States controls the world. China and Russia seem to be benefitting from the global market’s ‘vast possibilities’ quite nicely without our assistance at the moment. China, in fact, is doing quite a lot to finance our debt. What instruments of leverage does Giuliani think he’ll have to impose his will here? How are we supposed to reward or penalize the Russians and Chinese for their compliance or disobedience?”
There’s a lot more silliness in the article that foreign policy “realists,” like many conservative critics of the Bush administration, “exaggerate America’s weaknesses and downplay America’s strengths.” But why sweat the small stuff? Giuliani is most bad on the most important issues. He’s Richard Cheney without the broad political experience and policy background.
What is Rudy Giuliani’s foreign policy? A bigger Army, Navy, and Air Force. Prosecuting the war in Iraq until liberal democracy emerges. Bombing Iran. Invading more countries to defenestrate bad regimes and suppress disorder. Attacking more countries to kill the additional terrorists created by his more frequent interventions. Confronting China and Russia. At least his administration would generate full employment for foreign policy analysts.
George W. Bush already has done his best to bankrupt the nation and anger the world. Giuliani would go double or nothing. It’s a gamble the American people cannot afford.
Read more by Doug Bandow
- The Rise of ISIS: Iraq and Beyond – July 16th, 2014
- Squaring the Pentagon – March 12th, 2009
- Balancing Beijing – February 27th, 2009
- The Asian Century – February 20th, 2009
- Peace, Prosperity, and Liberty: The Battle Continues – February 6th, 2009