Saturday, June 30, 2007

Of Tax Cuts and Terror - New York's former mayor makes his case to be Reagan's heir

You all know I support Rudy for president - now please take a moment and read this interview with the WSJ, encapsulated below, and in toto here:
He'll make an outstanding president...T

"I think the American people in November 2008 are going to select the person they think is strongest to defend America against Islamic terrorism. And it is not going to focus on--as some of the media wants it--just Iraq. I think Americans are smarter than that."

Thus did Rudy Giuliani summarize the rationale for his presidential campaign at a meeting this week with the editorial board of the Journal. Next year's election will be about national security, not about Iraq narrowly defined.

In an hour-long conversation in our offices in lower Manhattan, the former New York City mayor sat facing away from the view of Ground Zero below, but 9/11 was very much in the front of his mind. A few minutes into the interview, he paused midsentence, gestured over his shoulder and looked down at his hands. "Coming down here just fills me with memories," he offered. "I can't come here without thinking about what happened that day."

Mr. Giuliani has been accused of playing the 9/11 card for political gain, and he did not shy from discussing his role after the terrorist attacks on that day and its effect on his worldview. But he defied the caricature of a man who intends to beat the 9/11 drum all the way to the White House.

His views on foreign and domestic policy were cogent and delivered with the take-it-or-leave-it confidence that is as refreshing to his backers as it is infuriating to his opponents, both now and when he was mayor. "Leadership," he told us, "is first figuring out what's right, and then explaining it to people, as opposed to first having people explain to you what's right, and then just saying what they want to hear."

Mr. Giuliani is often referred to as a "moderate" Republican, which is true if it means simply that he doesn't follow the party line on certain issues, such as abortion. But there is very little else about him that qualifies for the label. "I am," he told us, "by all objective measures the most fiscally conservative candidate in the race." On domestic policy, he says he wants to shrink the government's share of the economy and increase the private sector's. Tax rates "should be lower" and our health-care system ought to be "move[d] away from the paternalistic model" that we have now.

This is not big-government conservatism. George W. Bush, he tells us, "was not good on spending," although he adds that Congress wasn't very good on spending, either. "I think that it's one of the primary reasons [the Republicans] lost Congress in 2006."

When it comes to the war on terror, "defending America" means "remaining on offense." More particularly, it means "using the Patriot Act, electronic surveillance and interrogation techniques that are legal but aggressive." Of Guantanamo Bay, he says, "I don't think we should close Guantanamo."

These, then, are the talking points. But in order to discover whether there was more to his national-security credentials than merely being "America's mayor" on 9/11, we pressed him on how a President Giuliani would handle a current foreign-policy crisis such as Iran. His answer revealed a discursive style that was on display throughout the meeting, and which can only be demonstrated by quoting from his reply at some length.

He started by explaining how he understands the problem, before getting around to how it ought to be handled: "Well, I think that if we've learned any lessons from the history of the 20th century, one of the lessons we should learn is [to] stop trying to psychoanalyze people and take them at their word.

"If we had taken Hitler at his word, Stalin at his word, I think we would have made much sounder decisions and saved a lot more lives. I don't know why we have to think that [Iranian President Mahmoud] Ahmadinejad doesn't mean what he says. Therefore, the more cautious, prudent way to react to it is, he means what he says.

"The second thing is . . . we shouldn't be surprised that he's emerged in Iran. Iran has been like that since the Ayatollah took over. So, they are an irresponsible regime."
With that by way of preamble, he answered the question: "America's approach should begin with the clear statement that we will not allow him to become a nuclear power. And everybody should know that, including your allies, that that's not a solution American will tolerate, because it would be too dangerous for us to put nuclear weapons in the hands of people who say the things he says and have done the things they've done."

OK, but it's one thing to say we will "not allow" a nuclear Iran, it's another to be prepared to do something about it. Does not allowing him to become a nuclear power include taking military action against Iran, if necessary? The answer comes quickly: "Whatever is necessary."

So, what are the odds that we can avoid military confrontation with Iran over its nuclear program? "It all depends on their evaluation of the American president. If they think that they have an American president that's going to be ambiguous and worry about this stuff--kind of a John Kerry type who is going to worry what Europe thinks--they're going to be more likely to take advantage of it."

Call it peace through strength. "If," on the other hand, "they believe that an American president will utilize any steps necessary to stop them from becoming nuclear, there is a much better chance that the sanctions will work, because you have leverage--and in a strange way, I think that a much better chance the sanctions will work because our allies, or semi-allies [like Russia and China], will have an incentive for making them work, because they don't want that [military action] to happen."

Asked whether he thinks the Bush administration is doing enough to address the Iranian situation, he says he "probably would prefer somewhat stronger language. What I really want to know is what's the bottom line--and I don't know the answer to that." He argues that, in this case, making the administration's bottom line public and explicit would help bring the Iranians around because they could no longer delude themselves that they might get away with going nuclear without paying a high price.

So much for Iran. How does Mr. Giuliani rate the current administration's handling of Iraq? "The plan for how to stabilize Iraq certainly wasn't a good one. And then there wasn't a quick enough reaction to the facts on the ground that showed you that it wasn't a good one. So I kind of look at that as, if you come into office and it's still there, you've got to try to straighten it out and you have to try to learn from it in the future." He's not a cut-and-run man, in other words.

The current fashion in Iraq war criticism is to say that America can't make any headway unless the Iraqis come to a political accommodation with each other, so America should step aside until that is accomplished. Mr. Giuliani looks at it through the lens of his time as mayor, and believes that America has to provide security before anything like a functioning society or government can emerge.

"Maybe having been a mayor I can see some of this better. By that I mean, if you've got to create a democracy, democracy is only a theory that doesn't mean very much when people live in fear. I used to say that about crime in New York, that the most important civil right is being safe. . . . It doesn't matter if you have other civil rights if you can't go out at night. . . . So if you're going to create an election in Iraq when the infrastructure of that society has crumbled--which means people can't go to work, people can't go out, more people are being killed than used to be the case, right in front of you--then democracy is a theory down the road, but your life has disintegrated. I don't think we saw our responsibility clearly enough at the beginning to keep up the infrastructure of Iraq."

It's too soon to ask any candidate what they would do about Iraq if elected--we know too little about what the state of play will be in January 2009. But when asked what his response is to those Republicans who are concerned that continuing to support the war will cost them seats in the Senate in November 2008, his answer is concise: "I'd tell them that getting this right is much more important than winning Senate seats."

On the home front, it's no surprise that Mr. Giuliani, a law-enforcement man for decades, believes we need the Patriot Act, the NSA wiretapping program and the rest of the war-fighting architecture that has been built up under President Bush. But when you dig a little deeper, Mr. Giuliani, a public servant nearly all of his adult life, sounds a lot more like the CEO president that George Bush was billed as than Mr. Bush has proved to be. He seems to think less in terms of "initiatives" than in terms of quantification, analysis and information. "I'd want an evaluation about how accurate are we [in identifying threats]. Are we 70%, 80%, 90% accurate? Can we sit down, and do we have on paper the leading groups? Do we have the primary actors? Are we evaluating whether our intelligence is improving? How effective are we being in finding them?"

This focus on methods carries more weight coming from Mr. Giuliani because of the results he achieved using it to bring down crime in New York City. Identify the problem, quantify it, isolate it and fight it. He admits that, as a private citizen, he doesn't have enough information about how much of this we're doing right now. But it's illustrative of his way of thinking about problems that what he thinks we need are metrics by which to measure all these things.

Likewise on government reform. He announced in a speech earlier this week that he would plan to replace only half of the 300,000 civil servants due to retire over the next decade. In his visit to the Journal's offices, he said he'd like to see every government agency try to identify ways to be more efficient every year. "You task them with--sort of like [former GE CEO] Jack Welch's approach, to always get rid of the bottom 10%--you task them every year to find 5%, 10% in savings, or 15% or 20% . . . It's to save money, but it's also a discipline that has them going to their agency and figure out what is not efficient--what isn't working. We haven't done that since Reagan."

Mr. Giuliani likes to quantify. In place of a platform, he has 12 "commitments," which he has printed up on a card (they are also on his campaign Web site). He freely admits that, political reality being what it is, he would consider it a victory to "achieve seven or eight of them."

Mr. Giuliani invoked Ronald Reagan's name repeatedly, and always as a model. There is an element of political calculation in that--Mr. Giuliani is trying to reassure the so-called cultural conservatives that if they liked Reagan, they'll love Rudy. But can he overcome the perception that he's a culturally liberal, pro-choice New Yorker who's to the left of his own party on a number of issues? He says that his differences with the party on cultural issues are "sometimes exaggerated for political purposes."

On Roe v. Wade, he says, astutely, "I don't answer that because I wouldn't want a judge to have to answer that. I don't consider it a litmus test." But he may give the pro-life crowd jitters when he adds, "I think a conservative strict constructionist judge could come to either conclusion." He suggests that the real test should be intellectual honesty, and to that end he cites D.C. Circuit Appeals Court Judge Larry Silberman's recent opinion on the Second Amendment, affirming a constitutional right to bear arms. This is a nice piece of political turnabout--to respond to a question about his stance on abortion by citing favorably the most important pro-gun-rights decision in recent history.

To return to the subject at hand, we ask him who on the Supreme Court now meets his standards for intellectual honesty. "[Samuel] Alito, [John] Roberts--I would have appointed either one of them," he offers. He's said as much before. But he continues: "[Antonin] Scalia clearly does [meet the standard], and [Clarence] Thomas. I would have appointed any one of the four of them."

Speaking of justice, Mr. Giuliani has been more circumspect than some of his rivals on whether he would pardon I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby. And he repeated again that he wouldn't pardon Mr. Libby "right now." On the other hand, Mr. Giuliani advanced a pretty good argument that he should never have been tried. "Perjury has to be material--it has to relate to what you're investigating," he offered. "If someone goes in front of a grand jury and tells a lie about an insignificant fact, it's a lie but it isn't perjury. There's all kinds of lying that isn't criminal . . . If the investigation is about a non-crime, when you know who did it, how could anything be material to it?" That sounds an awful lot like an argument for a pardon, even if Mr. Giuliani seems to think the time may not be right.

There's no denying that Mr. Giuliani's campaign is built around the war on terror--or, as he prefers to call it, "the terrorists' war on us." He views the 2008 election as a turning point in the conflict, and, naturally, thinks he's the man to steer things in the right direction.

"I think that the president we elect in 2008 will determine how long it takes to prevail against the terrorists," Mr. Giuliani says. "If you select somebody that is going to go back on defense, it's going to take a much longer time and there are going to be more casualties. If you select a president that's going to remain on offense, and even improve on it, it isn't going to be easy, but it's going to mean less casualties, faster." It's not an easy or comforting message, but Mr. Giuliani is not in the comforting business. Whether it's a message the country wants to hear is something the voters will let us know.
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