Last month, Rudy Giuliani traveled to London to establish his bona fides as an international statesman. A Downing Street chat with Prime Minister Gordon Brown was accompanied by meetings with Tony Blair and Winston Churchill’s granddaughter, Celia Sandys, who claimed, implausibly, that Giuliani was “Churchill in a baseball cap.”
The piece de resistance was Giuliani’s appearance to give the inaugural Margaret Thatcher Memorial lecture at a dinner sponsored by the Atlantic Bridge think tank and attended by many of the Iron Lady’s most dedicated admirers.
The rationale for the trip was simple: if Giuliani can appear as a world leader, he can create the impression that he is George W. Bush’s natural, even inevitable, successor. It was an audacious gambit that a co-operative press corps was only too happy to buy. “His foreign policy pronouncements were certainly Thatcheresque,” gushed the Washington Post’s Dan Balz. MSNBC’s Joe Scarborough was even more enthusiastic, suggesting, “the picture of Rudy Giuliani, America’s Mayor, in front of 10 Downing Street, sends a signal to Republican voters that this guy is ready for primetime.”
If only this were true. A more rigorous analysis of Giuliani’s London trip—one that looks at what the candidate actually said, rather than at how he was perceived—reveals a different reality: one characterized by confusion, intellectual incoherence, and a misreading of history so terrible one is tempted to conclude it must have been deliberate.
The speech was an opportunity for Giuliani to impress a friendly audience with his grasp of international affairs and his appreciation of the complexity of the challenges facing the next president. It was an opportunity he flubbed. More than one eyebrow was raised when it became clear that Giuliani did not see fit to construct a proper speech, delivering a rambling talk from notes rather than a formal address.
Giuliani criticized what he termed the “failed approach of dealing with terrorism from the point of view of being careful and being cautious and treating it as a crime rather than as an act of war.” He seemed not to notice, or be aware, that the lady his address was supposed to honor had taken exactly that approach. Giuliani acknowledged that the United Kingdom has, alas, more experience with terrorism than the United States, “so there’s a lot we can learn from you”—which makes it all the stranger that he seemed so determined to ignore any lessons the UK might be able to provide. The scale of the threat posed by Islamist terrorism might be greater than that posed by Irish Republicanism, but it seems quixotic to praise the British experience of dealing with terrorism while refusing to absorb its lessons.
Any successful strategy needs to recognize that dealing with terrorism is much more likely to be a police action than a problem that has a military solution. The British military approach in Northern Ireland was designed to create a stalemate, convincing the IRA that neither side could win a military victory. But that could not have been achieved absent successful intelligence and police action—exactly the approach Giuliani criticizes when it comes to what he terms “the terrorists’ war on us.”
To take one example: in 1981, Thatcher insisted that IRA hunger strikers were entirely responsible for their own actions and could expect no sympathy or succor from the British state. If they wished to starve themselves to death in political protest, that was their prerogative. The lady was not for turning. When Bobby Sands became the first of 10 terrorist martyrs that summer, Thatcher remained unmoved. “Mr. Sands was a convicted criminal,” she told the House of Commons. “He chose to take his own life. It was a choice that his organization did not allow to many of its victims.”
An admirably tough position, you may feel. Yet once the hunger strikes were over, the Thatcher government quietly acceded to some of the IRA inmates’ demands. They would not have to wear prison uniforms, for instance. The government conceded that the prisoners were a different category of inmate from run-of-the-mill criminals. Rather than showing weakness, this demonstrated the strength of a flexible, layered approach.
Four years later, Thatcher ignored the furious protests of Ulster’s Unionists and signed the Anglo-Irish Agreement, giving the Republic of Ireland a say for the first time in the government of Northern Ireland. Though it would be 13 years before the Good Friday Agreement was reached in Belfast, Thatcher’s initiative was the first step on the long road to some sort of peace. That peace, of course, would not have been possible had the Thatcher government not implicitly accepted that Irish nationalists had legitimate or at least understandable grievances that could, at least partially, be satisfied.
Indeed, successive British governments have appreciated the Lampedusan aphorism that things must change if things are to remain the same. This requires some dissembling: publicly, you refuse to talk to terrorists, privately you keep a back channel open for dialogue.
Giuliani preferred to ignore all this, clinging to the facile belief that rhetorical bluntness of the “we win, they lose” variety is enough. But like Ronald Reagan, Thatcher appreciated that tough talking could only carry one so far and that there were times when jaw-jaw was better than war-war. Giuliani, by contrast, promises to “turn back this tide of terror and defeat the violent forces of disorder wherever they appear.”
Giuliani continued that if only “from the beginning” (which he dated to the 1972 Munich Olympics) “we had dealt with terrorism as a serious act against civilization, as an act that was going to continue and that we couldn’t compromise with and couldn’t negotiate with and we just had to end, I don’t know we’d be in this position today.”
Well, OK, then. This leads one to the remarkable position in which any skeptical attitude towards permanent warfare is considered “appeasement.” As best one can tell, Giuliani’s map of the world is largely uncharted; no wonder much of it is labeled “Here Be Monsters.”
It’s notable, too, that Giuliani seeks to establish himself as Reagan’s heir while ruling out any “negotiation” with America’s enemies, as though talking to the Soviet Union played no part in ending the Cold War. Giuliani might pay tribute to the right conservative icons, but he seems determined to ignore any lessons they might be able to teach the U.S. about dealing with Iran.
Worse still is the incoherence of Giuliani’s own claim to foreign-policy expertise. In the current issue of Foreign Affairs, Giuliani predicates his presidential campaign squarely upon his experiences as the mayor of New York City. He may have no other option, but alas, this merely illustrates how threadbare Hizzoner’s foreign-policy experience really is.
For Giuliani says he can solve the world’s problems by adopting the same policies he pursued as mayor of New York City. In other words, policing the world is just the same as clearing hookers and panhandlers out of Times Square. The message is: if you can make it there, you can make it anywhere. If you were in a charitable frame of mind, you might call this a simplistic approach.
Giuliani seems to believe that a souped-up NYPD is all that is required to guarantee the United States’ security. How else can one interpret this passage from the Foreign Affairs article?
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.
That would seem to be a prescription for war without end.
British conservatives were prepared to be impressed by Giuliani. A poll conducted by conservativehome.com found that he had the support of 43 percent of British Tories. But more striking was that Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama won the support of one in five British conservatives.
That should not be so surprising. There is little appetite in Britain for fresh adventures overseas. The more likely Rudy Giuliani is to become the Republican nominee, the more wary British conservatives will be. Tory leader David Cameron declined to say if he would have voted for George W. Bush in 2004, and you might expect similar reserve from British Tories next year, too. Heads were turned, for instance, when Giuliani suggested expanding NATO membership to Singapore and Israel. Unfortunately for the mayor, heads were turned because British Tories were thinking, “Is he mad?” not “What a capital idea.”
No wonder that after eight years of Bushian recklessness some Tory minds are wondering if the known quantity of Hillary Clinton might be more palatable than the unknown risks of a Giuliani presidency. As Simon Evans, Tory MP for Chelmsford, wrote recently, “To ignore Hillary Clinton in the hope that she will go away and cling to a dubious prejudice of supporting a discredited Republican Party which is on the electoral skids would be the height of folly for the Conservative Party.”
If nothing else serves to concentrate minds, Giuliani’s striking claim in London that he is one of the “four or five” most famous Americans in the world suggests a case of megalomania severe even by the standards of presidential candidates. In a more rational era, this alone might suffice to disqualify Giuliani from the race.
As it is, his trip to pay homage to the Special Relationship and cozy up to Mrs. Thatcher was revealing—just not in quite the way Giuliani had hoped.
Alex Massie writes for The Scotsman and blogs at www.thedebateableland .typepad.com.