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Giuliani's War on Terror

Giuliani as the leader of a city in crisis on Sept. 11, 2001. (HBO).

John McCain was the first to raise the question directly on the 2008 campaign trail -- does Rudy Giuliani's impressive performance on Sept. 11, 2001 and in the weeks following translate into expertise on fighting terrorism? The Post looks at this question in depth today, scrutinizing Giuliani's record on the issue as a prosecutor and mayor and tracing the evolution of his rhetoric on terrorism, from downplaying it in the 1990s to calling it the "worst crisis in our history" and criticizing President Clinton and the Democrats for having treated it as a matter of law enforcement instead of war.

But beyond the matter of how Giuliani arrived at his current position on terrorism, there is the broader question: is his position -- which is shared to large degree by the other GOP presidential front-runners -- a helpful one? There are no shortage of thinkers on Islamic extremism who believe that framing the battle against terrorism as a "war" is counter-productive. This camp -- which appears to include the new British Prime Minister Gordon Brown -- argues that framing the struggle as a war rather than a fight against an unusually lethal and political kind of crime inflates the status of Islamic extremists in the eyes of the rest of the world, encourages scattered bands of would-be terrorists to believe that they are part of a larger cause and allows them to exalt whatever occasional terrorist attacks they do pull off as military "defeats" for the U.S. Not to mention, these thinkers argue, that the war framing fuels military response (Iraq) that many believe has only worsened the terror threat, and a hugely expensive homeland security response that, while providing some needed security upgrades, inevitably involves plenty of waste and inefficiency.

"It needs to be dealt with discreetly. When we call it a war we're playing exactly the game Osama wants," said Ian Lustick, a University of Pennsylvania political scientist and author of the 2006 book "Trapped in the War on Terror."

Of course, there are plenty of others in the field who argue that it is undeniable that the U.S. is engaged in a war with Islamic extremism -- not a conventional war, to be sure, but a long-term conflict in the manner of the Cold War, a clash of ideologies with a clear enemy that will manifest itself in various smaller-scale shooting wars around the globe for years to come. Jim Guirard, a national security consultant based in Alexandria, Va., believes that the West does need to change some of its rhetoric in combating terrorists, by ceasing to use religiously-infused language like "jihadist" to describe the enemy, which he argues grants terrorist just the holy justification they claim. But he argues that dropping the "war" framing for the current conflict is going too far, and risks depriving the country of the sense of purpose it needs to protect itself.

"To deny that it's a war avoids a sense of reality. What we have here is a war, and it is such a war that it's going to go on for decades," said Guirard, who maintains a Web site on terror semantics at "The enemy calls it a war. For us to call it a police action and engage in the language of law enforcement -- then what do we call them? Thugs? They're being told it's a war to end all wars. If we say it's not a war and this is something less serious, it'd be lying."

This semantic debate has spilled over onto the 2008 presidential campaign trail. While Giuliani accuses the Democratic candidates of regressing to a 1990s law-enforcement approach to terrorism, John Edwards accuses President Bush and the Republican candidates of concocting a "bumper-sticker war." In general, the Democratic candidates use the phrase "war on terror" less than their Republican counterparts. At the same time, their rhetoric serves in its own way to magnify the struggle against terrorism -- they have taken to criticizing the war in Iraq by charging that it is taking attention away from the broader struggle against Al Qaeda in Afghanistan and elsewhere -- a claim that, to be forceful, requires one to accept the premise of a major worldwide terror threat.

As the candidates each gauge the nature of the threat, Giuliani will understandably continue to make the argument that he has the truest insight into it thanks to his up-close observation of the attack on the World Trade Center. But Lustick, the U-Penn professor, wonders whether Giuliani's personal experience on 9/11 may in some ways actually distort his thinking on terrorism by making him overstate the threat, much the way that those who witness a shark attack on a beach are more likely to overstate the odds of a recurrence. "The ability to calibrate risk doesn't happen rationally," Lustick said. "There's this idea that he knows better than anyone, but he probably knows worse because he has difficulty putting it in perspective."

That said, Lustick does not believe that it is Giuliani's 9/11 memories alone that have led him to use such hawkish rhetoric on the campaign trail. Also likely at work, Lustick said, is a calculation that this language would go over well in a GOP primary. "I am very reluctant to attribute to psychological explanations when I've got a very solid political explanation," he said.

--Alec MacGillis

By Washington Post editors  |  September 24, 2007; 4:15 PM ET
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Next: Obama's 'Enthusiasm Gap'


zenpiper was quite accurate in the description of Il Duce Jr...

Benito Mussolini is what we have here, but Rudy didn't make the trains run on time. Add his criminal connections, his CFR affiliation and it adds up to a nasty, grandstanding, loudmouth.

And the loyal servile Reaganites are falling for THIS??

They have(ALWAYS!!) wished for a STRONG LEADER..there wishes MIGHT COME TRUE!.and we have to stop this...

we ALL OF US have to reregister(ugh I know..I SWORE I would NEVER do it again)Republican to vote for the ONLY DIFFERENCE TO THE REST OF THE REPUBLICANS and the DEMOCRATS and their obedient eviltwin candidates(whomever they throw out)...the ONLY candidate who HONORS AND HAS AND WILL OBEY THE CONSTITUTION and get us(OUR GOVERNMENT!! and its armies of occupation) OUT of THE MIDDLE EAST and OUT of its empire bases all over the globe and restore the TRUE meaning of "isolationism"

NOT the one thrown out to dismiss and ridicule him and those of us who DONT want the US and OUR SOLDIERS to be POLICEMEN for the meansLIKE WASHINGTON and JEFFERSON and peace with other nations NOT entangling alliances

He'll stop aiding and abetting our businesses with favors YOUR TAXDOLLARS and a protection racket bar none..and will get the State out of your business and bank account and stop the surveillance society. And that candidate is..Congressman and Doctor Ron Paul

Our few remaining freedoms and our independence and soveriegnty are on the brink of destruction. Dr. Pauls candidacy and message is our last hope to stop the collapse of our Country.

ReRegister as soon as possible and visit his campaign site to get involved.

Hurry before its too late.

Chris Bieber in Lake Elsinore, CA

Posted by: ChrisBieber | September 26, 2007 3:29 PM | Report abuse

If Giuliani ever conducted a successful war on terror, then 911 would not have occurred. To be fair, how does one prevent airplanes from slamming into buildings, but it was during his watch that it happened. What is rarely mentioned, however, is that during his Mayoral administration, Rudy was a one-man terror brigade. Ask Ramon Cortines or William Bratton or any of the 100s of jaywalkers who couldn't cross at 50th and Fifth. Benito Mussolini is what we have here, but Rudy didn't make the trains run on time. Add his criminal connections, his CFR affiliation and it add up to a nasty, grandstanding, loudmouth.

Posted by: zenpiper1 | September 26, 2007 10:01 AM | Report abuse

When terrorism becomes state sponsored and global, it changes it stripes from being a criminal action where evidence is introduced in circumscribed legal proceedings into a new and dangerous foe outside the scope of our current laws. jurisprudence can no longer be resolved through the state and federal courts. The only recourse for a nation to defend itself under these new set of circumstances is to use a new set of tools to fight these new toxic foes. Since 9/11 a whole new set of counterterroism legislation has been enacted by our legislature to deal with these new international threats, and no-one denies the usefulness of some of them. It appears obvious to me that our state and federal criminal courts are inadequate venues to deal with an internatinal group of terrorist bent on our destruction. So I strongly disagree that state and federal courts are adequate venues for bringing to justice international terrorist who killed 3000 of our citizens.

Posted by: roberthesterly | September 26, 2007 5:35 AM | Report abuse

Giuliani is the only candidate for President who could make President Bush look like a level-headed, rational, uniter. He is the singularly least qualified candidate to be president, and his platform boils down to "9/11 9/11 9/11 FEAR FEAR TERROR THEY'RE GOING TO KILL YOU HIDE RUN SCREAM FEAR 9/11 9/11 9/11..."

Why are Republicans so ridiculously afraid of absolutely EVERYTHING? Aren't they supposed to be the tough guys, not the whiny wimps who fear their shadow around every corner?

Posted by: piper190 | September 25, 2007 4:03 PM | Report abuse

It is no small miracle that Rudy Giuliani has managed to hold onto, and build his lead over other Republican presidential candidates.

We have now seen countless articles like this one, that attempt to tear away at his image as America's Mayor and strong leader in the war on terrorism.

We have seen organizations like the NY Firefighters organization (an avid supporter of Democratic candidates) who have attempted to create a swift-boat style effect on Giuliani's campaign.

We have seen little or no favorable coverage from both the liberal CNN and the conservative Fox News groups who shamelessly try and impose their agendas on the American people.

Yet, he still keeps the lead, and is emerging as the only Republican candidate who actually has a good chance to win the general election. The Democratic candidates are wise to fear Giuliani's campaign because they know that their candidate has electibility problems as great as anyone who has ever run for President. They know that once the Republican party unites behind Giuliai to defeat Hillary, it will be no small miracle for them to prevail.

Posted by: gthstonesman | September 25, 2007 2:43 PM | Report abuse

there is a game going on,

called hide the dishonesty.... if the NSA had any balls, they would be a little less partisan, and a little less greedy

about destroying other countries economies or letting the United States get taken over by INTERNATIONALISTS INTERESTS...

wiretapping is being used, not to monitor but to increase the probability that the bush family interests get served...

if this were 1952

these guys would be shot for treason.


there is no "war," in IRAQ...


the rich, corrupt and elitist interests of bushCO and CRONYs, STEAL MONEY FROM THE COFFERS OF THE UNITED STATES...

as our infrastructure crashes and burns, our manufacturing is gone and our blue collar MIDDLE CLASS JOBS, WHITE COLLAR COMPUTER JOBS, CUSTOMER SERVICE JOBS, get sent overseas so that corporate bottom liners can make a


so now, with AMERICANS OUT OF WORK or working at retail or jobs that pay them 15% of what they used to make...

the elitists start selling off AMERICAN PROPERTIEs, Corporations, mines, farms, etc.... to make that money...

BLACKWATER COMPANY IS AN EXAMPLE OF A MONEY PIT.... put the money in, what do you get....advertising for "war," an attempt to get you to spend U.S. TAX DOLLARS ON SOMETHING THAT GENERATES NO THING...

war for war's sake doesn't generate a better world.... since it is UNNECESSARY it depletes the economy....since it is a lie, it creates despair over there and in the United States....


if we _needed_ to kill people we could nuclear flash the middle east and move in...this is about getting the government to spend money.

we don't need to be herded by fabricated "war" stories, niether do we need to havea false flag attack in_country, or attack or instigate conflict w/IRAQ

because Boy George, wants to keep troops in IRAQ for 30 YEARS so he gets a payoff from the oil....and AMERICAN TAXPAYERS PAY FOR HIS BANKROLLING...

can you say collusion with SANDBROs against the United States best interests?

bring the whole team in and take over the whitehouse

Hillary, Obama, Edwards, Gore, Dennis K.

make AMERICA right again, in a good way.


Posted by: afraidofme | September 25, 2007 12:27 AM | Report abuse

If it's a "WAR" then get a declaration of War from congress, mobilize the country, draft everyone (women too) and win it. You don't have a war when the president says that all you need to do is go shopping, vote for my party and go in debt to the tune of !??! billions of dollars! The over reaction by this administration will go down in history as the biggest foreign policy disaster in American History. Vote Republiano??? Never!

Posted by: thebobbob | September 24, 2007 5:22 PM | Report abuse

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