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Giuliani's Approach to Terrorism, as Mayor and Candidate

Former New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani, pictured at the Swiss Economic Forum in Thun, Switzerland, May 23, 2008. (Associated Press)

By Alec MacGillis
After John McCain's campaign brought out former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani this morning to criticize Barack Obama for praising the legal response to the 1993 World Trade Center and for generally taking a "softer approach" against terrorism, the Obama campaign responded by noting that Giuliani had at one point shared Obama's view that the prosecutions of the 1993 bombers had been a success. The guilty verdicts against the bombers, Giuliani declared in 1994, "demonstrates that New Yorkers won't meet violence with violence, but with a far greater weapon -- the law."

But the contradiction between Giuliani's words and actions as New York mayor and his attacks in recent years against Democrats who he says rely on a "law enforcement" mindset in battling terrorism goes well beyond that one 1994 quote. Throughout his unsuccessful campaign for the 2008 Republican presidential nomination, Giuliani charged that Democrats were retreating to their "denial" in the 1990s, when, he said, then-President Clinton gravely erred by treating terrorism as a law enforcement matter, not a war.

Yet throughout his career as a Department of Justice official and federal prosecutor -- as well as for most of his tenure as New York mayor, which began shortly after the 1993 bombing, and ended just after the far more destructive 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center -- Giuliani himself viewed terrorism as just one part of a broader crime-fighting agenda. Again and again, he expressed confidence that Islamic extremism could be contained through investigation by local and federal law enforcement, and prosecuted in the courts.

Giuliani did his best to downplay terrorist threats that arose while he was mayor to avoid needlessly scaring city residents, and resisted branding as terrorism smaller-scale acts of Islamic violence in the city. Running for Senate in 2000, he mentioned terrorism only in the context of calling for more spending on intelligence, making no mention of the need for a broader war on extremists. Even shortly after Sept. 11, he framed the attacks in the language of crime, describing the hijackers as "insane murderers" and calling for the restoration of the "rule of law."

Giuliani dismisses the notion of any contradiction between his pre-9-11 statements and actions and his more recent criticisms of Democrats, saying that the 2001 attacks changed everything and that the problem with Democrats is that they failed to learn the lessons of that catastrophe.

But in attacking Obama today, he may have been aware of his own earlier statements praising the prosecution of the 1993 suspects, because he stopped short of saying that the government should have taken a different approach in that case. Yesterday, McCain surrogates and advisers said that the government should have handled the 1993 suspects the same way it did Nazi saboteurs who washed ashore during World War II -- with a special military trial on charges of treason and execution. Giuliani demurred on that score today: "I'm not saying they shouldn't have been prosecuted. But it's the idea that it's the be all and end all that's the mistake."

The fact that McCain called on Giuliani to add weight to his case against Obama is notable given that, during the primary campaign, the Arizona senator dismissed the former mayor's authority on the subject of national security. In an interview on the campaign trail with the New York Times last fall, McCain said that while "the nation respects the mayor's leadership after 9/11," it is unclear that it "translates, necessarily, into foreign policy or national security expertise. I know of nothing in his background that indicates that he has any experience in it."

By Web Politics Editor  |  June 18, 2008; 12:50 PM ET
Categories:  Barack Obama , John McCain , Rudy Giuliani  
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