If there’s one issue upon which Rudy Giuliani hasn’t really been accused of flip-flopping or distorting his record, it’s terrorism and national security — though some critics have suggested that Giuliani’s shifts on immigration represent waffling on a national security issue.  Considering that Rudy’s reputation as the tough and decisive ‘America’s Mayor’ following the events of 9/11 is the foundation of his presidential campaign, the Giuliani camp has been more than willing to aggressively play the terrorism card.

In the first Republican debate, for instance, Giuliani tore into fellow candidate Ron Paul (R-Tx) for suggesting the U.S. claim a portion of the ultimate responsibility for 9/11.

Ron Paul: ‘”Have you ever read the reasons they attacked us?  They attack us because we’ve been over there; we’ve been bombing Iraq for 10 years and we’ve been in the Middle East.  I think Reagan was right: we don’t understand the irrationality of middle eastern politics… We need to look at what we do from the perspective from the perspective of what would happen if somebody else did it to us.”

Moderator: “Are you suggesting we brought on the 9/11 attacks, sir?”

Ron Paul: “I’m suggesting that we listen to the people that attacked us and the reason they did it, and they are delighted that we’re over there because Osama Bin Laden has said ‘I am glad you’re over on our sand because we can target you so much easier.’  They’ve already now since that time have killed 3400 of our men and I don’t think it was necessary.”

Giuliani: “Would you allow me to comment on that?  That’s an extraordinary statement, as someone who lived though the attack of September 11, that we invited the attack because we were attacking Iraq.  I don’t think I’ve ever heard that before and I’ve heard some pretty absurd explanations for September 11th.”

[APPLAUSE]

Giuliani: “And I would ask the Congressman to withdraw that comment and tell us that he didn’t really mean that.”

Moderator: “Congressman?”

Ron Paul: “I believe very sincerely that the CIA is correct when they teach and talk about ‘blowback.’  When we went into Iran in 1953 and installed the Shah, yes there was blowback.  The reaction to that was the taking of our hostages.  And that persists.  And if we ignore that, we ignore that at our own risk.  If we think that we can do what we want around the world and not incite hatred, then we have a problem.  They don’t come here to attack us because we’re rich and we’re free, they attack us because we’re over there.  I mean, what would we think if other countries were doing that to us?”

According to most media pundits, Giuliani won the debate, though Ron Paul’s popularity on the internet and conservative talk radio skyrocketed.  The Giuliani campaign has reiterated its position again recently in response to John Edwards’ characterization of the ‘War on Terror’ as a “bumper sticker” term with no real content.  Like Hillary Clinton, Rudy out of conviction or determination to appear tough has decided to maintain that the ‘War on Terror’ has been at least philosophically successful so far, with problems emerging purely from logistics.  Clinton and Giuliani’s gamble assumes that not very many voters in either party have decided otherwise.

So Giuliani is endorsing a stance of steely offensive resolve and swift and decisive forceful action against terrorists over seeking to understand the enemy and their grievances.  If candidate consistency were only based on their rhetoric, then Rudy would be in the clear.  But is his rhetoric consistent with fact?

 Giuliani suggests that his leadership helped keep order in New York for emergency response crews to take care of the situation and for the city population to begin the recovery process.  But as recent reports indicate, Rudy’s leadership may well have had a human cost.

An examination of Mr. Giuliani’s handling of the extraordinary recovery operation during his last months in office shows that he seized control and largely limited the influence of experienced federal agencies. In doing that, according to some experts and many of those who worked in the trade center’s ruins, Mr. Giuliani might have allowed his sense of purpose to trump caution in the rush to prove that his city was not crippled by the attack.

Administration documents and thousands of pages of legal testimony filed in a lawsuit against New York City, along with more than two dozen interviews with people involved in the events of the last four months of Mr. Giuliani’s administration, show that while the city had a safety plan for workers, it never meaningfully enforced federal requirements that those at the site wear respirators.

At the same time, the administration warned companies working on the pile that they would face penalties or be fired if work slowed. And according to public hearing transcripts and unpublished administration records, officials also on some occasions gave flawed public representations of the nature of the health threat, even as they privately worried about exposure to lawsuits by sickened workers. […]

Mr. Giuliani has said very little publicly about how his leadership might have influenced the behavior of the men and women who worked at ground zero. Mr. Giuliani, whose image as a 9/11 hero has been a focus of his run for president, declined to be interviewed for this article. His representatives did not respond to specific questions about the pace of the cleanup, the hazards at the site and Mr. Giuliani’s reticence about the workers’ illnesses. […]

In the past, Mr. Giuliani has said that quickly reopening the financial district was essential for healing New York and the nation. The cost of Wall Street’s going dark was enormous, and Mr. Giuliani has said he was forced to balance competing interests as he confronted a never-imagined emergency, and he acknowledged that he and others made mistakes. […]

From the beginning, there was no doubt that Mr. Giuliani and his team ruled the hellish disaster site. Officials from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the Army Corps of Engineers and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, all with extensive disaster response experience, arrived almost immediately, only to be placed on the sideline. One Army Corps official said Mr. Giuliani acted like a “benevolent dictator.”

Despite the presence of those federal experts, Mr. Giuliani assigned the ground zero cleanup to a largely unknown city agency, the Department of Design and Construction. Kenneth Holden, the department’s commissioner until January 2004, said in a deposition in the federal lawsuit against the city that he initially expected FEMA or the Army Corps to try to take over the cleanup operation. Mr. Giuliani never let them.

In this environment, the mayor’s take-charge attitude produced two clear results, according to records and interviews. One, work moved quickly. Although the cleanup was expected to last 30 months, the pit was cleared by June 2002, nine months after the attack.

And second, the city ultimately became responsible for thousands of workers and volunteers while, critics say, its health and safety standards went lacking. […]

The city’s handling of safety issues has been criticized by doctors, unions and occupational safety experts. Mr. Giuliani’s oversight of the operation was condemned in a 2006 book, “Grand Illusion,” by Wayne Barrett, a longtime critic of the former mayor, and Dan Collins. Mr. Barrett said in an interview that when it came to safety, Mr. Giuliani “said all the right things, but did all the wrong things.”

As election season rolls inexorably closer, Giuliani will surely continue to face questions on this issue.  Was Rudy’s leadership appropriate and worthy of the White House?  Or did he shoot from the gut and gamble a losing bet with the city’s emergency crews?

Advertisements