Given Rudy Giuliani’s 9/11 connection and his departures (past and/or present) from G.O.P. dogma on issues like abortion and gun control, terrorism has been the central issue of his campaign so far.  Giuliani has so far largely neutralized questions about his actions in the hours and days following the World Trade Center attacks by repeatedly calling for aggressive offensive action against terrorist groups in order to head off more national tragedies.

 Until recently, Giuliani appeared determined to keep the issue of terrorism above the vicious political fray, rejecting attacks on President Clinton’s record of fighting terrorism as distracting and unhelpful.

[Last September] Giuliani defended Clinton’s record amid political bickering over which president — Clinton or George W. Bush — missed more opportunities to prevent the Sept. 11 attacks.

“The idea of trying to cast blame on President Clinton is just wrong for many, many reasons, not the least of which is I don’t think he deserves it,” Giuliani said during a stop in Florida. “I don’t think President Bush deserves it. The people who deserve blame for Sept. 11, I think we should remind ourselves, are the terrorists — the Islamic fanatics — who came here and killed us and want to come here again and do it.”

Giuliani’s rhetoric was markedly different Tuesday in comments delivered at Pat Robertson’s conservative christian Regent University, however, suggesting that former President Clinton failed to respond adequately to the 1993 WTC attack.

“Islamic terrorists killed more than 500 Americans before Sept. 11. Many people think the first attack on America was on Sept. 11, 2001. It was not. It was in 1993,” said the former New York mayor.

Giuliani argued that Clinton treated the World Trade Center bombing as a criminal act instead of a terrorist attack, calling it “a big mistake” that emboldened other strikes on the Khobar Towers housing complex in Saudi Arabia, in Kenya and Tanzania and later on the USS Cole while docked in Yemen in 2000.

“The United States government, then President Clinton, did not respond,” Giuliani said. “(Osama) bin Laden declared war on us. We didn’t hear it.”

In hindsight, Giuliani said, maybe it’s all clearer now, “but now is now, and there is no reason to go back into denial, and that is essentially what the Democratic candidates for president want to do: they want to go back, to put the country in reverse to the 1990s.”

Certainly Giuliani has every right to change his mind about Clinton’s record, but he conveniently failed to note that as Mayor of New York he may have underestimated the warning of the 1993 attack by locating his emergency command center  on the 23rd floor of a building in the WTC complex just across the street from the towers — a building that subsequently collapsed following the 9/11 attacks.

If a candidate wants to flip-flop and assign blame to somebody else, it pays to make sure one’s own record doesn’t invite charges of hypocrisy.

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