As a New Yorker born and bred and vehement about my city, I thought Rudy Giuliani was a terrific mayor. He was a breath of fresh air after the dismal liberal hackery of his predecessor, David Dinkins. Giuliani made the city safer. He was an avid, detail-oriented manager, although he couldn't dent the city's school bureaucracy. He was an inspiring leader when the crisis came. He spoke his mind and did not suffer fools even a tiny bit--but then, creative incivility is part of the job description for a successful mayor of New York. I'm not sure, though, that incivility, no matter how creative, is what we want in our next President, especially when it comes to foreign policy.
On the stump, Giuliani says "the fact that there are terrorists around the world that are planning to come here and kill us ... is something I understand better than anyone else running for President." And that may well be true. To the extent that counterterrorism requires intensive police work, Giuliani certainly has the skills and experience to do the job. He would undoubtedly clean up the mess in the Department of Homeland Security. He might be bullheaded enough to prevent Congress from buying more of the cold war weapons systems that the Pentagon doesn't want, and redirect the money to the spies and surveillance needed for the long-term struggle against al-Qaeda. He might even be more judicious about the use of force than the Bush Administration has been.
But the next President will have to be a skilled diplomat as well. And when it comes to Rudy and diplomacy, fuhgeddaboutit! Two incidents from his mayoralty are illustrative. The first came in 1995, when he unceremoniously kicked Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat out of a U.N.-related concert for world leaders at Lincoln Center. The ejection came just after Israel agreed to Palestinian self-rule. The Clinton Administration was hoping--in vain, it turned out--that treating Arafat with respect might grease the path to peace. But Giuliani said, "I would not invite Yasser Arafat to anything, anywhere, anytime, anyplace. I don't forget ... He has never been held to answer for the murders that he was implicated in."
The second incident occurred just after the Sept. 11 attacks. Saudi Prince Alwaleed bin Talal handed Giuliani a check for $10 million to help with relief efforts, but the check was accompanied by a press release in which the Prince said it was time to get to the roots of the problem in the Middle East, which included Palestinians "slaughtered" by Israel "while the world turns the other cheek." Giuliani refused to accept the money. "There is no moral equivalent for [the 9/11 attacks]," he said. "And to suggest that there's a justification for it only invites this happening in the future. It is highly irresponsible and very, very dangerous."
Now, you might reasonably ask, What did Rudy do wrong? Giuliani was right about Arafat, who proved the most unworthy recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize in history. And the nerve of that Saudi, in effect blaming the U.S. for 9/11--a month after 15 Saudi terrorists were involved in the attacks, directed by the Saudi Osama bin Laden! Thomas Friedman, no hothead, wrote a column offering "three cheers for Mayor Rudy Giuliani" for stiffing the prince. At the time, I was cheering too. But there is a difference between what is appropriate for a mayor and for a President. "I don't forget" is not a sufficiently flexible foreign policy doctrine. The next President is going to have to be a nimble diplomat, willing to talk to countries we don't like and leaders we find abhorrent. Peeling Syria away from its alliance with Iran would be extremely helpful, even it means we would have to "forget" that Bashar Assad's government might have planned the assassination of Rafiq Hariri. It is also in the world's best interests for the U.S. to act as an intermediary between Israel and Hamas, which will require speaking directly to both sides, dealing with people who are perfectly comfortable issuing pro forma statements about Israeli "atrocities." Actually, President Giuliani would be ideally positioned, in a Nixon-to-China way, to broker a Middle East peace deal. The Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert recently told me that he considers Giuliani a trusted friend. If Rudy said, "Ehud, time to talk," could Olmert say no? But would Giuliani ever have the patience to stow his combative moral absolutism and do the diplomatic dance?
We probably won't learn the answer to that question during this campaign. Diplomacy may be subtle, but politics ain't, and in that arena, Giuliani's creative incivility is likely to be a major advantage--not just in the Republican Party primaries. This is a nation that has grown tired of having to figure out the difference between Sunnis and Shi'ites, impatient with our disastrous involvements overseas. It's a terrifying thought, but fuhgeddaboutit! may be the foreign policy most Americans want.