Rudy Giuliani’s essay in the latest issue of Foreign Affairs, laying out his ideas for a new U.S. foreign policy, is one of the shallowest articles of its kind I’ve ever read. Had it been written for a freshman course on international relations, it would deserve at best a C-minus (with a concerned note to come see the professor as soon as possible). That it was written by a man who wants to be president—and who recently said that he understands the terrorist threat “better than anyone else running“—is either the stuff of high satire or cause to consider moving to, or out of, the country.
The article contains so many bizarre statements, it’s hard to know where to start, so let’s begin at the beginning and go from there.
“Confronted with an act of war on American soil, our old assumptions about conflict between nation-states fell away.”
Why? The biggest worry about al-Qaida after 9/11 was that it had essentially taken over a nation-state, Afghanistan. Giuliani’s (and President George W. Bush’s) stated fear now is that it might take over Iraq. The rise of transnational terrorist movements adds a twist to the system of nation-states but hardly supersedes it or nullifies the main assumptions about conflict. Giuliani contradicts his own point halfway into the essay when he writes, “There is no realistic alternative to the sovereign state system.”
“Much like at the beginning of the Cold War, we are at the dawn of a new era in global affairs, when old ideas have to be rethought and new ideas have to be devised to meet new challenges.”
Let’s say this is true. What are Giuliani’s “new ideas”? He never says.
“[Our enemies] follow a violent ideology: radical Islamic fascism, which uses the mask of religion to further totalitarian goals and aims to destroy the existing international system. … The purpose of this fight must be to defeat the terrorists and the insurgents in Iraq and Afghanistan.”
The “terrorists and the insurgents”? Are they the same? President Bush has recently (if belatedly) discovered that they are not; that alliances of convenience can be formed with the latter to combat the former. One such alliance, with the Sunni insurgents in Anbar province, has led to the war’s most encouraging development in some time. By equating insurgents with terrorists, and by lumping all Islamic radicals into a monolithic threat akin to global fascism, Giuliani not only exaggerates their strength and cohesion but also overlooks—declares impossible—any opportunities for playing the various movements off one another. A statesman looks for ways to unite allies and divide enemies. Giuliani, in this sense, is the anti-statesman.
“America must remember one of the lessons of the Vietnam War. … Many historians today believe that by about 1972 we and our South Vietnamese partners had succeeded in defeating the Vietcong insurgency and in setting South Vietnam on a path to political self-sufficiency. But America then withdrew its support, allowing the communist North to conquer the South. The consequences were dire, and not only in Vietnam: numerous deaths in places such as the killing fields of Cambodia, a newly energized and expansionist Soviet Union, and a weaker America.”
Does he really believe this? What books have his advisers been giving him? The “South Vietnamese partners” were as corrupt and illegitimate as they come. The Khmer Rouge came to power amid a political vacuum that was spawned as much by Nixon’s secret bombing of Cambodia as by anything else. As for the “expansionist” Soviet Union, things didn’t end very well for the Moscow Politburo. America, it is now widely agreed, was weakened by the Vietnam War, not by its termination. And, by the way, how about that “domino theory”? You’d think from his description that Southeast Asia has subsequently all gone Communist.
“The idea of a post-Cold War ‘peace dividend’ was a serious mistake—the product of wishful thinking and the opposite of true realism.”
The first shares of a peace dividend were cashed in not by President Bill Clinton, as Giuliani is suggesting, but by the first President Bush and his secretary of defense, Dick Cheney. The Soviet Union—at the time, the main target of the U.S. military establishment—had just evaporated. What president would not have cut the military budget? Had some president kept the military budget at its Cold War level, how would he or she have spent it? On what kinds of weapons, against what threats? (Al-Qaida did not yet exist, and even its nascent elements were not perceived as a threat by anyone.)
“The U.S. Army needs a minimum of ten new combat brigades. … We must also take a hard look at other requirements, especially in terms of submarines, modern long-range bombers, and in-flight refueling tankers.”
Ten combat brigades translate to 40,000 to 50,000 soldiers. The Army has a hard time recruiting 7,000 new combat soldiers a year. Does Giuliani have any ideas on how to get more? Giuliani doesn’t explain why more submarines, bombers, and tankers are necessary for the war on terror (or, as he puts it, “the Terrorists’ War on Us”). * Could he be pandering to the Navy and Air Force?
Could he be pandering to the Navy and Air Force?
“The next U.S. president must also press ahead with building a national missile defense system. … Bush deserves credit for changing America’s course on this issue. But progress needs to be accelerated.”
Bush is spending $10 billion a year on missile defense. How much does Giuliani want to spend? Perhaps he doesn’t realize that, despite enthusiastic support from the White House, vast elements of the program have been slowed down—and tests have had to be canceled—because, as the program’s own managers have acknowledged, the technology simply is not ready (and, many critics charge, may never be workable).
“Constellations of satellites that can watch arms factories everywhere around the globe, day and night, above- and belowground … must be part of America’s arsenal.”
Yes, and while we’re at it, let’s build anti-gravity machines, mind-reading robots, X-ray-vision telescopes, speed-of-light transporter-beams, time-travel kits, and intercontinental heat-seeking bullets. It’s bad enough that so many foreigners believe in the omniscience of U.S. intelligence agencies; it’s appalling that a presidential candidate seems to believe such sci-fi fantasies, too.
“We must also develop the capability to prevent an attack—including a clandestine attack—by those who cannot be deterred.”
Note the word “prevent,” not “intercept.” He seems to be talking here about something other than missile defense. But what?
“Those with whom we negotiate—whether ally or adversary—must know that America has other options. The theocrats ruling Iran need to understand that we can wield the stick as well as the carrot, by undermining popular support for their regime, damaging the Iranian economy, weakening Iran’s military, and, should all else fail, destroying its nuclear infrastructure.”
The theocrats do understand that we can wield the stick. That may be one reason they want to build a nuclear bomb. It’s unclear how we’re supposed to “undermine popular support” for the regime. Perhaps Giuliani doesn’t know about the “Mossadegh syndrome,” whereby any U.S. effort to intervene in Iran’s internal affairs tends only to alienate the Iranian people (who are otherwise quite pro-American) and to galvanize popular support for the mullahs’ regime.
“The time has come to redefine the diplomats’ mission down to their core purpose: presenting U.S. policy to the rest of the world. … Our ambassadors must clearly understand and clearly advocate for U.S. policies and be judged on the results. Too many people denounce our country or our policies simply because they are confident that they will not hear any serious refutation from our representatives. The American ideals of freedom and democracy deserve stronger advocacy. And the era of cost-free anti-Americanism must end.”
So much for a professional diplomatic corps. Yes, ambassadors are supposed to advocate U.S. policies, but they are also supposed to inform U.S. policy-makers about what’s going on in the countries where they’re stationed. The main reason “too many people denounce our country or our policies” isn’t because they win debaters’ points, it’s because they don’t like our policies; an ambassador might help a president understand why. As a recent RAND Corp. study on public diplomacy put it: “Misunderstanding of American values is not the principal source of anti-Americanism.” It’s “some U.S. policies [that] have been, are, and will continue to be major sources of anti-Americanism.” (Italics in the original report.)
It is unclear what Giuliani means by his last sentence—that “the era of cost-free anti-Americanism must end.” Are we to penalize or attack other countries simply because they don’t like us?
“Washington should also make clear that only if China and Russia move toward democracy, civil liberties, and an open and uncorrupted economy will they benefit from the vast possibilities available in the world today.”
Here we see at work one of Giuliani’s most deluded assumptions—that the United States controls the world. China and Russia seem to be benefiting from the global market’s “vast possibilities” quite nicely without our assistance at the moment. China, in fact, is doing quite a lot to finance our debt. What instruments of leverage does Giuliani think he’ll have to impose his will here? How are we supposed to reward or penalize the Russians and Chinese for their compliance or disobedience?
“The international community must also learn from the mistakes that allowed the genocide in Darfur to begin and have prevented the relevant international organizations from ending it.”
How to do this—what the “mistakes” were, what lessons we should all learn, and just who he means by the “international community”—Giuliani doesn’t explain.
“Despite the U.N.’s flaws … the great objectives of humanity would become even more difficult to achieve without mechanisms for international discussion. History has shown that such institutions work best when the United States leads them. Yet we cannot take for granted that they will work forever and must be prepared to look to other tools.”
“America has a clear interest in helping to establish good governance throughout the world.”
Giuliani seems not to have heard that reform advocates, especially in the Middle East, complain and lament that any association with America these days means the discrediting of their efforts. This is the direct result of Bush’s arrogance. Giuliani’s attitude would, if anything, intensify this disturbing phenomenon.
“The Palestinian people need decent governance first, as a prerequisite for statehood.”
There’s something to this, but he leaves unstated what their leaders are supposed to govern if they don’t have statehood.
“Our cultural and commercial influence can also have a positive impact. They did during the Cold War. … Companies such as Pepsi, Coca-Cola, McDonald’s, and Levi’s helped win the Cold War by entering the Soviet market. … Today, we need a similar type of exchange with the Muslim countries that we hope to plug into the global economy.”
In the Cold War, many Russians hated their Communist government—and, by extension, found enticing the capitalist West with its goods and boisterous pop culture. They were also exposed to merely two types of mass media—the controlled Soviet press on the one hand, and Voice of America, Radio Free Europe, and bootlegged jazz and rock records on the other. To the degree people in the Muslim world hate their governments, they don’t necessarily see the United States as an attractive alternative. Quite the contrary. They also have access to vast worldwide media. Clearly, it would be very useful to find some cultural bridge between the West and Islam. But Giuliani gives no hint of what that might be. Nor does he seem to recognize that the Cold War’s lessons, in this respect, have little relevance for today.
“I know from personal experience that when security is established in a troubled part of a city, normal life rapidly reestablishes itself. … The same is true in world affairs. … Civil society can triumph over chaos if it is backed by determined action.”
Here is another of Giuliani’s potentially dangerous assumptions on display—that being mayor of New York City isn’t so different from being president of the United States. One difference, among many, is that the mayor doesn’t need to negotiate with the Queens borough president before sending more cops to Jackson Heights. Another difference is that, once the cops do go to Jackson Heights, they are generally recognized as figures of authority; their guns and badges carry legitimacy; it’s a major news story, not a commonplace event, when the bad guys respond by drawing their own guns, much less firing back.
“President Bush put America on the offensive against terrorists. … But times and challenges change, and our nation must be flexible. … America’s next president must … craft policies to fit the needs of the decade ahead, even as the nation stays on the offensive against the terrorist threat.”
Nowhere does Giuliani outline how his policies would differ from Bush’s or, for that matter, how his notion of staying on “the offensive” against terrorists would differ from the policies of any of the top three Democratic candidates. He doesn’t seem to know how they would differ. He doesn’t seem to know what he’s talking about at all.
Two months ago, when Giuliani issued some of his first pronouncements on foreign policy, I wrote that he is “that most dangerous would-be world leader: a man who doesn’t seem to know how much he doesn’t know.” Judging from his Foreign Affairs article, the breadth and depth of his cluelessness are vaster than even I had imagined.
Correction, Aug.17: This article originally noted that the aerospace industry is already building as many cargo-transport planes as it can. However, Giuliani’s essay mentioned in-flight refueling tankers, not cargo-transport planes. ( Return to the corrected sentence.)