February 15, 2007

Giuliani Announces, Mostly, And Bashes Bush On War Strategy

See lengthy update.

One of the more tiresome aspects of Presidential campaigns is the Kabuki dance performed by the candidates regarding their status. Rudy Giuliani has come in for more criticism than most, although he has shown clearly that he intends to run for the Republican nomination. He made it even more clear on the Larry King show last night on CNN:

Mr. Giuliani has behaved like a presidential candidate for months, forming an exploratory committee, raising money, building a campaign staff and making appearances around the country. But until now, he has repeatedly stopped short of a definitive statement of his intentions — even joking about his nondeclarations in recent days.

Republican activists and consultants, citing his early withdrawal from the 2000 Senate race, said he needed to put to rest fears that he might not follow through. But in characteristic fashion, Mr. Giuliani said he would do things on his own timetable.

But on “Larry King Live” on CNN yesterday, Mr. Giuliani twice said, “Yes, I’m running,” according to a transcript provided by CNN before the interview was broadcast. Asked if he would make a formal announcement of the kind favored by other candidates, he said, “I guess you do.”

Mitt Romney staged an elaborate event from which to formally announce his candidacy. John McCain has yet to thake that final step. Barack Obama also made his announcement part of a campaign stop, and Hillary announced through videoblogging. If this was Rudy's announcement, it appears pretty casual -- although that might turn out to be the least pretentious of the bunch.

Rudy didn't just stop at those three words. He took the opportunity to scold George Bush on his war management, asserting that he went into Iraq with inadequate forces and dismantled too much of the Iraqi infrastructure:

On the issue that looms largest over the campaign, Iraq, Mr. Giuliani used the interview to offer a harsh assessment of the Bush administration’s decision-making. His comments more closely aligned him with his chief rival in Republican primary polls, Senator John McCain of Arizona, who has supported the war, as Mr. Giuliani does, but has criticized its conduct.

“I would remove Saddam Hussein again,” Mr. Giuliani said. “I just hope we’d do it better and we’d do it in a different way.”

Most important, he added, the United States, which has had 120,000 to 160,000 troops at a time in Iraq, should have gone in with “maybe 100,000 to 130,000 more.”

In addition, “I would have us not disband” the Iraqi military or purge the government of Baath Party members, because “that meant getting rid of the entire civil service,” he said, adding: “The country had no infrastructure.”

“There was a real doubt as to whether we could do this nation building,” he said, and as it has turned out, “we’re not going to do it.”

It seems as though Giuliani may want to put more space between himself and President Bush. Earlier in the campaign -- meaning last week -- he praised George Bush and his decisive leadership style. This doesn't negate his earlier remarks; he told King that every wartime president made their share of mistakes, which is true. It does indicate that Giuliani might have decided to tone down his public admiration of a President who polls in the low 30s.

Even more significantly, Giuliani offered a more pessimistic view of the surge strategy, which he still supports. “I’m not confident it’s all going to turn around,” he told King, but said the consequences of failure were such that the US had to try a more robust security strategy in Baghdad.

What does this mean for a Giuliani primary campaign? It sounds like Rudy is setting the table for a general election debate rather than the Republican primaries. He wants to go on record early about his differences with Bush on the war, and make the case that he would make a better commander-in-chief. He's going over the same ground as McCain in this regard, which will allow him to convince national-security conservatives of his stalwartness on the war in the primaries, a key McCain argument.

UPDATE: Here's the CNN transcript. Giuliani made it clear that he didn't want to blame anyone:

GIULIANI: ... maybe 100,000, 150,000 more. I would do it in a way in which we didn't disband the army, which we've learned. This is all -- you know, this is all Monday morning quarterbacking, but you Monday morning quarterback in order to play the next game better, right? Monday morning quarterbacks who just want to criticize is cheap stuff. Monday morning quarterbacking so that next Saturday or Sunday you can play better is absolutely right.

I would -- I would have us not disband the army. You wouldn't de-Baathify. See, de-Baathify sounds like the right thing to do because you're getting rid of all the old Saddam guys. But that meant getting rid of the entire civil service. The country had no infrastructure.

KING: So are you -- are you -- who do you blame?

GIULIANI: So you learn from these things.

KING: Do you blame Rumsfeld?

GIULIANI: No, I don't blame anybody.

KING: You don't blame any -- somebody's got to...

GIULIANI: No, no, no. You don't do it that way.

KING: Nobody's to blame?

GIULIANI: You don't do it that way. That's why you don't make progress. Just like I don't blame people for not figuring out September 11 before it happened. What I do is, I kind of look at what happened, so you learn for the future.

KING: But there were mistakes.

GIULIANI: Of course there were mistakes. Lincoln made mistakes. Roosevelt made mistakes. Eisenhower made mistakes. The Battle of the Bulge was the biggest intelligence failure in American military history, much bigger than any in Vietnam or now. We didn't know that the Soviets were moving 400,000 or 500,000 troops. We missed it.

KING: Shouldn't they be blamed for not explaining it well enough?

GIULIANI: Learn from it. Learn from it. Don't blame them.

That's the attitude we should have had after 9/11, but the bitter partisanship in the aftermath of the Clinton impeachment and the 2000 election made it impossible. The New York Times should have tried to include a little more of this in its article for better context.


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