By Dan Balz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, April 5, 2007
DES MOINES, April 4 -- Former New York mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani accused Democrats of throwing up a flag of surrender in Iraq but urged President Bush to seek a negotiated solution with Congress before vetoing legislation that would impose a timetable for withdrawing U.S. forces from the conflict.
Giuliani offered his views on Iraq in an interview late Tuesday during his first campaign trip to Iowa as a presidential candidate, and sought to respond to many of the questions opponents have raised about his long-term viability as a contender.
He reiterated his support for abortion rights while acknowledging the vital role conservatives play in the Republican Party. And he again expressed support for Bush's Iraq policy, although he was critical of the way in which the administration has communicated its goals in that country.
Of particular relevance to voters in this critical early caucus state, Giuliani said he plans to compete to win in the early contests in 2008, putting to rest suggestions from his advisers that he might skip one of them with an eye to recovering when a series of big states, including California, hold primaries on Feb. 5.
Giuliani congratulated former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney for leading the Republican field in money raised during the first quarter of the year, but he added that he is not reading anything significant into the lackluster fundraising report of Sen. John McCain (Ariz.). Of his own fundraising, he said: "We're not going to have any trouble raising what we need to raise."
At a rally in Des Moines during his brief visit to the state on Tuesday, he laid out his campaign's message: staying on offense against terrorism, cutting taxes and reining in spending in Washington. He said that, as mayor of New York, he had demonstrated the necessary leadership skills and record to be president.
"I can get things done," he said. "I proved it before, and I'll do it again."
Shuttling between meetings in Des Moines, Giuliani was relaxed, energetic and spirited as he fielded a range of questions about the campaign.
On Iraq, he planted himself firmly on Bush's side, saying that the president's decision to send more troops there gives the United States a chance for success.
"I haven't given up on that goal, and I think people who have and are retreating are making a very big mistake," he said. "Because under the conditions that exist right now, with the white flag that Congress wants to wave, you take a very big risk of a civil war in Iraq, which could lead to a regional war."
Asked what he meant when he said during an interview on CNBC that too much time was being spent on Iraq, he offered a clarification. "I didn't mean to suggest at all that Iraq isn't terribly important and you've got to spend a lot of time on Iraq," he said.
But he said the nation must "multitask" in the fight against terrorism. "You've also got to spend time on Iran, Syria -- not losing sight of the fact that we've got to get Pakistan and Afghanistan right. We've got to make sure that the great efforts that our military made in the Afghan war are completed so that we crush al-Qaeda, the Taliban can't reemerge. I think we should put a tremendous amount of effort on trying to catch [al-Qaeda leader Osama] bin Laden."
Giuliani said it is "overly simplistic" to suggest that Republican losses in last year's midterm elections reflected in part a desire on the part of a majority of Americans for a change in course in Iraq. But he said the administration has not effectively communicated its strategy for success there.
"I think that it is a valid criticism or critique to say that that communication maybe should have been better in the past and is improving now, but maybe it should have been better in the past," he said. "But the reality is that the president did respond to the election. There's been a significant change in strategy."
Giuliani said he believes that Bush will make good on his veto threat, but he urged both sides to seek a compromise. "I honestly think they should work this out," he said.
In talking about his campaign, Giuliani expressed satisfaction that he is now positioned to compete effectively in primaries and caucuses in all regions of the country. "All of them look competitive for us," he said. "There doesn't seem to be any one of them where we don't have a chance."
Giuliani equivocated only on whether he will compete to win in Iowa's GOP straw poll, scheduled for Aug. 11. In the past, a poor showing in that contest has been damaging to the hopes of some GOP candidates. "We're going to look at that," he said. "We haven't figured out our whole strategy yet, but we want to win in Iowa."
Asked whether religious and social conservatives have assumed too much influence within the Republican Party, as some moderate Republicans have contended, Giuliani responded: "Absolutely not." But he made clear that Bush's political strategy of using social issues to energize culturally conservative voters is not one that he will emulate. "I think each generation gets to define what's important to them," he said.
He added, however, that he is not seeking to change the direction of the party in significant ways on social issues, noting that his liberal views do not go beyond social issues. On all other issues, he said, he is "essentially in agreement with conservatives."
Giuliani reiterated his support for abortion rights but said: "I don't know that I'd do anything as president to try to preserve that. That's a decision for the court."
If the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, he said, he would oppose any effort by states to put women in prison for seeking abortions. But he said he has not considered whether he would sign federal legislation aimed at codifying abortion rights nationally. "That's so hypothetical, it's impossible to answer," he said.