By Dan Balz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, April 26, 2007
Former New York mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani (R) drew swift and angry reactions yesterday from his prospective Democratic rivals for president after asserting that the election of a Democrat in 2008 would put the country back "on defense" against terrorism, prolonging the global conflict with violent extremists and costing the nation additional lives.
The leading Democratic candidates challenged Giuliani's contention that their party cannot keep the country safe and accused him of attempting to divide the nation over what many consider the paramount issue of the coming campaign.
Giuliani's comments at a Republican dinner in New Hampshire on Tuesday night reignited a political argument that was at the center of the presidential campaign four years ago and that echoes now in the debate between President Bush and congressional Democrats over the administration's Iraq policy.
In his 2004 reelection campaign, Bush argued that, even if the Iraq war was unpopular, he would protect the country against terrorist threats far more effectively than Sen. John F. Kerry (Mass.), the Democratic nominee. Giuliani has picked up much of that theme in the early stages of his own presidential campaign, pointing to his performance while leading New York after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, as evidence of his capacity to confront the threat of terrorism.
The former mayor told his GOP audience that the United States will ultimately win the campaign against global terrorism, regardless of whether the president is Democratic or Republican. But he warned that the election of a Democrat could be costly in terms of lives and the length of time it will take to succeed.
"We're going to win that war whether there's a Republican president or a Democratic president or any other president," he said. "The question is going to be: How long does it take and how many losses will we have along the way? And I truly believe that if we go back on defense for a period of time, we're going to ultimately have more losses and it's going to go on much longer."
At another point in his speech, Giuliani noted that what his prospective Democratic rivals are saying about national security and terrorism should worry voters as they weigh their choices for 2008.
"If one of them gets elected, it sounds to me like we're going on the defense," he said. "We've got a timetable for withdrawal from Iraq. We're going to wave the white flag there. We're going to try to cut back on the Patriot Act. We're going to cut back on electronic surveillance. We're going to cut back on interrogation. We're going to cut back, cut back, cut back, and we'll be back in our pre-September 11 mentality of being on defense."
Former senator John Edwards (D-N.C.) said Giuliani's "suggestion that there is some superior 'Republican' way to fight terrorism is both divisive and plain wrong. He knows better."
Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) accused Giuliani of taking "the politics of fear to a new low" and predicted that Americans will reject such rhetoric. "We know we can win this war based on shared purpose, not the same divisive politics that question your patriotism if you dare to question failed policies that have made us less secure."
Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) picked up on Giuliani's focus on the threats from violent extremists, but she said the record of the Bush administration has proved "that political rhetoric won't do anything to quell those threats."
"One of the great tragedies of this administration is that the president failed to keep this country unified after 9/11," she said. "We have to protect our country from terrorism -- it shouldn't be a Democratic fight or a Republican fight."
Giuliani, who disagrees with a majority of Republicans on issues such as abortion and gay rights, has chosen to talk about subjects on which he and many in the party are in broad agreement, such as tax cuts and tighter spending discipline. But, like Bush, his greatest passion is over the battle against terrorism. Giuliani talks about the importance of winning the war in Iraq, but he argues that the nation must view the campaign against terrorism far more broadly -- and he makes no effort to conceal his belief that he may be uniquely qualified to lead that effort.
"I want to be your president because I think I understand this at least as well as anyone else and I think better than most," he said.
Calling the fight against terrorism "the defining conflict of our time," the way the Cold War and the war against fascism were for previous generations, Giuliani added: "I believe we're going to be much better off electing a Republican president -- I believe we're going to be much better off electing me."