Behind Giuliani's Tough Talk
By Amanda Ripley
Islamic terrorists are at war with us," Rudy Giuliani told about 300 people at a synagogue in Rockville, Md., one evening in July. He likes to say it that way—that they are at war with us, not the other way around. "They want to kill us," he warned a group in New Hampshire the same month. "They hate you," he told a woman in Atlanta.
Giuliani says he understands terrorism "better than anyone else running for President," and he certainly talks about it more than anyone else. "Basically, what he's selling is, 'As dangerous a world as this is, I can make it safer,'" says GOP pollster Frank Luntz. So far, it seems to be working. Giuliani has been the consistent front runner of the Republican candidates in most national polls through August.
By framing his campaign this way, Giuliani has raised an interesting question. What does it actually mean to understand terrorism? His supporters might find the question absurd. He owns terrorism, they say. The entire world watched on television as Giuliani led New York City through the aftermath of a terrorism attack. To his opponents, the answer is equally plain: he has no foreign policy experience, and he talks about terrorism as if it's an enemy country on a continent only he knows how to find.
But being a victim of terrorism, or the steely leader of a recovery, is not necessarily the same as understanding terrorism. Nor is foreign policy experience all that matters. So how would Giuliani actually prevent, contain and respond to the next major terrorist attack in the U.S.? What is his vision for what he considers the existential challenge of our time?
This much is indisputable: Giuliani knows what it means to be a victim of terrorism, to lose old friends in an avalanche of violence and spit the dust of a skyscraper out of his mouth in a new, blackened world. He understands the urgency of speaking to the American people after an attack—and not circling above the ruins in Air Force One. He knows how to grieve and go to work at the same time.
But before 9/11, Giuliani spent eight years presiding over a city that was a known terrorist target. A TIME investigation into what he did—and didn't do—to prepare for a major catastrophe is revealing. In addition to extraordinary grace under fire, Giuliani developed an intimate knowledge of emergency management and an affinity for quantifiable results. On 9/11, he earned the trust of most Americans; one year later, 78% of those surveyed by the Marist Institute had a favorable impression of Giuliani. This magazine also named Giuliani its Person of the Year in 2001. Assuming he can keep it, trust is a priceless resource in psychological warfare.
The evidence also shows great, gaping weaknesses. Giuliani's penchant for secrecy, his tendency to value loyalty over merit and his hyperbolic rhetoric are exactly the kinds of instincts that counterterrorism experts say the U.S. can least afford right now.
Giuliani's limitations are in fact remarkably similar to those of another man who has led the nation into a war without end. Some of the Bush Administration's policies, like improved intelligence sharing between countries and our own agencies, have made the U.S. better at fighting terrorism. But others, from the war in Iraq to the treatment of detainees at Guantánamo Bay, have actually made the task much more difficult. The challenge for the next President will be focusing on and adapting the good tools and jettisoning the bad. Whether you conclude Giuliani can win this war depends ultimately on whether you think we are winning now. A Mayor's Skill Set
Giuliani and his aides have said he has been "studying Islamic terrorism" for 30 years. This is an exaggeration. As a prosecutor and Justice Department official in the 1970s and '80s, Giuliani had many successes—against white collar criminals and the Mafia. He did not direct major terrorism prosecutions that led to convictions. As mayor, he worked relatively closely with the FBI, according to James Kallstrom, former FBI assistant director in charge of the New York office. "The four years that I was there, we had a fabulous relationship," says Kallstrom. "He was able to do many things in this city that I never expected him to be able to do."
But until 9/11, the security obsession of Giuliani and the FBI was crime, not terrorism. He came into office 11 months after the first attack by Muslim extremists on the World Trade Center. Yet an analysis of 80 of Giuliani's major speeches from 1993 to 2001 shows that he mentioned the danger of terrorism only once, in a brief reference to emergency preparedness. He talked more about the "terror" of domestic violence.
With his own preparedness staff, he did discuss terrorism, says Jerome Hauer, Giuliani's emergency-management chief from 1996 to 2000. Giuliani was certainly more aware of the subject than most mayors, which made sense, given the city's panoply of targets. But he was not a student of Islamic extremism, as he claims on the campaign trail, Hauer says. (Giuliani and Hauer had a falling-out during the election to replace Giuliani after 9/11, both sides confirm, after Hauer endorsed a Democrat, arguing in part that the city would be safer under his choice.) "We never talked about Islamic terrorism," Hauer says. "We talked about chemical terrorism, biological terrorism. We did talk about car bombs every now and then. [But] I don't think there was much interest on his part. If he's been studying it for 30 years, he certainly never verbalized it to me."
Giuliani has also claimed he knows more about foreign policy than other candidates, but that's exceedingly unlikely. John McCain spent 22 years as a Navy pilot and five as a prisoner of war and is now the ranking member of the Armed Services Committee in the Senate, where he has served for 20 years. He has been to Iraq six times; Giuliani has never been there. (Of the major candidates, only Giuliani, Fred Thompson and John Edwards have never visited Iraq.)
Giuliani had an unusual opportunity to cram foreign policy when he was invited to join the Iraq Study Group by the co-chairman, former Secretary of State James Baker III, in February 2006. Giuliani accepted, becoming one of just 10 people, including former Secretary of Defense William J. Perry and retired U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, in the congressionally mandated group. He participated in a conference call to discuss logistics but then did not attend the first two major meetings. On those days, he delivered paid speeches.
The May session Giuliani missed was a master class on Iraq. He would have gotten briefings from General David Petraeus, the top U.S. commander in Iraq; former Secretary of State Colin Powell; former Army Chief of Staff Eric Shinseki; and Douglas Feith, the Pentagon's former No. 3 civilian, among others. All told, says a staffer for the Iraq Study Group, "they had 40 of the top experts on Iraq brief them for hours. They had access to anyone they wanted."
After the two no-shows, Baker contacted Giuliani and Alan Simpson, a former Senator who had also missed meetings, to gauge their commitment levels. Simpson affirmed his dedication and was able to make future meetings. But Giuliani formally withdrew, citing "previous time commitments," according to a copy of his letter to Baker provided to TIME by John B. Williams, Baker's policy assistant. Giuliani recently said he resigned because he was considering running for office and it didn't seem right to stay on such an "apolitical" panel. Staffers on the commission say they don't remember that coming up. Room for Improvement
On the campaign trail, Giuliani's foreign policy comments have sometimes come off more confident than competent. In New Hampshire this spring, according to the New York Times, Giuliani said it was unclear whether Iran or North Korea was further along on building a nuclear bomb. (North Korea tested a nuclear device in October 2006. Iran has not done so.) Then, in his speech at the Maryland synagogue in July, Giuliani mocked Democratic candidate Barack Obama for claiming that North Korea was the nation's No. 1 enemy. "North Korea is an enemy. North Korea is dangerous. I mean, I grant that. And boy, we have to be really careful about North Korea," Giuliani said, his voice iced with sarcasm. "But I don't remember North Koreans coming to America and killing us."
North Korea is known to sell advanced weaponry to other states that sponsor terrorists. The State Department has listed North Korea as a sponsor of terrorism. The reason North Korea keeps U.S. terrorism experts up at night is not that North Korean operatives will come here and attack us; it's that they might sell a nuclear bomb to people who will.
Earlier this summer, the National Intelligence Estimate stated that al-Qaeda has regenerated, directly challenging Giuliani's claims that the war in Iraq has made the U.S. safer. Yet the former mayor continues to insist that the opposite is true: "Being on offense gives us more safety than being weak and being on defense." When I ask him how he reconciles that conclusion with reports that the terrorism threat has increased since we've been "going on offense," Giuliani dismisses those findings and points to the lack of an attack on U.S. soil since 9/11 as evidence of our safety. Sometimes," he says, "we miss the forest for the trees when we sit in places and just analyze."
In a Foreign Affairs article out this month, Giuliani blames the Clinton Administration's foreign policy for provoking terrorism. "The Terrorists' War on Us was encouraged by unrealistic and inconsistent actions taken in response to terrorist attacks in the past," he writes. He also reaches further back into history, questioning the U.S. decision to leave Vietnam. And his views on Israel sound to the right even of the Bush Administration: "It is not in the interest of the United States, at a time when it is being threatened by Islamist terrorists, to assist in the creation of another state that will support terrorism," he writes.
Democratic Senator Joe Biden is so far the only presidential candidate to directly rebut Giuliani's claim that he knows more about terrorism and foreign policy. "Give me a break," says Biden, who has served on the Senate Foreign Relations committee for 32 years and has been to Iraq seven times. "I'm more qualified than him by a mile." He calls Giuliani a "semidemagogue" on terrorism and criticizes him for mischaracterizing the threat. "I think he gets away with this because the most catastrophic event in modern American history saw him at the base of a building demonstrating some personal courage and taking command." But this is no time for sentimental whimsy, Biden says. "When power is passed from this President to the next, that person is going to be left with virtually no margin for error."
Giuliani can, of course, make up for his experience deficit with his advisers. So far, he has chosen hawkish foreign policy gurus, including Norman Podhoretz, a founding member of the neocon movement who recently called for an immediate attack on Iran, and Kim Holmes, an expert at the Heritage Foundation who advised former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. His chief foreign policy adviser is Charles Hill, a lecturer in international studies at Yale, who says Giuliani doesn't actually require much staffing. "If you run New York City, you know foreign affairs," he says. "In dealing with the U.N. and a host of foreign leaders, that's a host of experiences."
Even if Hill is correct, Giuliani—like all Presidents—would need to be surrounded with the most qualified and competent advisers, particularly when it comes to overseeing homeland security. One of the most damning criticisms of Giuliani, however, has been his record of flawed judgment on personnel. In 2004, Giuliani recommended that President George W. Bush nominate Bernard Kerik to run the Department of Homeland Security. Kerik was a police officer and Giuliani's driver before he was elevated to corrections commissioner and police chief. But the nomination collapsed when information about Kerik's past and possible ties to mob-related businesses began to filter out. Kerik pleaded guilty last summer to improperly accepting $165,000 worth of free renovations on his apartment and may still face federal charges. "I should have done a better job of investigating him, vetting him," Giuliani told reporters this spring. "It's my responsibility, and I've learned from it." (Questions were raised about Giuliani's vetting system yet again in June when his South Carolina campaign chairman, Thomas Ravenel, was indicted on federal cocaine charges.)
For his chief homeland-security adviser on the campaign, Giuliani has chosen Robert Bonner, a partner at the law firm of Gibson, Dunn and a former head of the U.S. Customs Service. But Giuliani's most surprising security adviser so far is his old friend former FBI director Louis Freeh. Freeh's stewardship of the FBI during the eight years before the bureau's most spectacular failure makes him an unusual choice. The 9/11 commission report concluded that Freeh and his FBI had failed to adapt to reality: "Freeh recognized terrorism as a major threat ... [His] efforts did not, however, translate into a significant shift of resources to counterterrorism," the report found. "Freeh did not impose his views on the field offices."
Like Giuliani, Freeh blames President Clinton and Congress for failing to dedicate the necessary resources to the FBI's counterterrorism efforts. "There was no willingness to fund any of this before 9/11," he says. New York City's communication failures on 9/11 should not give voters pause, Freeh says, because today, with new technology and increased counterterrorism funding, things would be different. And then Freeh defaults to the iconic moment, the trump card issued to all Giuliani disciples: "You don't walk through the rubble for one moment on that day and not understand that this cannot happen again and that whatever has to be done will be done." Following the Sirens
Before 9/11, Giuliani understood what needed to be done in New York City, but getting it done was another matter. In 1994, less than a year into his mayoralty, a depressed computer analyst set off a homemade bomb in a No. 4 subway train as it pulled into a busy station in lower Manhattan. The firebomb, built from a mayonnaise jar, a kitchen timer and batteries, hurt more than 40 people. Passengers spilled, screaming, out of the train, some rolling on the platform to try to put out the flames, others beating back the fire with their coats.
As soon as he learned of the attack, Giuliani did what he always does: he followed the sirens. When he got to the scene, he sought out police, fire and emergency officials. Then he went to the cameras. In an hour and a half, he held 10 interviews. Then he led a press conference in front of two dozen TV crews. "The emergency response," he said, "was close to miraculous."
It was the same public composure in crisis that Giuliani demonstrated to the world seven years later. "Everything is being done to try to make the city as secure as possible," Giuliani said late on the night of 9/11—at his second press conference of the day. "And tomorrow New York is going to be here, and we're going to rebuild, and we're going to be stronger than we were before."
Giuliani's resolve is not just emotionally reassuring. On 9/11, he single-handedly limited the emotional and economic impact of the loss by his measured, confident response. "The fundamental prerequisite is to respond coolly and soberly and not irrationally and emotionally," says Bruce Hoffman, a Georgetown University professor and one of the country's most respected terrorism experts. "I think you could give him credit. Terrorists are trying to provoke us to respond emotionally. He kept his head about him." But that's about the extent of Hoffman's praise. "In Mayor Giuliani's case, it's a very narrow subset of skills where his credentials are unvarnished."
Giuliani dealt with major emergencies on a regular basis. He had time to prepare his city for a major calamity. But did he do all that he could? Much has been made of the fact that Giuliani's state-of-the-art emergency command center was rendered useless on the day of the attacks. The $13 million center was in the World Trade Center complex, on the 23rd floor of Building 7, which collapsed that day. When I asked Giuliani three years after 9/11 if it had been a mistake to place the command center in a known terrorist target, he said no. "You had to put it somewhere," he said. And he noted that the Secret Service and the CIA also had offices in that building. The center was above ground level, leaving it less prone to flood damage (a serious concern in lower Manhattan), and it was within walking distance of City Hall—one of Giuliani's priorities. "In hindsight, it's pretty bad," says John Farmer Jr., senior counsel to the 9/11 commission and the person in charge of reconstructing the response to the attacks for the investigation. "But that's a tough call."
Giuliani's record on managing the city's emergency responders is more telling—and shows a more complicated leadership style than Americans saw on 9/11. "When we reflected on his tenure, we saw qualities that were not helpful," says Jamie Gorelick, a member of the 9/11 commission and former Deputy Attorney General in the Clinton Administration. "[For President], I think you want someone who is not polarizing. Someone who brings people together by the power of persuasion rather than the power of dictate. Someone who is considering of other points of view and ultimately decisive. And on all three scores, I have serious doubts about the mayor."
Remember that 1994 subway firebombing? Despite what he said in public, Giuliani had profound concerns about the emergency response, according to Hauer, who became Giuliani's emergency-management chief in 1996. When Giuliani arrived that day, he couldn't figure out who was in charge. "Rudy walked down there and got one story from the police department, one from fire, one from EMS," says Hauer. "He was very frustrated."
Getting police and fire departments to cooperate is hard anywhere. But New York City was worse than most places. "We had—and still have—a long history of competitive rivalry between the police and fire departments," says Joe Lhota, Giuliani's deputy mayor from 1998 to 2001. This kind of turf war is extremely dangerous. As we now know, the single biggest failing of intelligence agencies before 9/11 and response agencies after Hurricane Katrina was a lack of coordination and communication.
In 1996, to his credit, Giuliani tried to fix the problem. Giuliani established an Office of Emergency Management that reported directly to him. He put Hauer, an experienced emergency manager, in charge. But five years later, the problems persisted. On 9/11 the police and fire departments ran separate command centers, and communication was poor. The firefighters carried the same radios that had failed them in the 1993 bombing. At 10:04 a.m. on 9/11, after Tower Two had collapsed, a member of the New York Police Department's Aviation Unit warned that the top 15 floors of Tower One were "glowing red" and might collapse. Four minutes later, a helicopter pilot said he did not believe the tower would last much longer. Neither of these warnings made it to the fire chiefs. That tower collapsed at 10:28 a.m. "If communications were better," concluded the federal investigation into the collapse, conducted by the National Institute of Standards and Technology, "more firefighters would have been saved."
Before he left in 2000, Hauer tried to get police and fire chiefs to use radios that could communicate with one another. It never happened, partly because of the police department's refusal to cooperate, he says. The mayor could have forced the issue, Hauer says, but he didn't: "Rudy did not back us." On 9/11 the Office of Emergency Management was run by Richard Sheirer, who now works for Giuliani Partners. Giuliani's campaign declined to make Sheirer available for an interview.
No one could have expected communications to be flawless. "That emergency would have probably overwhelmed any emergency system," notes 9/11 commission staffer Farmer, who was the attorney general for New Jersey under a Republican administration. But Giuliani owns some accountability for the failures. "To say that he had identified problems and he'd been in office for a while and they hadn't been fixed—that's fair," Farmer says. Gorelick, the 9/11 commissioner, says Giuliani's shortcomings became clear when the commission looked at the Pentagon on 9/11. "If you compare the incident command at the Pentagon to the one at the World Trade Center, you will see the difference between life and death," she says. "In New York, the hard decisions were not made. There was not a unity of command. And heroic firefighters went up into the towers when they should have been coming down." Ministry of Fear
more than anything else, counterterrorism experts interviewed by Time cited Giuliani's campaign rhetoric as a cause for concern. He frequently conflates different threats, from Iraqi insurgents to al-Qaeda to Iran, into one monolithic dark force. He routinely compares the terrorism threat to the Holocaust and the cold war. In one 15-min. phone interview in August, Giuliani compared the terrorism threat with Nazism or communism six times. When I asked him if he risked exaggerating the threat, since most terrorist plots against the West are not the kind of attacks that will bring down a nation, he replied, "I'm not saying it would take down a country. What terrorism can do and has done is kill thousands and thousands of people. It's real, it's existential, it's independent of us."
Retired Lieut. General William Odom was director of the National Security Agency under Ronald Reagan from 1985 to 1988. He calls Giuliani's terrorism rhetoric "the most delightful thing that al-Qaeda could want." And he laments that Giuliani isn't showing the stoicism he displayed on 9/11. "We need a President who cools it," says Odom, a senior fellow with the conservative Hudson Institute. As for Giuliani's analogy to the cold war, a period Odom knows rather well, he is unimpressed. "Jihadism is a mosquito bite compared to communism," he says. "Anybody who talks about terrorism this way is like a witch doctor."
Giuliani, however, seems to think it is almost impossible to overstate the risk. "We've never had a history of overestimating threats," says the former mayor. "We underestimated by a lot the threat of Nazism." Yet when candidates give terrorists too much credit, they can inadvertently assist them in terrifying the public, says Frank J. Cilluffo, a terrorism expert at George Washington University. "Our words matter," he says. "The last thing we want to do is empower [terrorists] and make them holy warriors, which they're not."
Giuliani used to speak more carefully about terrorism. "No mayor, no Governor, no President can offer anyone perfect security. You've got to be able to deal with a certain level of risk in anything that you do," he said in 1999. On the eve of the millennium New Year's Eve celebration in Times Square, he appeared on cnn to warn against melodrama: "When people overdo it about terrorism, terrorists actually win. You're sort of like becoming agents and instruments of the terrorists."
But now Giuliani is running for President, and he has apparently made a tactical decision to thunder loudly about terrorism, perhaps to deflect from his personal life and his liberal record on social issues—which an internal campaign memo termed potentially "insurmountable" last year. (The memo was leaked to the New York Daily News.) The more he can remind people of his performance on 9/11, the better off he is, says GOP pollster Luntz. "You cannot underestimate the impact of having seen him on television hour after hour dealing with the tragedy," he says. "That gives him a level of credibility that nobody else has."
As Giuliani himself put it to the Detroit News recently, "The American people are not going to vote for a weakling. They're going to elect someone who will protect them from terrorism for the next four years." It's the same calculus Bush used in 2004. In fact, it sometimes seems as if Giuliani is in a time warp. Freeh cites this as a point of pride: "If you compare [Giuliani's] remarks to what every politician and most of our citizens were saying on Sept. 12, 2001, you would not find it noteworthy or unusual," he told the Concord, N.H., Monitor.
The question is whether voters have changed. Borrowing rhetoric from one of the least popular Presidents in history may backfire, even for America's mayor. In a recent cbs poll, 46% of respondents said the war in Iraq is actually creating more terrorists. For many, though, the same words sound different when Giuliani says them. Sherie Silverman, 62, went to hear Giuliani in Rockville and left convinced that he "gets it" on terrorism. "He said what I wanted to hear," she said. "I'm looking for a more competent version of Bush." The crowd gave Giuliani a standing ovation. —With reporting by Andrea Sachs/New York