Monday, July 16, 2007

A Dash of Giuliani

[posted by Callimachus]

I'm not much inclined to support Giuliani for president these days. The total package strikes me as too authoritarian for where we are now.

But like a lot of Americans, I find in him a quality I wish the other candidates had more of. And it traces to his performance after 9/11. Which often is noted by commentators, but I wonder if they realize how much of that is focused on this particular incident involving a gift from a Saudi prince that came with a string attached.

Mr. Giuliani initially accepted the check, as he has several others from government and private industry leaders. With the check was a letter from the prince, in which he expressed his condolences for "the loss of life that the city of New York has suffered."

The letter continues, "I would also like to condemn all forms of terrorism, and in doing so I am reiterating Saudi Arabia's strong stance against these tragic and horrendous acts."

But the letter did not say what a news release attached to a copy of the letter did: "However, at times like this one, we must address some of the issues that led to such a criminal attack. I believe the government of the United States of America should re-examine its policies in the Middle East and adopt a more balanced stance towards the Palestinian cause." The release attributed the statement to the prince. The sentiment reflected the tack the Saudis have generally taken, condemning the Sept. 11 attack while trying to be supportive of the Palestinian cause.

"Our Palestinian brethren continue to be slaughtered at the hands of Israelis while the world turns the other cheek," the release read.

The mayor, who was told of the news release just moments before his daily briefing but after receiving the check, was visibly annoyed by it.

"I entirely reject that statement," Mr. Giuliani said. "That's totally contrary to what I said at the United Nations," he added, referring to his address on Oct. 1.

"There is no moral equivalent for this act," he added. "The people who did it lost any right to ask for justification for it when they slaughtered 4,000 or 5,000 innocent people. And to suggest that there's a justification for it only invites this happening in the future. It is highly irresponsible and very, very dangerous."

Mr. Giuliani added that he would consult with the State Department before deciding what to do with the check; an hour later, his press office released statements attributed to the mayor saying that the check had not been deposited and would not be.

A State Department official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said the mayor's office had informed it of the prince's remarks but it had offered no opinion on what to do with the check because it was not a United States government matter.

"In terms of remarks linking the attacks to our policy, we object to Prince Alwaleed's remarks and find them highly inappropriate," the official said.

A spokesman for the prince, Amjed Shacker, reached on his cellphone as he prepared to board a plane for Saudi Arabia, said he did not know about the mayor's rejection and seemed flummoxed to learn of it. "We have no knowledge of that." he said. "He accepted the check."

Prince Alwaleed echoed his sentiments last night during an interview with Lou Dobbs on the television program "Moneyline."

"Favoritism to Israel is not helping a lot, because you have to understand that those Arab people who watch Palestinians every day being slaughtered in the tents, and they believe truly that the United States is the main backer of Israel," he said.

The mayor has inserted himself into Middle Eastern politics before; in 1995, he had Yasir Arafat ejected from a concert for world leaders at Lincoln Center sponsored by the New York City Host Committee, a private group organized by Mr. Giuliani to hold events surrounding the anniversary of the United Nations. The Clinton administration rebuked him but he was unrepentant, saying that as United States attorney, he had investigated terrorist incidents with which the Palestine Liberation Organization was associated, including the hijacking in 1985 of the Achille Lauro cruise ship.

The best part was, his reaction was pretty much spontaneous, in real time. He got caught off guard, and reacted firmly and viscerally, yet he remembered to follow protocol and consult the State Department.

I'd also like to have seen him respond to the prince with, "Sure, we'll look into our Israel policy, and meanwhile you look into why your country's officially sanctioned religious education and social order produced 15 of the 19 murderous fanatics who wrought this havoc you see." Those weren't dispossessed Palestinians or starved Iraqis slitting throats and incinerating airline passengers, after all; they were for the most part pampered rich-kid students from the oil states.

But you take what you can get, and anything beats the current coddling that goes back through several administrations.

Give me a scene like that, attached to Barack Obama, and you've found my candidate.

Of course, what's depressing to realize is the reaction of an awful lot of serious people seeking the White House these days is not much like Giuliani and an awful lot like the batty representative from Georgia who agreed with the sheik:

"Let me say that there are a growing number of people in the United States who recognize, like you, that U.S. policy in the Middle East needs serious examination."