Saturday, April 07, 2007

Rudy on Bill Clinton and lax foreign policy

I had promised, long ago, to find this quote in Rudy Giuliani's book Leadership, and it seems relevant now, after Pelosi's (possibly illegal?) trip to Syria and the British government's recent hostage negotiations with Iran.

In the passage I'm going to cite, Giuliani notes his dissatisfaction with Clintonian foreign policy. The context: Giuliani had ejected Yasser Arafat from a 1995 event, the celebration of the UN's 50th anniversary. Giuliani writes that he held a special contempt for Arafat: the man was a terrorist and the current administration, Clinton's, had been "romanticizing" him. Arafat had not been invited to this event, but he came anyway. Giuliani had to choose whether to make a stink about this, and he decided that it was worth it to do so. An excerpt:

As we debated [about how best to show Arafat the door], Gillian Sorenson [the UN's PR director at the time], was getting more and more upset. "You can't do this," she kept repeating. "You simply can't."

I said, "Gillian, I don't see why not. This is my event. I raised the money for it from private donors. These are my invited guests. Furthermore, a number of those donors will be outraged that we're spending their money to entertain Yasser Arafat. They'll go crazy, and they have every right to."

There was another element to what I was feeling. I hold a special contempt for Arafat. When I was a US Attorney, I investigated the hijacking of the Italian cruise ship Achille Lauro. While the ship was at port in Alexandria, four members of the Palestine Liberation Organization walked into the main dining room and began firing at random, wounding passengers. Armed with AK-47s, handguns, and grenades, the terrorists herded the 400 people on board and separated them by nationality, placing American and British hostages in a makeshift jail of oil drums, which they threatened to set alight. They forced the captain to leave the Egyptian port and set sail for Syria, and demanded that Israel release 50 Palestinian prisoners.

One of the hostages was Leon Klinghoffer, a 69-year-old retired Jewish businessman from New York. Partially paralyzed by two strokes, Klinghoffer was confined to a wheelchair. The terrorists wheeled him away from his wife, shot him in the forehead, then dumped his body into the sea. I don't forget those who kill Americans. The man who ordered that operation, Yasser Arafat, was responsible for that terrorist act. Now the US was romanticizing him. I kept thinking-- negotiate with him if you believe you have to, but don't let your guard down by making it appear he's like an elected leader of a democracy. It deeply disturbed me. At that exact moment, I believed he was still harboring terrorists.

All this was going through my head as Gillian Sorenson was repeating, "You can't do this to him!" I thought, "Can't I? This is a guy who ordered innocent people to be murdered." Gillian was now arguing that an ejection would create an international incident. That's what made up my mind. I said, "Well, maybe we should have an international incident. Maybe we should wake people up to the way this terrorist is being romanticized."

I told Gillian, "Enough. The discussion is over. I've made a decision, and that's what I'm going to do. Now let's move on." By that point, the program was already running late. Gillian and I were both scheduled to make introductory remarks welcoming all these dignitaries. I said to Randy and Bruce [Giuliani's Chief of Staff and deputy at the time], "I'm going up now to deliver my speech. Go talk to his people and see if he'll leave."


I was soon finished, left the stage, and headed for my box. I looked over to Arafat's seat and could see that it was empty. I was hoping that meant our plan had worked, because I didn't particularly want to create a scene; but I was also thinking that maybe he had moved off into the hall to cook up a counter-strategy, or perhaps just gone to the restroom. So I went outside, and there were Bruce and Randy walking toward me. Arafat, I learned, had left in a huff, declaring he had been insulted, and that he was going to hold a press conference to condemn us. I wouldn't have had it any other way, and returned to Beethoven's Ninth Symphony.

By the next day, I realized that this had indeed become an international incident. The New York Times was calling for my head, apparently willing to make a one-time exception in its opposition to capital punishment. A story headlined "White House Condemns Giuliani" quoted a Clinton spokesman lamenting the incident "in light of the constructive role that Chairman Arafat has played in the Mideast peace process." A senior administration official called it "an embarrassment to everyone associated with diplomacy." That the White House would assert that Arafat had played a constructive role exposed the weakness of Clinton's foreign policy. He was unable to see the kind of person he was dealing with, and never held Arafat to any standard of responsible behavior.

This is not Monday-morning quarterbacking. The whole time I was running for Senate, part of my standard speech was that Clinton was going to hand the country over weaker than he got it. I pointed out that the military was weaker, underfinanced and underpaid, and that our intelligence services had been denuded and were not paying attention to terrorism. For instance, Clinton allowed Saddam Hussein to escape all inspections. Even after he bombed him for refusing to let inspectors do their job, the end result was that we gave up the inspections. It was absurd. We bombed the man, then lessened our scrutiny of him.

Now even Ed Koch, Gillian Sorenson's boss when she had been his liaison to the UN, went on television to rip me apart, apparently forgetting that he had condemned Arafat as a murderer and had called the UN a cesspool-- not my first choice were I hiring someone to teach me the subtleties of diplomacy. All this was a controversy I appreciated, because I felt so certain I was on the right side. As Arafat has [shown] his true colors ever more clearly in subsequent years, to the point where even former supporters can no longer excuse his inability or unwillingness to curb Palestinian violence, I have occasionally reminded people of that concert and the outrage that followed.

Some Americans are unable to face up to the fact that there really are evil people, people who do not share our values. The desire for peace-- and the simplistic and misplaced guilt many have-- create a tendency to make anyone who demands results and a high standard of behavior into some kind of Neanderthal.

To my mind, US foreign policy on the Middle East lost any constructive agenda once we began believing that our involvement there was like some chess game, in which each side had to move its pieces one at a time and were roughly morally equivalent. I even hear such thinking now, in statements about how "both sides have to reduce the violence." That is true-- but there are meaningful distinctions between the kinds of violence on each side.

None of this means that we don't negotiate with people who are maybe even evil. We may have no choice. But we shouldn't treat them the same way we treat Rabin or Peres or Barak or Sharon or Netanyahu. I admit that some of these men are my personal friends; but they all share roughly our set of values. You can negotiate with them. With Arafat you have to require him to deliver before you do. If you deliver first, he's going to make you deliver again and again before he holds up his end of the bargain, if he ever does.*

As I was typing this passage into the "edit" window of the blog, I felt some satisfaction that Giuliani has his head on straight when it comes to foreign policy. While I doubt he would be quite as blunt as John Bolton (I may be wrong), I think Giuliani would be clear about how he viewed his interlocutors, and about which of those leaders he deemed worthy of trust.

Giuliani's stance has implications for places like North Korea. Most Koreabloggers, left and right, hammer the issue of verification when talking about what a meaningful agreement with NK would include. No concessions without thorough verification. Would Giuliani end up as spineless as Bush when it came to enforcing US-Korea foreign policy? I don't know, but I suspect he'd show more backbone than Dubya.

Which leads me to believe that South Koreans would hate Giuliani. Too direct. Too blunt. Too focused on the problems, not focused enough on making people feel good.

Giuliani's mirror image appears to be Nancy Pelosi. They are two almost stereotypically feisty Italians on opposite sides of the fence. Pelosi seems to think that shuttle diplomacy in the Jimmy Carter mode is the way to go. Rudy doesn't. I'd hate to watch these two debate each other; it'd be a bit like a matter-antimatter collision. I think Nancy Pelosi has backbone as well as a willingness to do what she says she's going to do, but I also think her approach to foreign policy is completely wrong, because she misses the basic fact that, when it comes to some people, you have to require them to deliver before you do. If you deliver first, they're going to make you deliver again and again before they hold up their end of the bargain, if they ever do.

Basic psychology. Try being lax in the classroom and see where that gets you. Since most of us adults are little more than overgrown children, you can bet that the lessons you learn teaching kids can be applied to international relations.

This doesn't mean you can attach clothespins to a head of state's lip if he talks too much, though.

*Giuliani, Rudolph W. Leadership. New York: Hyperion, 2002. With special thanks to Max Becker-Pos for having given me this book.


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