POLITICS
06/26/2008 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Rudy Has Little Bite As McCain's Newest Attack Dog

Rudy Giuliani took to the role of McCain attack dog and terrorism expert on a conference call with reporters on Wednesday, pleading for a civil discourse at the same time as he painted Barack Obama as an out-of-touch softy on the topic of Islamic extremism.

"The remarks yesterday by several people in the Obama campaign that if Bin Laden were taken to Guantanamo he would be given habeas corpus rights, is startling," said the former mayor. "And again, it is a reminder of maybe where they are going on the Democratic side or if we had a Democratic presidency. The reality is, there seems to be more concern for the rights of alleged terrorists than for the rights of Americans to safety and security."

Picking up on the "weak-on-terrorism" card that the McCain campaign played yesterday, Giuliani lashed out against the Illinois Democrat for an interview he gave in which he said that the United States was able to successfully prosecute those responsible for the 1993 attack on the World Trade Center.

"The real problem is [Obama] saying that in essence the 1993 situation was really correctly handled," said Giuliani. "The reality is that most experts on terrorism, who are non-partisan, would tell you that that was a terrible mistake in not recognizing the full dimension of what we were involved in. We were not involved in just a criminal act in 1993. It was an act of terrorism, which was an ongoing series of acts."

The whole exercise was rife with contradictions. For starters, as the Obama camp quickly pointed out, Giuliani had said in 1994 that the conviction of World Trade Center bombers "demonstrates that New Yorkers won't meet violence with violence, but with a far greater weapon -- the law." In addition, Giuliani's expertise in terrorism has been sharply questioned by critics, who point to, among other things, his placement of New York City's terrorist response center in one of a key terrorist target (the World Trade Center Plaza), and his failure to outfit the NYPD with functioning radio equipment.

Mainly, however, there are non-partisan experts on terrorism who disagree with Giuliani's synopsis. Take, for instance, General Peter Pace, who in 2004 remarked that winning the war on terror would be "simply having each of the nations that we're trying to help have a secure environment inside of which their government and their people can function. Example: Here in Washington, D.C., there's crime, but there's a police force. And the police force keeps the level of crime below the level at which the government can function. That's really what winning in the war on terrorism is."

In addition, there is former Secretary of State Colin Powell, who in 2007 said that, "The war on terror is a bad phrase. It is a criminal problem. This is not the Soviets coming back. Lets not hyperventilate."

The latter quote came from "America Between The Wars: From 11/9 To 9/11," co written by Jim Goldgeier and Derek Chollet, another terrorism analysts who says it wasn't the world which changed on 9/11 (as Giuliani argues) but rather the mindset of GOP.

"They want to portray that the world changed fundamentally on 9/11 and that they have therefore been executing the argument that has dominated a post 9/11 world," he told the Huffington Post. "The reality is the fundamental dynamics of global politics did not change on 9/11. The reality is conservatives just recognized what was happening."

Irrespective of these objections, the McCain campaign is clearly looking to make terrorism and a perceived Democratic "softness" on the issue a major campaign topic in 2008. And the early morning conference call with reporters - which followed a series of television appearances - suggests that Giuliani will be at the forefront of this effort.

The former mayor attacked Obama for being favorable to the criminal prosecution of terrorist suspects without directly addressing the Senator's pledge to go after Osama bin Laden in Pakistan with or without that government's acquiescence. He also criticized the Democratic nominee's approval of a Supreme Court decision granting detainees at Guantanamo Bay habeas corpus rights, even after acknowledging that the next president (regardless of policy) would be wedded to that decision.

Finally, Giuliani dug up a quote from Obama in a Democratic primary debate in which the Senator was asked how he would respond if two American cities were attacked by al Qaeda.

"I sat there with my mouth open at the answer," Giuliani recalled. "The answer was: 'the first thing we've got to do is make sure we have an effective emergency response. Something that this administration failed to do while we had a hurricane in New Orleans.' And I said to myself that this indicates his lack of experience, and that this issue about how inexperienced he is a real one that reflects itself in his judgments on national security."

Put aside whether Obama's answer was actually jaw-dropping, as well as the controversy over Giuliani's own emergency response to the 9/11 attacks. Consider the subsequent portion of Obama's response -- notably absent is the idea of criminal prosecution:

"The second thing," said the Senator, "is to make sure that we've got good intelligence, A, to find out that we don't have other threats and attacks potentially out there; and B, to find out do we have any intelligence on who might have carried it out so that we can take potentially some action to dismantle that network."