Rudolph Giuliani’s most prominent foreign policy adviser hinted this week that the Republican presidential hopeful would break from the Bush administration’s policy of close ties with terrorist-linked and oil-rich Saudi Arabia.
“Any president would have to hesitate before risking the kind of economic dislocation that would be caused by tangling with the Saudis,” neoconservative icon Norman Podhoretz told The Jewish Week Tuesday, referring to U.S. dependence on Middle Eastern oil. “But I think that Rudy does actually have a different attitude [than Bush] and might very well try to change our policy.”
In a foreign policy address in Michigan on July 12, former Mayor Giuliani did not mention Saudi Arabia, its terrorist ties and its complicated relationship with the United States, a point of contention among many members of Congress, who in 2005 tried to cut off weapons exports and restrict official travel to the country until it cracks down on terrorists. Podhoretz, the former editor of Commentary magazine, who said he is supporting Giuliani because the Republican frontrunner’s mindset is closest to his own among the presidential contenders, said that in his own view the looming threat of a nuclear Iran created an opportunity to change Saudi policy.
“Because the Saudis are alarmed over the Iranian threat, we have a very good chance of persuading them that it is in their own interest to cease financing jihadist agitation,” said Podhoretz.
As to a Saudi role in the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, the so-called “Saudi Plan,” which Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has embraced, Podhoretz said “unless the Iranian threat also trumps their hatred of Israel, which it conceivably could, I don’t see a useful role for them in the so-called peace process.”
Following the terror attacks of 9/11, Giuliani returned a check to Saudi Prince Alwaleed Bin-Talal intended to aid victims’ families after the prince cited U.S. policy toward Israel as a cause of the attack. “There is no moral equivalent for this attack,” he said at the time.
He has also made energy independence and reduction of oil imports a centerpiece of his campaign.
In his first detailed interview on his work for Giuliani, Podhoretz said he had not spoken with Giuliani personally in months, but was in touch with his campaign on a near-daily basis.
The Giuliani campaign did not respond to an inquiry about the candidate’s view on Saudi Arabia.
In his July 12 address, Giuliani spoke mostly of increasing trade in the Middle East and promoting the empowerment of women in the Middle East. In an earlier address in Virginia on June 26, Giuliani called for active engagement with the Fatah government in the West Bank while continuing to isolate Hamas, which controls Gaza. “Let’s see if we can’t get Jordan and Egypt to help us try and create something with [Palestinian President Mahmoud] Abbas in the West Bank,” he said at Regent University in Virginia Beach. Later in the same evening, Giuliani said of the Fatah-Hamas conflict, “I’ll have to leave that to other people to figure out.”
But Giuliani has been short on specifics on the Mideast and in no rush to provide details. He often cites the day he called on then-Palestinian leader Yasir Arafat to leave an international concert at Lincoln Center here as a foreign policy credential, as well as his stewardship of a city that includes immigrants from hundreds of national origins. “His main foreign policy credential is his deep understanding of the issues involved in the war [on terrorism], which is the most serious issue of our time,” said Podhoretz.
Several foreign policy experts contacted by The Jewish Week declined to assess Giuliani’s foreign policy worldview because they did not know enough about it.
Should Giuliani become the GOP nominee, Democrats are likely to paint him as not only inexperienced but wrong on foreign policy.
In a statement prior to his July 12 address, the Democratic National Committee released a statement calling him “absent, ignorant and hawkish on Iraq” and claimed he was “poorly informed on Iran and North Korea.” The DNC also accused him of flip-flopping on Israel, initially supporting the 2005 disengagement from Gaza and now saying that the resulting unrest there “is a microcosm of what will happen in Iraq if you listen to the Democrats and precipitously leave with a staged, timed, planned-in-advance withdrawal.”
Asked if he saw Giuliani playing a more active role in Israel-Palestinian negotiations than has Bush, Podhoretz said, “He certainly supports Israel and I think he has shown, especially through his treatment of Arafat, that he recognizes that the main onus for any possible peace is on the Palestinians. To that extent he agrees with Bush.”
As to an international conference, of the sort alluded to by Bush in his recent address on the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, Podhoretz said, “I don’t think he has developed a detailed policy on the question of international conferences and the peace process. My advice to him is that a conference is pointless and can lead to nothing. The only chance for any kind of meaningful peace process will come when Arab nations call off their war against the Jewish state.”
When asked how Giuliani would differ from President Bush on foreign policy, Podhoretz noted that the ex-mayor on July 17 called for higher expectations of Pakistan, whose ruler, Pervez Musharraf, is a key Bush ally, in fighting al Qaeda. “Musharraf is important to us to the extent that he helps us remove this existential threat to him and to us,” Giuliani told USA Today. “And to the extent that he recognizes that it’s an existential threat to us and to him, he’s valuable to us. To the extent that he doesn’t, he isn’t.”
Podhoretz is a proponent of immediate military strikes against Iran to eliminate or set back that country’s nuclear program, and he said Giuliani felt the same way. “He has already said that the military option has to remain active,” said Podhoretz.
Asked about Giuliani’s reputation for ignoring advice while he was mayor, even from those he appointed to advisory panels, Podhoretz said, “That doesn’t concern me at all. He is free to take my advice when he thinks I’m right and ignore it when he thinks I’m wrong. He’s a man of very strong convictions and the character to back up those convictions and that’s one of the reasons I support him.”
Sen. Hillary Clinton was also burnishing her foreign policy bona fides this week.
After Monday night’s Democratic debate, in which she told a questioner she would not meet with autocratic world leaders during her first year in office in the absence of prior groundwork, her campaign put a prominent expert on the phone with reporters to praise that position.
“That’s a very sophisticated answer,” said Madeleine Albright, secretary of state under President Bill Clinton. “If you look back at recent breakthroughs in diplomatic history, what you find is in order to understand where the situation and clear away the underbrush, it’s necessary to have lower levels make the initial contact.”
Sen. Barrack Obama’s rival camp on Wednesday accused Clinton of flip-flopping, noting that she said in April that it’s “a terrible mistake for our president to say he will not talk with bad people” and claiming that “she reversed herself last night, disagreeing with Senator Obama’s assertion that we should use every tool at the president’s disposal to address problems before they become threats.”
Albright said the positions were consistent because Clinton hadn’t ruled out any meeting with dictators. “The question was about whether it would be a first act, without preconditions,” she said.